tampabay.com

Parade of Homes tries to prod sales

Builders stress low interest rates as they show model houses.

By CHANDRA BROADWATER
Published March 12, 2007


SPRING HILL - At first, the rain kept people away.

But with sunny weather in the forecast and one week left, Hernando home builders hope to remind potential buyers that the local housing market hasn't gone completely flat.

With 40 homes from 19 builders on display, the Hernando Builders Association is aiming to woo buyers with low interest rates during this year's Parade of Homes.

Though Sunday, the annual event will give home-seekers the chance to check out model homes ranging from $100,000 to $500,000 throughout the county. It began March 3.

So far, local home builders aren't complaining about the slower-than-usual flow of people coming through the models, which are scattered from Spring Hill Drive to Ridge Manor.

With the recent housing market slump in the back of their minds, they instead continue to remind buyers that they won't find a better time to buy than now. Especially here in Hernando County, where money tends to go a little further than in other Tampa Bay areas.

"What we're trying to stress to people: the low and affordable interest rates," said Emilia Raia, executive officer with the builders association. "There is good inventory out there, and builders have the time to work with customers and really give them what they want."

Raia said that the county is still growing. After all, it is part of the Nature Coast and provides residents a beautiful place to live.

But when considering the record year of 2005, when 4,271 single-family residence building permits were issued by the county, not many builders expect that 2007 will top that.

"What you've got to realize is that 2005 was an anomaly," said Dudley Hampton Jr., first vice president of the builders association. "And it's one of those years that comes along once or twice in a lifetime as far as real estate and home-building goes."

Despite a slow first quarter, Hampton said he thinks 2007 will shape up to be on par with the normal rate of building.

During January and February of this year, the County Planning Department issued 227 permits for single-family residences. In 2006, 2,787 were issued.

Before that in 2004, more than 2,700 permits were issued, coming close to 1987's previous 3,000 record.

This year, the potential home buyers that Ed Velasquez has seen come through the two Lexington Homes models in the Villages of Avalon subdivision seem to just want to know what's out there.

When complete, the new subdivision off Anderson Snow Road will have a total of 812 homes constructed by several builders, ranging from upper $100,000 price ranges to $1-million.

"I'd say that 95 percent of the people I've talked already own a home," Velasquez said. "And while they're looking to sell first, they're trying to make plans to figure out what they want."

People are also using the Parade of Homes as an opportunity to see what they can get for their money, he said.

Combined with those low interest rates, Hampton said, homeowners will get some relief from skyrocketing insurance rates this year - even though he thinks lawmakers can do more. That should eventually push them into buying, he said.

"I think we'll settle back into that normal pace of building," he said. "We'll just have to wait and see."

Chandra Broadwater can be reached at cbroadwater@sptimes.com or 352 848-1432.

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For more information, contact the Hernando Builders Association at (352) 596-1114, or visit www.hernandoparadeofhomes.com on the Web.