the new custom home client

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A few years ago I wrote a story in which I asked high end custom builders if they were feeling the effects of what would become the Great Recession. The verdict, almost across the board was something like, "Our clients are too wealthy to be affected by recessions." This recession, it would become painfully clear, was different. Even the wealthiest pulled in their horns for a time, forcing architects and builders serving the upper-tier market to reevaluate their business models. Now, as the market begins to show signs of life, we are seeing signs also of how the high-end clientele is evolving: The haves seem to have more. When I walk into a house with an eight-figure price tag, I often wonder not only how a person amasses that kind of money, but also how it could be that there are so many who have done so. In the Atlantic's January/February cover story, Chrystia Freeland, a global editor at large for Reuters, addresses just that question.

Through my work as a business journalist, I’ve spent the better part of the past decade shadowing the new super-rich: attending the same exclusive conferences in Europe; conducting interviews over cappuccinos on Martha’s Vineyard or in Silicon Valley meeting rooms; observing high-powered dinner parties in Manhattan. Some of what I’ve learned is entirely predictable: the rich are, as F. Scott Fitzgerald famously noted, different from you and me.

What is more relevant to our times, though, is that the rich of today are also different from the rich of yesterday. Our light-speed, globally connected economy has led to the rise of a new super-elite that consists, to a notable degree, of first- and second-generation wealth. Its members are hardworking, highly educated, jet-setting meritocrats who feel they are the deserving winners of a tough, worldwide economic competition—and many of them, as a result, have an ambivalent attitude toward those of us who didn’t succeed so spectacularly. Perhaps most noteworthy, they are becoming a transglobal community of peers who have more in common with one another than with their countrymen back home. Whether they maintain primary residences in New York or Hong Kong, Moscow or Mumbai, today’s super-rich are increasingly a nation unto themselves.

It's a fascinating read, and by no means simply a slam on the new uppermost class. Architects and builders whose markets include this demographic might want to take a look and see if it describes their clientele--or the clientele they hope to serve. I mentioned it this morning to a contact who runs a top-notch cabinetmaking company, but he had already read it. He said that it accurately describes an economic and cultural shift he's seen in his clients. Among other things, he said, the new breed are smart and worldly, with an aesthetic sophistication that derives from their travels. He said they make good clients. --BDS





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