When times get tough, consumers get tougher.
The recession has bred a class of prospective home buyers who are better educated about the market and are shopping harder for a good value in their new home, builders say.
While builders agree on that point, their response to the more competitive market varies widely. Their strategies will be on display at the 14th annual Citrus County Parade of Homes, which begins today.
This year's parade features 26 model homes by 18 builders. At the welcome center at the Citrus County Builders Association office, subcontractors will have displays and lending institutions will have representatives to answer questions about mortgages.
While slim profit margins leave little room for price cuts, many builders have been maintaining their prices despite price increases for lumber and other materials, said John Osborne III, chairman of this year's Parade of Homes.
"People are more interested these days in value and price than they are in extravagance," said Al Ohlenbusch, general manager of Meadowcrest Development Corp.
The San-Mar Homes model at Meadowcrest reflects that thinking. It's a standard home, and the $83,800 price tag includes all the extras such as vertical blinds, flooring, appliances, automatic garage door opener and an intercom system.
"It's an opportunity to use the builder's buying power for all the little extras that normally would be bought as extras," Ohlenbusch said.
Meanwhile, Seven Rivers Development and Investment Corp. is going all out this year with a $119,000 model home in Pine Ridge. Options include a golf chipping pad in the backyard and a floor safe in the master bedroom.
The 2,600-square-foot home with 10-foot-high ceilings throughout marks the builder's entry into the upscale market. Up till now, most of Seven Rivers homes have been in the $60,000 to $90,000 range and about 1,500 to 2,000 square feet.
"We're trying to cover all of the market instead of just the medium size houses," said Margie Peacock, vice president of administration. "We've seen a need for the larger market."
The thinking at Sweetwater Homes of Citrus Inc. is that service is at least as important as price, said president Jay Jacoby. He cited instances in which his representatives checked out complaints even after the warranties for the homes had expired.
Sweetwater was the busiest builder in the county last year, putting up about 60 new homes, Jacoby said. "If there wasn't a recession, we would have done more houses than that, but I can't complain," he said.
Clark Construction will try to draw in customers at the Parade of Homes with some new options. The builder's model home will have a surround-sound entertainment system with built-in speakers in different rooms controlled by remote control.
Also, the home has a hobby room behind the garage. "It takes the place of a northern basement," said president Lorie Clark. "It's a Florida basement."
With the heightened public consciousness about protecting the environment, energy efficiency remains a selling point with everything from insulation to smart appliances.
"I think we all are wanting to be more environmentally friendly, builders as well as consumers," Clark said.
Osborne, who owns Pinecrest Building Corp., doesn't have a model home in this year's parade. Still, he sees reason for hope this year.
At this time last year, he was in the middle of a six-month drought during which he didn't build a single home. Now, Pinecrest has four houses under construction.
"I feel that 1992 has the earmarkings of being one of my better years," the Lecanto builder said.
The Parade of Homes runs today through Feb. 23. The 26 model homes will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. A welcome center is at the Citrus County Builders Association office on County Road 491, about a half-mile south of State Road 44.