Actor Factor As part of his “Make It Right” program to help New Orleans, actor Brad Pitt along with real estate developer and philanthropist Steve Bing have announced plans to build 150 affordable and sustainable homes in New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward. Pitt pledged to match $5 million in contributions to the project and Bing pledged to match another $5 million. The plan calls for healthy homes that incorporate modern, high-quality design and construction while preserving the spirit of the community's culture.—N.F. Maynard

On the Side Efforts to keep homes affordable and satisfy buyer demand for low-maintenance living have no doubt affected builders' choices in cladding materials. Among the 1.65 billion single-family homes completed in 2006, vinyl was the most commonly used primary siding material, skinning 30 percent of new homes, followed by stucco (22 percent), brick (21 percent), and wood (8 percent). Regional and climatic variables place vinyl as the dominant material used in the Northeast and Midwest, while stucco is most popular in the West, and brick is king in the South. Some 15 percent of homes built in 2006 feature brick as a secondary exterior cladding material. Notably, the use of wood siding has steadily declined in recent decades, from 42 percent in 1988, to 25 percent in 1995, to just 8 percent of homes in 2006.—J. Sullivan


Happy Lawyers One industry's drought is another's deluge. With the meltdown of the sub-prime mortgage market, law firms are developing niche practices to work with borrowers, regulators, and lenders looking to sue mortgage lenders. Others are defending lenders, agents, mortgage brokers, and other real estate professionals against claims ranging from fraud to breach of contract, as well as predatory lending charges. The industry foresees enough work to keep them busy for three to 10 years.—P. Curry


Green for Green According to a recent survey on home design trends by the American Institute of Architects (AIA), 91 percent of registered voters say they would be willing to pay $5,000 more for a house that uses less energy, costs less to operate, and helps protect the earth. With the environment and utility prices becoming more and more of an issue for everyday Americans, homeowners are demanding more efficient products and sustainable designs, says Kermit Baker, AIA's chief economist.—E. Butterfield

Plant Shutdown Fleetwood Homes, a maker of manufactured homes, plans to shut down its Woodland, Wash., facility this month. The company said it would lay off 135 workers and consolidate the Woodland facility with a plant in Woodburn, Ore. In an interesting twist, company officials say the manufactured-home business has been down for six years, mostly because creative financing made site-based homes more attractive to buyers. Now that the market has crashed, the company hopes its product will be on a level playing field with site-based homes.—S. Zurier

SOURCE: THE COLUMBIAN (vancouver, wash.)

Pricey Pads According to Coldwell Banker's annual home prices survey, the Beverly Hills section of California is the most expensive real estate market in the country, with a four-bedroom, 2 ½-bath, 2,200-square-foot house costing $2.2 million. It is followed closely by the Boston metro area where the cost for the same space is $2.1 million. Eight of the top 10 most-expensive markets are in California.—N.F.M.


Learn more about markets featured in this article: New Orleans, LA.