Last fall, we rebuilt a home’s masonry entry steps and walkway, the kind of small job we would have politely declined a few years ago. It’s not that we don’t do masonry work: When the economy was hot, we began doing the foundation blockwork for our additions because it helped us control the schedule and ensured that everything came out of the ground level and square. Back then, though, we limited our masonry to our own projects; now that things have cooled off, we’re more likely to take isolated small jobs wherever we can get them.

Located in the historic Forest Hill section of Newark, N.J., the house was suffering from a classic case of deferred maintenance, and the owner had received a summons from the city requiring repairs to the existing fa§ade, steps, and front walkway. Even though the 1950s residence had few of the characteristics of the neighborhood’s grander...

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