By the numbers
61Homes entered this year (two are virtual models)
132 Entries in 2008
168 Entries in 2007
Tampa Bay builders aren't the only ones to witness a dropoff in entries. Last year the Manatee-Sarasota parade had 106 homes. This year, 55. Orlando had 140 last year and expects around 60 this year. The Tampa Bay association's take is that the decline in entries is a sign that builders are selling off their excess inventory and don't have unsold homes available to enter in the parade. Or it could mean builders don't want to spend the money to enter, even though the association lowered its entry fees to $1,795 per home from $2,600 and up last year.
Orlando rescheduled its parade from this month to May. That was partly to avoid scheduling conflicts with other community events. It was also in the hope that consumer confidence will increase and credit will be more readily available later this spring because of the federal economic stimulus package.
• A foldout map. Instead of a thick tabloid magazine, look in today's paper for a color map that folds out to 12 by 33 inches and includes maps and pictures of the entry models. Also available at CVS, Sweetbay, Publix, 7-Eleven and Blockbuster and at the models.
• Virtual tours of two models by John Cannon Homes. See them at tampabayparadeofhomes.com. Virtual tours are a first for Tampa Bay builders, though individual home builders have been posing video walkthroughs on their Web sites for some time.
• Local judges. Typically, builders' associations bring in judges from outside the area — builders, architects, sales and marketing staff, interior designers — to judge entries by price category and then award prizes and bragging rights. This year panels of local Realtors will do the judging.
• Two showcase homes. Ordinarily the association designates one creme-de-la-creme model as its showcase. This year there are two, both at FishHawk Ranch in Lithia: one by Sabal Homes of Florida, one by Cardel Homes.
The builders' views
"People say they're going to spend less, live longer and shop smarter. Builders have to start thinking that way. The features people want in the long range should be part of the standard package.
"People want what gives them enjoyment and utility. The finish level they see in the model is what they should be able to expect in their own house."
Bill Lee, Sabal Homes of Florida
The collapse of the housing market "is like a forest fire. It cleans things out and ultimately creates a healthier environment."
Jim Deitch, Southern Crafted Homes
New voice for the builders
In mid February, the Tampa Bay Builders Association named Jennifer Doerfel (dor-FELL), 31, as executive vice president, succeeding Joseph Narkiewicz, who retired after 17 years. As such, she is the group's official spokeswoman and represents it before government agencies.
Doerfel spent the past three years as director of governmental affairs for the builders association. She knows her way around the permit offices and the regulatory process, knows "how to work an issue, where to go, how to help move an issue along."
On the Parade of Homes changes: "The goal is to increase exposure for our builders' homes and products" and "to make sure buyers don't waste any time. . . . They're focused and so are we."
On the housing downturn: "Personally I think the worst is behind us. I think we're at the bottom. Sales are increasing as prices continue to drop. That means the affordability of housing in this market has been achieved. The oversupply of new housing is gone, and the housing market is just caught up in a general economic recession."
On getting out of the slump: "I do expect Tampa Bay to lead the way out of this recession for several reasons. People want to live here. There's a job market here. If government can truly help folks who want to stay in their homes from going into foreclosure, we'll see that the numbers continue to drop."
What would help: The tax credit of up to $8,000 for first-time buyers in the economic stimulus package "would be more useful if it could be applied to the down payment." Qualified buyers "with good credit, good job history, who are interested in purchasing — if they don't have that down payment in cash, they're locked out of a perfect opportunity to buy. Face it, saving $15,000 to $20,000 in cash is difficult."
Judy Stark, former Times homes and garden editor, is a freelance writer in St. Petersburg.