(ran PS edition of PT)
As the three-week march of the 1997 Parade of Homes came to an end Sunday, area builders bragged of sales and pending contracts as evidence of the event's success.
"A lot of people come in here just looking for decorating ideas, but we saw quite a few who were serious about buying homes," said retired builder Rudolph Bruni, whose brother-in-law Tom Carroll owns Carroll Custom Homes, one of 12 home-building companies that showcased their latest models in the parade.
"(Carroll Custom Homes) already has two signed contracts," said Bruni, who worked as a builder for more than 20 years before retiring.
Bruni and many other sales associates shared home-building knowledge Sunday with dozens of visitors to the Pristine Place model center on St. Ives Boulevard in Spring Hill.
Pristine Place's assortment of homes, along with a display of models at the Seven Hills development off Mariner Boulevard south of Spring Hill Drive, has been open to the public every day since March 3.
"The traffic has been pretty steady since I've been here," said Artistic Homes sales associate Larry Toeppe, who has worked for the building company for two weeks. "Things slowed down a little last weekend, when the weather was bad, but other than that we've been busy."
Other associates from Artistic Homes said their company had signed two agreements to build homes as a result of the parade and hoped to get at least one more contract before the day was through.
Toeppe said Artistic's two deals were finalized at the builder's "Bay Breeze" home model in Pristine Place.
"People usually come into these things just to ask questions and look around, but we were able to nail a few down," he said. "It's considered very good to actually sign contracts at these events."
Many builder representatives said the interest level of most visitors was cautious at best. The typical Parade of Homes guest, they said, is either trying to get new ideas for an existing home or carefully testing the waters for a future purchase.
Two such guests were Spring Hill residents Barry and Lori Smith.
"We're looking for a retirement home for a few years down the road, but we like some of the things we've seen," said Lori Smith, who has visited the annual Hernando Parade of Homes for the past few years. "There are a few more models open this year, which makes it nice."
The Hernando County Builders Association, which sponsors the event, awards a number of best-of-show honors each year.
Nita Beckwith, the association's executive director, said the 1997 winners for homes priced between $80,000 and $100,000 were the "Charleston" model home from Windjammer Home Builders for best exterior and for best overall and the "Royal Capri" model home from Royal Coachman Homes Inc. for most innovative and creative design.
In the $100,500 to $115,000 range, the "Legacy" model from Artistic Homes won the best exterior and most innovative and creative design awards, and the best overall went to the "Doral" model home from Alexander Custom Homes.
The "Renaissance" model from Beck Builders swept the awards in the $115,500 to $165,000 division. It was the only model to win its entire category.
In addition to the final sales, several sales associates said they had made solid contacts during the parade with many other people who seemed enthusiastically interested in buying homes.
But even amid the excitement generated by a Parade of Homes campaign, builders cannot afford to count their chickens before they hatch, as Bruni well knows.
"We met a lot of good potential customers," he said. "But you never know. In this business, it's not sold till the contract is signed."