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Markets: new opportunities for natural stone in the US real-estate market

Only a small portion of marketing potential of natural stone in respect of ecologically friendly energy has been used so far.(July 2009) Whereas focus is fixed on the demise of the US real-estate market, Harvard University is looking toward a budding revival of the branch. The Joint Centre for Housing Studies (JCHS) has analyzed the markets and published its findings in a study entitled „The Remodelling Market in Transition 2009“ . The results show a growing interest in consumer interest in „green“ building material and „green“ building methods.

BusinessStone.com has analyzed the results pertaining to the stone branch and found that energy conservation and immigrants provide a healthy opportunity for growth.

The core deduction of the JCHS-study is that the US real-estate branch will never be the same again after emerging from the present crisis. In respect of the natural stone branch, this means demand for stone countertops or bathroom elements cannot pick up where it left off after the 1995 boom because homeowners will remain in their homes longer than prior to the crisis.

In hindsight, homeownership was merely a money grind for many Americans: families lived in their home only long enough to see the price rise and sold for a solid profit buying a more expensive home in exchange.

Bathroom and kitchen producers were the big winners: homeowners refurbished their homes with natural stone elements because this increased the resale-value of the house.

The JCHS-Study sees a new consumer type. Homeownership will no longer be a short-term profit opportunity but rather a long-term investment. Owners will tend to invest for increased living comfort rather than resale-value.

„Sustainable housing“ is the buzzword, according to the study. Thus investment in energy conservation is expected to lead the market. The USA has not been spared from rising oil and gas prices: „consumers have recently shown increasing interest in quality and durability issues“.

Let us take a closer look at the impact of this statement: For quite some time now, natural stone has established its reputation as a „green“ building material, which puts it right in the trend. Little was mentioned, however, regarding the potential for energy conservation.

Case in point: natural stone is an efficient heat reservoir in combination with under floor heating. To pull the conservation-ace, cooperation with solar thermal energy (STE) producers seems plausible.

Architect Norman Foster only recently considered the energy conservation potential of natural stone while modernizing the Hearst-Tower in New York City: the atrium is paved with limestone tiles to help equalize room temperature.

In the construction of soapstone fireplaces, the energy conservation potential of stone is put to use as well. Stoves, too, have long been popular for creating a cozy atmosphere in the home, albeit that stone, in this case, is implemented for mostly decorative purposes.

Natural stone radiators are a promising new development powered by electricity and emitting infrared energy. Their advantage is that the do not need to rely on the usual circulation to radiate heat thus being ideal for sufferers of dust allergy. Compared to traditional radiators, these are aesthetically pleasing. Ecologically speaking, however, these innovations are of little value as they waste valuable energy used for heating.

Let us return to the study, which predicts higher demand for real estate in families with an immigrant background.

Jerusalem Stone demonstrates how to win this target group over for natural stone: they propagate limestone among the Jewish communities around the globe as an expression of cultural identity and history.

But, will the US-middle-class have any money at all to invest in the near future? The study is reserved, referring to other facts: repossessed homes will be refurbished by the banks before being put back on the market, not only because financial institutions see a chance for profit but also because uninhabited houses soon fall victim to vandalism.

BusinessStone.com asks: could this be a niche for natural stone countertops and bathrooms?

The bottom line of the study holds that refurbishing will be a „solid“ part of the building sector. „The US housing stock consists of nearly 130 million homes in ongoing need of maintenance, component replacement, and adjustments to meet changing preferences and lifestyles. With one to two million homes added to the housing inventory each year, future growth in home improvement activity is assured.“

A six-page digest of the study can be downloaded free of charge (pdf).

2008: US stone imports valued at 2,3 billion dollars

Even if the real-estate crisis has seen sales of natural stone plummet, it never the less rests at a fairly high level, according to Stone World (Mai 2009), interpreting the official import statistics.

2008 saw natural stone worth 2,262 billion US dollars imported. That was a decrease of 18,06% compared to 2007, but 2007 was an all-time high amounting to 2,761 billion US dollars.

The publication refutes the doomsday predictions: „We all know that the statistics for the first few months (or more) in 2009 will be ugly, but our industry hasn’t completely collapsed yet.“