To improve the image of Colorado's third largest city, Aurora, Colo., passed an ordinance requiring all new homes to have at least 50% masonry on exterior surfaces (60% for multifamily residential). Aurora councilman Ed Tauer, as quoted in The Denver Post, says that the ordinance will send a message to home buyers that "Aurora's going to be a quality area."

John Spencer, Spencer Brickwork, Ellisville, Mo., runs 12 masonry crews, doing every aspect of residential work, from tract homes to large custom homes to apartment buildings. On the other extreme is Mike Cahalane, Cahalane Construction, North Fork, Mass., who describes himself as "a one-man band" doing mostly custom homes and flatwork. Mike Heitkamp, Heitkamp Masonry, St. Louis, does mostly commercial work but also will take high-end custom home jobs.

Neither Spencer nor Cahalane spend much time selling their services.

Employees are not a problem for Cahalane. He tries to avoid hiring people. For Spencer, a union contractor with 12 crews and about 90 total employees, getting and keeping good people has not been a big problem.

Brick, never out of style on a home, is now so in demand that brick producers sold 104% of their production capacity in 1999, according to the Brick Industry Association. Spencer, however, has not had a problem getting brick, mostly, he feels, because of his volume.

In custom homes, stonework is growing in importance. Spencer estimates 15% of his work is stonework. Heitkamp also sees a huge increase in the use of stone. He has one crew that specializes in stone on both their residential and commercial work. Cahalane also uses a lot of stone. Cahalane tries to avoid lump sum estimates for custom work, preferring an hourly rate with a markup on materials. Spencer prefers to create his own bids with systems that result in solid bids despite the intricacies of custom work. He figures the percentages of brick and stone and block and uses his experience to convert those percentages into a price. He doesn't feel that a computerized estimating program could produce such estimates any faster.

But despite their differences, Spencer, Cahalane, and Heitkamp concur on the secrets to success in residential work: service and attention to details. "With a home," says Spencer, "people live in it every day, so the details must be right."