MANATEE -- With more new homes being built in more new subdivisions in Manatee and Sarasota counties, potential new homebuyers have more places to shop now than any time in the past five years.
In Manatee County alone, the number of permits issued for the construction of new homes was up 33 percent in the 2014-15 fiscal year, compared to the year before. New subdivisions are also being planned at a quicker pace, with 34 approved in 2015, according to county data. Sarasota County is also expecting more building activity soon as Lakewood Ranch expands its communities south of University Parkway.
Keying on this variety of choice, 72 judges evaluating 110 model homes entered in this year's Parade of Homes of Manatee & Sarasota Counties spread their approval almost evenly among 40-plus participating builders. At the parade awards gala Thursday night, attended by more than 360 people at the Hyatt Regency in Sarasota, 39 builders and other industry trades companies took home awards for their construction work.
Unlike last year's event at which companies owned by Lakewood Ranch builder Pat Neal garnered an overwhelming 11 overall category wins, no one builder was a runaway standout this year. Neal companies, which had the highest number of entries at 22, did attract some hardware, with three overall wins for homebuilding and three more for the swimming pools built by its Waterscapes Pools & Spas subsidiary.
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But other companies did as well or better. John Cannon Homes, another privately owned Lakewood Ranch builder, took four overall awards for design and curb appeal. The company has won over 300 awards with its parade entrants over the years.
"We are extremely proud of the accolades we received at the Parade of Homes," company president John Cannon said Friday.
Coast to Coast Pools, last year's top pool builder on the parade, took seven awards in the pool subcontractor category.
Each single-family and multi-family awards category included additional individual awards for best curb appeal, best master suite, best floor plan, best kitchen and best architectural detail. Other multiple award winners included Lee Wetherington Homes, Medallion Home, Homes by Towne, Anchor Builders and Canadian builder Mattamy Homes.
Put on by the Manatee-Sarasota Building Industry Association, the Parade of Homes has opened 110 model homes in the two-county area for three weeks. The event is intended to stimulate new home sales for participating builders. Pricing for parade homes ranged from an advertised $221,999 for a Heritage Harbour townhouse built by publicly traded national company Lennar to almost $3 million for a house in The Inlets in Bradenton constructed by local builder Medallion Home.
John Mast, the BIA's CEO, said he believes one reason why the awards were spread so evenly among parade participants is that member builders are putting extra effort into the design and detail of their homes.
"The big thing that I've seen in the marketplace is that there are more outdoor living spaces," he said. "They're really concentrating on the living spaces in the homes."
Twenty-six of the homes are priced at $1 million or more.
Parade judges also scrutinized subdivisions. It awarded Legacy Builders the overall win for single-family home communities with fewer than 50 home sites to its 23-home Bellora project near the Ringling Museum of Art. The Islands Development group won in the 151- to 200-home category for The Islands on the Manatee River subdivision in Parrish. Also in that size category, Mirabella at Village Green in Bradenton, was an overall winner for multi-family developments.
Among the larger development and construction companies, Minto Communities was a winner in the 201- to 500-home sites category for its Harbour Isle on Perico Island. And, as it was last year and in 2014, LWR Development was the winner for communities with over 1,000 homes.
Showcasing indoor and outdoor design specifically, judges named a top parade interior design firm and several winners for landscape design. Soco Interiors of Winter Park won for its work on a home model at The Lake Club. ArtisTree of Venice took five of the seven awards in the landscaping category.
The parade started Feb. 20 and runs through Sunday.
Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027 or on Twitter@MattAtBradenton.