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One-stop home shopping

Nineteen model homes by 12 builders are on view in the Parade of Homes sponsored by the Hernando Builders Association; it opens this morning and continues through April 7.

For the fourth consecutive year, the parade is at Pristine Place, a gated community on Spring Hill Drive just west of the Suncoast Parkway. (Take Exit 41, Spring Hill.)

"We do a single-site parade" _ all the models in one development _ "as opposed to a scattered-site parade," with the models at different subdivisions all around the county, explained Susan B. Greco, executive director of the builders' association. "Single is easier on the public and on the judges," who toured the models Thursday to choose winners in various categories.

"That's what has drawn us back to Pristine: They've got the space, the lots," she said. But in the interest of keeping up buyer interest year after year, "we're searching out, we're looking to go somewhere new next year."

The Hernando market is dominated by local contractors who build on buyers' own lots. A big subdivision such as Pristine Place is the exception rather than the rule. In urban counties such as Pinellas and Hillsborough, most new construction takes place in subdivisions, where builders _ longtime local contractors and big national or regional builders _ buy lots from a developer and sell them, along with the house, to buyers.

"It's still more the small, home-town builders that are building Hernando County," Greco said. "I don't expect that will change" any time soon.

For years, builders and others predicted that the Suncoast Parkway would open up Hernando to buyers from counties to the south, once they found they could easily commute to job centers in Tampa, Clearwater or St. Petersburg. (From Spring Hill to Tampa is about 45 minutes.) "The parkway has had tremendous impact," Greco said. "We definitely get people from the Tampa area."

The market has done well in Hernando, Greco said. In 2000 builders obtained about 970 permits. Last year that number was "a little over 1,200," and "it's still going strong."

Like their counterparts elsewhere in the state, Hernando builders are grappling with the intricacies of the new statewide building code that went into effect March 1. "It's going to take some time to work through the kinks and understand the interpretation of the codes," Greco said. The new codes require that homes be more hurricane-resistant and more energy-efficient.

Those codes will have an impact on the cost of housing: "I've heard anywhere from $2,000 to $4,000 per new home to meet the code," Greco said. "A lot of builders have estimated $3,000 more. Or it depends, from builder to builder. The more knowledgeable they are, they more they understand exactly what's going to change."

She said she expected the permitting process to take longer "until the building departments have clarification and the whole staff is informed" about how to apply the new codes. "It's definitely a learning process," she said. "But we're working closely with our building department trying to meet often to work through the kinks and interpretations to where we're on the same wavelength."

Building the economy

What does residential construction contribute to the economy? Housing accounts for about 14 percent of the nation's Gross Domestic Product, or $1 of every $7 spent in the nation each year. The National Association of Home Builders offers these estimates of the effects of building 1,000 new single-family homes:

+ 2,448 jobs in construction and related industries;

+ About $79.4-million in wages;

+ More than $42.5-million in federal, state and local tax revenues and fees.

Hernando Parade of Homes

WHAT: Hernando Parade of Homes, showcase of new construction. Nineteen models by 12 builders.

WHEN: Today through April 7. Models are open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. Sunday.

WHERE: Pristine Place, gated community on Spring Hill Drive just west of the Suncoast Parkway.

INFORMATION: Hernando Builders Association, business hours weekdays, (352) 596-1114.