LAKEWOOD RANCH -- For the next 16 days, thousands of people will tour 80 new homes that are part of the annual Parade of Homes in Manatee and Sarasota counties.
The builders and the brokers that sell them are betting that at least one in four of those people will buy a new home in the area, sometime. The hope is that "sometime" actually means "soon" in 2014.
"I think the mood of the buyer is 'Now is the time,'" said Alan Anderson, executive vice president of the Manatee Sarasota Building Industry Association, the group that puts the Parade of Homes on every year.
This year's edition of the parade, which starts Saturday, is featuring homes from 26 builders. There are more homes, up from 65 last year, and four times the usual number of home swimming pools.
What it all adds up to is a big building year in a market that is starved for inventory. With about half the supply of homes on the market as in a normal year, Manatee County is especially busy with new home construction, Anderson said. He saw about 500 more residential building permits filed in Manatee County last year than he did in 2012, and expects to see another bump in 2014.
During a parade preview event for over 200 real estate brokers Friday morning, builders were promoting new architectural details in their homes, as well as the lifestyles they are creating in communities centered on activities such as golf, boating, and out
door life. Dawn Merrill, an off-site sales executive for Lakewood Ranch-based John Neal Homes, said the company's newest designs emphasize large "gallery" entry ways to make the transition from outside to inside more pleasant.
"We're trying to make our entrances a little more exciting," Merrill said.
WCI Communities, another Bradenton builder, had its newest golf community on display at its vendor booth, Sarasota National in Venice. At the same time, WCI sales representatives were also promoting long-standing communities, including Tidewater Preserve in East Manatee.
John Sackett, a community representative for Tidewater, said the Manatee River development gives home shoppers a choice in that area of the county.
"We are a great Lakewood Ranch alternative," Sackett said.
Frank Obringer, a real estate broker with Coldwell Banker's Lakewood Ranch office, was thrilled to see the turnout at Friday's event. He said brokers are desperate for inventory, particularly in Lakewood Ranch. Last year, over 650 new homes sold in the area, he said, but only 2 percent of Lakewood Ranch homes are currently available for resale.
New homes on the market will shine this year thanks to the environmentally "green" enhancements builders are including, as well as electronic gadgetry.
"The electronics, from the security to the smart home, are really over the top," Obringer said.
The preview event is intended to connect homebuilders with real estate agents and brokers. Anderson said building association members reported that about 60 percent of their sales in 2013 involved real estate professionals. The remainder of the sales were made by builders directly. The parade will get those professionals and their clients out looking.
"This is a way to get Realtors to bring their clients to us," Anderson said.
The Parade of Homes has been going on for more than two decades. In addition to featuring open houses and new home communities in Manatee and Sarasota counties, the parade will give awards across dozens of categories of homes. Awards include best architectural detail, best master suite and best kitchen. Winners will be announced March 6.
Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027, or on Twitter @MattAtBradenton.