Join the Parade: Your Parade of Homes

Two beautiful buildings on one side of the road. To the left-hand side is a small tree on well-kept grass.

This home from Enertech Builders won Best in Show -- and seven other awards -- at the Fall 2012 Parade of Homes in Austin, Texas.

Your local Parade of Homes showcases the latest in home design. Here's how to get the most out of your visit.

If you’re thinking about buying a new home, it’s definitely worth your time to visit the local parade of homes.

And even if you’re not in the market right now, treat yourself to this annual self-guided tour of your area’s best new homes. Down the road you’ll remember that house you loved or that great builder you met.

Home parades are a great source of decorating ideas — after all, the houses are professionally furnished and decorated to reflect the latest trends. And consider these other benefits: You'll also see first-hand the latest trends in architectural design, color, interior finishes and home technologies. Since thousands of people attend larger parade of homes, you can expect to see workmanship that's top-shelf inside and out.

In addition to leading builders, your local parade showcases the work of top architects, interior designers, landscapers, home automation specialists, kitchen and bath designers and manufacturers and suppliers of building products and services.

There’s no better way to quickly take the pulse of new home design, see what’s trending, or to visit so many cutting-edge homes in so little time. While dropping by your parade of homes is of great value to longtime residents of an area, it’s invaluable if you’re new in town. Either way, it’s a visual feast of home design with both national trends and deeply local flair all on ample display.

It’s also an opportunity to network with the pros and gather information about products that interest you. Builders tell stories of people who attended a parade “just for fun” and ended up buying one of the houses. And there are people who hold onto that perfect piece of property for years before meeting the perfect builder … at a parade of homes.

So just what is a Parade of Homes?

The Parade of Homes (also known as the Street of Dreams or Homearama) has been a popular way for builders to showcase the latest trends in new home design to the public for decades.

The first Homearama was produced by the Home Builders Association of Greater Cincinnati in 1962. Today, many leading Parade of Homes events are sponsored and produced by the local chapter of The National Association of Home Builders.

Parades come in all shapes and sizes. Some are held on a single site and others are held on multiple (scattered) sites. Some, like the Street of Dreams, feature only multimillion-dollar homes; other events feature more moderately priced homes. One recent trend is the green parade: a showcase for state-of-the-art sustainable design and building practices.

There’s a connection between the number of homes in a parade and the strength of the local market. Six homes is a common number, though in St. George, Utah — one of the nation’s top real-estate markets — the 2013 parade of homes will include 28 homes.

Local developers typically host the event at one of their communities. A parade of homes is generally open to the public for two to three weeks. The admission charge is usually nominal (around $10 - $15). Often a portion of the proceeds is donated to a nonprofit organization such as the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

Savvy builders staff their show homes with knowledgeable people who can answer questions about pricing, square footage, lot size and the members of the design and building team.

What to look for.

When half a dozen or more builders compete for the public’s attention, they pull out all the stops to show what they can do. Their challenge is to create homes with enough sizzle to impress without going too far over the top.

You’re likely to see designs that push the envelope, in a good sense. After all, one of the purposes of a parade of homes is to share cutting-edge design trends, even in what may otherwise seem to be a conservative market. As part of making us think about homes in fresh ways, parade homes reflect aspirational architectural styles, such as Craftsman and contemporary. You'll see designs that resonate with today’s buyers and looks that reflect each area's unique regional and geographic styles.

In addition to cutting-edge contemporary looks, you may also notice the opposite: Authenticity in historic styles, right down to the window trim and the shape of the porch columns. There’s a tremendous interest in homes that combine timeless architectural design elements with open floorplans, higher ceilings — and, of course, the latest advances in energy efficiency and home automation.

Another thing to look for are so-called memory points — details and features that visitors talk about long after the event is over. These include gift-wrapping rooms, pet bathing stations, ultra-hip home theaters, outdoor showers (with privacy fences or walls, of course), uber-organized closets, hand-painted murals and elaborate staircases with suspended balconies.

Often, features that debut in parades are modified and introduced to the general market. For example, the now-common mudroom has begun to integrate a “drop zone” for purses, keys, mail and cell phones. The growing multi-generational market has spurred increased demand for dual master suites (one upstairs, one downstairs). Larger kitchens with well-appointed breakfast areas or islands with dining and spectating spaces are a factor in making formal dining rooms disappear.

Take a close look at the landscaping, too. Landscape designers know how to select and coordinate plant varieties, textures and colors to maximize the curb appeal of a home. They’re also knowledgeable about materials that will help you get more value out of your landscaping, such as native plants that require less water, trees that provide shade to passively cool the house, and alternatives to large expanses of lawn.

If you’ve never been to a Parade of Homes, chances are there’s one coming to your area. A fast way to find out is to Google the phrase “parade of homes” combined with the name of your city. And don’t forget to consult your notes from the parade as you plan your new home. You never know what will spark your imagination.

Know Before You Go.

A little preparation will go a long way toward a productive parade-of-homes visit. Here are a few tips:

  • Download the event app or pick up or print out maps and floor plans before the event. These are often available online and in local newspapers and retail stores.
  • Purchase tickets in advance and save a few bucks.
  • Plan your route the night before if the event is being held at multiple sites.
  • Be prepared for any kind of weather, and wear comfortable shoes — you’ll be walking a lot.
  • Arrive early so you can park close to the site and take your time touring each home, before the crowds build up.
  • Take notes. Whether you’re a digital note-taker or a traditional scribe, jot down a few memory points about the homes you like best.
  • Take lots of photos. Hint: To help match up exteriors and interiors later, snap a picture of the sign in front of the home before you go inside.
  • Be sure to vote — and look for the results. Many events hand out a ballot so you can vote for your favorite home overall, your favorite kitchen, media room, great room, etc.
Susan Bady has been writing about the housing industry for 25 years. A contributing editor to Professional Builder, Custom Builder and HousingZone.com, she has also contributed to Better Homes and Gardens’ Home Plan Ideas. You can find her on Google+

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