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Home builders need to weed out the whoa

A parade of homes gives a model a chance to stand out from the crowd. But some "innovations" leave judges with the wrong impression.

By JUDY STARK
Published May 5, 2007


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Okay, I won't grouse. I won't complain about wavy drywall and awful paint jobs and scandalous finish work.

But I do have to talk about the bugs and the birds.

For two weekends last month I was a judge in the parades of homes in Orlando and in Volusia County Daytona Beach and environs. Parades are the spring showcases of new construction sponsored by the home builders' associations in each county. Teams of judges from outside the area - people with some knowledge of the building industry - tour the homes in specific price ranges and score them. High scorers get awards at a banquet and bragging rights to impress potential buyers.

In Orlando I was teamed with a builder/green housing consultant and a mortgage lender. In Volusia, my fellow judges were an architectural designer and a builder. Me? I'm Judge Judy. Take a look in my parade notebook.

WHERE'D IT GO? The incredible disappearing powder bath, that is. Even in homes of more than 2, 000 square feet, we looked in vain for the half bath - you know, the one your guests will use. How comfortable do you feel about having your guests use your master bath - or the kids' bath? This is one tradeoff I'm not willing to make.

OPTICAL ILLUSION: Everybody wants rooms to look bigger than they are, so be a smart buyer and carry a tape measure. In several homes we were amazed (and amused) to see that the master bedroom was furnished with a double bed. Come on, builders: Virtually every couple sleeps in a queen or king these days. Your master bedroom had better accommodate them.

OPTICAL DELUSION: One home had a formal living room that, I swear, was smaller than my dentist's waiting room. (The floor plan says it's 16 feet by 14 feet, 8 inches, but it seemed snugger than that. Maybe because there was a traffic pattern through it out to the lanai.) Yet upstairs there were huge rooms and a loft that seemed in search of a reason for being. Arranging furniture is going to be tough in this one.

JUST A NOTION: In one Orlando model the downstairs was fully furnished (we thought it looked like over-the-top Pottery Barn). Upstairs: vignettes only, minimal furnishings (a chair, an area rug, a plant) to give some idea of how the room might be used. Our take: The upstairs looked barren, neglected and uninviting. I know merchandising is expensive, but it makes a difference.

BETTER OR WORSE: We toured several townhomes in which the living area was separated from the garage by a little courtyard. In House A, the ground was covered with yellow river rock. It was hard to walk on; even the dog wouldn't be happy out there; and it was so unwelcoming and uninviting, we couldn't imagine spending time there. House B put down pavers, added green plants, and set up a barbecue grill and some chairs and tables with fake drinks. What a difference! One area looked like the surface of the moon; the other looked like a great place to unwind at the end of the day. Which would you buy?

SILLY AND SMART: One model set up a big-screen TV in what it called "the garage/media room, " parked a Honda Element there and called it "a private drive-in theater." Well, it was different. That same model - the Tradewinds IV, by Arthur Rutenberg Homes, in Oviedo - had a really knockout feature: a huge laundry room/potting shed/stop-and-drop space with tons of storage and a planning desk. It was a great family command center, the memorable feature that everyone looks at and says, "I've got to have this."

BLINDED: Three seasoned housing professionals who thought they'd seen it all were rendered speechless by the paint job in one home. Big, bold stripes of RED! YELLOW! ORANGE! I opened the door of the powder bath and it was PURPLE! (In this case, not having a powder bath is a good idea! Close the door!) The colors were so loud, we could hardly see the house for the hues. We wanted to send out an emergency call for a few gallons of Benjamin Moore's Linen White. We had to struggle to realize that the secondary bedrooms were larger than many we'd seen that day. The next morning, in another townhouse miles away, we realized that the attractive accent colors we were admiring (applied in moderation!) were the very same shades we'd cringed from the day before.

AND ABOUT THOSE BIRDS AND INSECTS: We walked up to one house in New Smyrna Beach and stopped to study the dead bird on the roof. When we got to the front door, the science project continued: The porch light was full of every insect you can find in Central Florida. First impressions, anyone?

Next time you tour models, you be the judge. When you walk up to the house . . . when you open the front door . . . when you go upstairs . . . do you say, "Wow" or "Whoa"? Court is adjourned.

Judy Stark can be reached at (727) 893-8446 or at jstark@sptimes.com.

[Last modified May 4, 2007, 12:11:12]


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