Real Estate

Past, present home tours hold treasures

Have you seen this year’s Parade of Homes offerings yet? You may not be able to buy one of these stunning homes now, but it doesn’t hurt to look. At the very least, you’ll get style and decorating ideas about what you want when you can make your move.

But while envisioning yourself owning one of those picture-perfect American dreams, do you ever wonder what it takes to prepare a home for this three-weekend event?

Your response might well be 
”magic,” but Warren Smith, president of the Homebuilders Association of Raleigh-Wake County that produces the annual parade, reports that many builders have spent the entire year planning the event because “they believe the Parade of Homes is the best opportunity of the year to show off what they can do.”

Smith, who heads L and L of Raleigh, acknowledges that building a house for the parade can be intimidating. “There are always challenges in getting a house finished,” he said. Of course one of the greatest challenges is the deadline for completing a house. One year Smith’s cabinets were held up at the Canadian border for three days. In fact, they were not installed in his parade home until four days before the judging. Another time, a builder missed the deadline because his building permit had been delayed. And after one frenzied builder had raced to get his home ready on time, it could not be judged because the judges were inadvertently locked out by a Realtor after she showed the house to a buyer.

“Sometimes you just can’t make it,” noted Rex Bost. When asked one year why the president of Bost Custom Homes did not win a Parade award, the homebuilder said, “We had been ready but someone must have broken in the night before judging and stolen the last coat of paint.”

An accomplished musician and lead guitarist, several years ago Bost put together a band he dubbed “Behind Schedule” to entertain at the parade awards ceremony and dinner. They play his Top 10 Crunch-Time Songs in front of a screen with sing-along lyrics to tunes like the Creedence Clearwater Revival tune:

I see painters in the pantry,

House full of workers here tonight.

Cleaning crew will be here in the morning

But don’t use the bathroom on the right.

And the number one song? “I got friends in crawl spaces.”

Some of the most challenging obstacles to meeting Parade deadlines are hurricanes because of power outages and damages to the homes — the parade is scheduled during hurricane season. In fact,it was almost cancelled in 1996, the year Hurricane Fran tore ferociously across North Carolina. Lynn Wilkerson, who chaired the parade committee that year, will never forget it.

“The parade committee met for a solid week after the hurricane because there were so many people who wanted to cancel the parade,” recalled Wilkerson. But she said there was too much invested — judges were coming, hotel rooms reserved and the parade book was already printed. The committee had to consider the efforts of all the builders with homes built especially for the parade, as well as their planning time and the cost of amenities like furnishings and decorators. “This was their Parade,” Wilkerson explained. “The Parade of Homes is like a battleship — once it gets started you can’t stop it.” The 30th Parade of Homes opened a week later for two consecutive weekends instead of three.

Not a bad record for an event that has opened every year since the first Parade in 1966 when it had 14 homes on display. One of them, a tri-level 1,850 square-foot three-bedroom house with 2½ baths, was built by Ed K Roberts in Raleigh’s Eastgate neighborhood and priced at $29,500. That figure’s not a typo.

In the parade’s early days, notes Chad Ray of Olde Heritage Builders, houses were small in square footage and price. Bath fixtures were mostly brass, wallpaper plentiful and styles very traditional. But over the years, he recalls, the number of homes increased along with the square footage: “In the late ’90s, the parade saw its first large million-dollar homes with every amenity imaginable, including saunas, gyms, wine cellars and home theaters rivaling the commercial ones.”

Ray believes the current Parade of Homes — with 187 houses costing $119,990 to $1,200,000 — reflects present market conditions. “There will still be some very expensive executive homes because [some area companies] are still creating and retaining those jobs, but homes will be a little smaller in square footage,” he predicts. “Some will cost less and provide as much value as possible, but some will include extremely high levels of craftsmanship and amenities.”

Tastes are simpler today, Ray explains, with more emphasis on the neighborhood itself — “people now want to feel like they are part of a village and not stranded on an island.”

He believes buyers want a healthy house, and notes the 2010 parade homes contain more sustainable features, including appliances, windows, air conditioning, lights and paints. In fact, Olde Heritage’s charity Parade home, the 2010 Green Miracle Home in Zebulon’s Wakefield Meadows, brims with sustainable features like CREE LED lighting and conditioned crawlspace and attic, as well as continuous fresh air. Proceeds from the home sale will benefit the Duke Children’s Hospital.

Bost Custom Homes is also dedicated to green building. “In 2006 we made sustainable building a goal in all our homes, making Energy Star our base standard of energy efficiency,” says Bost, a former HBA president. Actually, the company has been building environmentally friendly homes for the past two decades with features like masonry framing, concrete tile roofs and, since 2000, FreeRain, a residential rainwater harvesting system sold through the FreeRain company Bost founded and owns.

The custom homebuilder has a Parade home this year in the Hills of Rosemont with green features like Energy Star certification, a sealed crawlspace and Low-E windows. It’s in Chatham County but Bost entered it in both the Durham-Orange-Chatham and Raleigh-Wake Parades. Bost Custom Homes and Olde Heritage are members of the Green Home Builders of the Triangle.

Seems like the Parade is doing very well, considering we’re just starting to climb out of the recession, but what can we expect from future Wake County Parades? Smith, the HBA president, is very optimistic. “We feel the parades will get better as this housing downturn gets behind us,” he told me. “Builders, Realtors and marketing professionals have gotten smarter at what they do, and as marketing dollars get stretched, companies will rely more and more on the parade to help sell their houses and market their product. The Raleigh-Wake County Parade of Homes will continue to be one of the biggest and best Parades across the country.”