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Jimmy Ambrose

Either we've been extremely lucky in Tennessee, or it's fortunate that we are always just behind the curve. While I've read many articles reporting the new home construction bubble is bursting around the country, our market seems to be expanding.

I base this observation on field research I conducted one week in spring. I had a chance to service a customer who does concrete work on custom homes. He agreed with my observation that demand for new homes has been strong and prices haven't softened.

But most surprising is the continued strong market for homes with castle-like features. My customer contends that many executives are spending more money on equipping their homes with amenities that enable them to stay home and work. They believe they are more productive in a cozy setting, rather than driving to the corporate arena every day.

I'm not sure if my customer approved or not. He and his team had worked late the previous evening, spraying retarder over a large exposed aggregate driveway on one of these homes. In fact, the whole day had been forgettable. First, it was hot and dusty.

But more disconcerting, the owner had demanded that the job be completed quickly, as if he had planned a corporate meeting for the following week in his new boardroom. That meant the contractor had to place about 10,000 square feet of driveway and turnaround/parking area.

The effect was outstanding. When we pulled up to check on the job, I had to admit it was one of the most magnificent homes I had seen in a long time. The tan, stucco-over-brick design nicely matched the exposed aggregate driveway.

Demanding execs

My friend agreed with his concrete counterparts that these stay-at-home executives need to calm down. It seems that every project including a driveway of this size is a rush job. The executives often forget that the rest of the world doesn't wait upon each word or request.

But he does admit that there has been a major change regarding residential work. “A lot of residential concrete contractors are discovering that they can make more money on the smaller volume, specialty jobs than the faster-paced subdivision assembly line driveways and patios,” he said. But it requires a different approach. Properly executed attention to detail means more to these executives than production rates.

His answer surprised me. For years he had focused on production work. When I asked what caused him to change his focus, he told me that he spent one month on a concrete driveway that was more than a mile long. He consulted with the owner, and together they designed a mix of aggregates and colors that worked to complement the 12,000-square-foot home's colors. Cost wasn't a factor, as he was the CEO of a large corporation. He was going to get what he wanted.

When the job was finished, he reviewed his effort. It was a rewarding job regarding the final look and challenges, and he didn't have to chase down problems.

How is the residential market in your area? Have you noticed that your contractors are changing the same way? Drop me a line and let me know. I'd like to find out if the residential market is a good place to make money.

jimambrose@aol.com