CHICAGO — Several years ago, I opined to another journalist that there's probably an opening out there for someone who wants to become "the Martha Stewart of real estate."
Now, apparently the job has been filled -- by Martha Stewart.
The queen of all things domestic recently announced an agreement to collaborate on the designs of houses to be constructed by builder KB Home at its development in Cary, N.C.
The homes will be "inspired" by Stewart's residences in New York and Maine. Prices for the 650 Martha-branded homes will range from about $200,000 to about $450,000 for 1,500 to 4,100 square feet of space. Stewart will be involved in picking out the kinds of flooring, plumbing fixtures and cabinetry that buyers can choose from.
With two television shows, a magazine, a deal for a 24-hour satellite radio channel, a new book and her array of product licensing, aren't we teetering toward Martha Overload?
"People have become skeptical of celebrity lines just for the sake of celebrities," said Tim Stock, whose New York marketing firm, ScenarioDNA, specializes in brand-building.
"It goes back to the original Martha. Why did people believe in her? Because they could see her in her kitchen. The original Martha was, 'I like crafts. I like presenting the perfect dinner party.' Her image was much more about something that she loved. Now it is very contrived."
KB Home, of course, strongly disagrees.
"Martha is such a strong brand," said Gary White, president of the company's Illinois division. "You talk about high visibility, she's at the top of the list, right up there with Oprah."
Branding is particularly evident among builders that are trying to sell "lifestyle." That's why we now have a North Carolina builder allying with John Deere. Each home comes furnished with several thousand dollars' worth of lawn-care equipment, including a mower. In Montana, a log-home builder has partnered with the Orvis outdoor outfitter, which advertises the homes in its catalogs.