Mark Martin has always worked in the unexpected slice of the market. Even as an employee in his father-in-law's design/build firm, he built contemporary homes—hardly the commonplace choice in colonial-heavy Northern Virginia. Now a builder in Kitty Hawk, N.C., Martin's Sandmark Construction and Real Estate has moved into a new niche: substantial renovations on existing beach homes.

People don't want to move “because they can't find a lot with a view as good as what they have, or they've known their neighbors forever,” explains Martin, who completed nine major renovations in 2003 in addition to new construction and minor remodels. The substantial renovations are big jobs, often doubling the size of the house and costing the client more than $400,000. One popular option: adding a tower, which provides additional bedrooms and vantage points for beachgoers. “We try to maximize ocean views,” Martin says.

It's a satisfying specialty for Martin, who says there are fewer competitors than in new construction, where land costs have skyrocketed. As the land supply tightens in the Outer Banks like everywhere else, the renovations keep his subs busy and his volume up. Plus, he adds, the major renovation work “is something we enjoy, just to see the house transformed from what it was.”

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Virginia Beach, VA.