No Rain on Parade of Homes

Smaller, More Efficient Designs Dominate This Year’s Entries



We’ve all seen the chic, trendy houses on Home and Garden TV, sighing over dazzling granite countertops and mooning about gleaming hardwood floors. We’ve gasped in delight at the countless ingenious tricks for organizing and otherwise making homes work for their owners.

Local HGTV enthusiasts are in luck: The Tallahassee Builders Association’s annual Parade of Homes brings admirers one step closer to the dreamy living spaces seen on TV. Builders are pulling out all the stops to impress buyers with stylish, effective and environmentally friendly features during the two-weekend event in mid-May.

Trends in home design and interior decorating tend to follow what is on television, says Dale Fuller, executive officer of the Tallahassee Builders Association.

“Look on Home and Garden TV,” she says. “It truly creates a demand. Granite countertops, custom cabinetry, hardwood floors — people are watching those shows, and those are the things that people are insistent upon.”

“Hardwood floors and granite countertops — those classics are not going away,” agrees Christina Petrandis, vice president of marketing and design at Tallahassee’s Premier Construction and Development Inc. “A lot of the first-time buyers come in looking at HGTV, wanting a trendier design, and having those kinds of expectations.”

Petrandis sees the market as trending toward smaller homes with more efficient floor plans — better organizational space, “flex” rooms that can be used for different purposes, kitchens with Internet hook-ups, and mud rooms or “drop zones” for things such as shoes, coats and backpacks.

Gil Chason of Foundation Homes of North Florida says he also sees the market leaning in this direction, but on a smaller scale.

“We’re trending toward a smaller home, with more thoughtful designs and more usable footage,” he says. “Two thousand square feet seems to be a nice home size today, whereas it was 2,500-plus a few years ago.

It’s actually a nationwide trend.”

This year marks the 56th anniversary of the Tallahassee Builders Association’s signature event. The parade features 33 entries representing the work of 22 different builders. Fuller says this is close to the 36 that were entered last year, but drastically down from the 70 entries in 2008, and in 2007, when there were more than 90.

“However,” she adds, “anything over 30 in this economy is awesome.”

This year, the Parade houses’ prices range from $114,900 to $1.25 million. Thirty are priced between $114,900 and $476,310, while the remaining three make the leap to the top of the price range. Fuller says this gap is typical.

“Foreclosed homes are keeping market prices extraordinarily low, so we’re not going to see any jumps in prices this year,” she says. “It’s not a realistic number, and unfortunately, since appraisers are using those numbers, it’s going to take us longer to recover.”

Petrandis says Premier Construction does not feel intense pressure or competition from older or foreclosed homes since it is the main builder of new homes in communities on the north, east and west sides of town.

Chason, however, says Foundation Homes is feeling the competition.

“Pricewise, yes, we are,” he says. “We’re just trying to offer more amenities and a new product versus an older home — more upgrades and incentives without increasing pricing.”

In keeping with this, market data show buyers leaning heavily toward lower-end pricing. According to a sales report of single-family existing homes collected by Don Pickett, a Realtor and owner of Tallahassee Real Estate N Data Services, or TRENDS, the median sales price of homes statewide dropped from $161,500 in 2009 to $130,900 in 2010. Bucking the trend in Tallahassee, the median sales price of homes in Tallahassee was $161,300 in 2009 and $180,000 in 2010. Many builders also are working to accommodate demand from customers looking to claim the first-time homebuyer tax credit, which offers 10 percent of the home’s purchase price, up to $8,000.

“We are seeing more requests for custom homes,” says Fuller, “but homes aren’t being built on spec (that is, being built without a specific buyer) because banks aren’t loaning money.

“A lot of private investment is stepping in, too, because it’s an excellent market — you see a lot more private investors in real estate and construction.”

New to the parade this year is the Green Living category, sponsored by the Florida Green Building Coalition (FGBC). Eighteen of the 33 homes are FGBC-certified, and 14 are Energy Star-qualified. FGBC certification is awarded for homes, commercial buildings, high-rise residential projects, land development and local governments that comply with a checklist of environmentally friendly requirements. Energy Star-qualified homes are at least 15 percent more energy-efficient than non-certified homes and feature additional energy-saving options that can even make them from 20 percent 30 percent more efficient.

“We are seeing some more interest in green homes, because there are incentive packages from the federal government and local government to build environmentally,” Fuller says.

Chason agrees that green certification is becoming increasingly important for builders.

“My partner, Steve Byrd, and I are both certified green through the National Association of Homebuilders,” he says. “That is not required for builders in Florida, but we went the extra step and got the education. The advantages here are twofold: For sales, buyers seem to be looking more into green and conservation. There’s also the financial benefit of reducing waste.”

Petrandis says green certification also is a primary concern for Premier Construction.

“We’ve also become green-certified, which has been incredibly beneficial to us,” she says. “We were very excited when we had our houses inspected to see what it took to become green-certified and learned that we only needed three more components: upgrading the air conditioning, using energy-efficient windows and adding a radiant barrier on roof decking. We then actually ended up going even further, with tankless hot water heaters and other features. There’s definitely a market demand for it that will get stronger over the years.”

Most of the builders participating in the Parade of Homes also participated either last year or in years before. Premier, a longtime contender in the parade, has entered six homes — four more than any other company. Last year’s Best in Show winner, White Oak Construction Inc., also has returned to the parade and is showing a home in Desoto Farms. Other returning builders include Foundation Homes of Northwest Florida, Bracken Chase Builders and Bridgewater Builders.

Premier Construction is showing its six homes in communities such as Bull Run, River’s Landing and Jackson’s Gap. Petrandis says this is the norm for the 18-year-old company; it is the largest home builder in town, with seven entries in last year’s parade. She attributes this to Premier’s involvement in every step of the building process.

“We buy the land, develop it, design the homes, build them and sell them,” Petrandis says. “From start to finish, we do the entire thing. We’ve tried to keep quality consistent across the board and still offer a fair price for the buyer and for us.”

The parade features a platinum award for Best in Show, as well as gold and silver awards for attached and detached homes in varying price ranges. There also is a category exclusively for renovated homes. Entries are judged on a point system in areas such as exterior, interior, construction/materials used and perceived value. Judges award entries with anywhere from one to five points on items such as landscaping, design compatibility, main entrance, floor plan, interior design and workmanship.

Most of the homes are located in Tallahassee; however, there are three entries in Crawfordville and one in Havana. Currently there is no accommodation for the difference in land prices between those areas; however, Fuller says that the Parade of Homes committee has discussed subtracting the lot cost out of the price of homes in the future to assist judges in comparing home values.


Want to know more?

The annual Parade of Homes magazine, featuring maps to the homes and floor plans, will be available at all local Publix supermarkets starting Saturday, May 1.

The Parade of Homes is free and takes place May 8–9 and May 15–16, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays and from noon to 6 p.m. on Sundays. For more information, call the Tallahassee Builders Association at (850) 385-1414 or visit tallyba.com.

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