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RISMEDIA, Jan. 22, 2007-The Home Builders Association of Metro Orlando kicked off a marketing campaign this week to encourage "fence sitters" that now really is a good time to buy a home in the Orlando area.

Valued at nearly $1 million, the six-week multimedia campaign is appearing on local television, in print, on billboards and on a Web site (

Representatives of the Orlando-based trade association said the campaign is the largest in the group's history and includes brochures, automobile stickers, movie-theater announcements and a comprehensive media effort.

The goal is to convince prospective buyers that conditions for buying a new home are good and may never be better, said Carmen Dominguez, a custom builder and the association's 2007 president. Interest rates are low, builder incentives are high, and the inventory of new homes is large but beginning to shrink.

"Our whole membership is excited about this," said Beth McGee, executive director of the trade association, which was founded in 1953 and has nearly 1,500 members.

The campaign is being paid for by the trade group's members through voluntary contributions approaching a combined $400,000, McGee said. The association is also chipping in about $300,000 from a fee used for public outreach and legal affairs.

"It will probably be close to $700,000 when we're done," she said of the industry-financed campaign. "It's a lot of money for us, but it's the reach and depth that really makes this special."

In addition, media outlets such as local television stations are contributing airtime or space, as they often do with such large, negotiated purchases, to boost the campaign's estimated total value to nearly $1 million.

Randy Noles, a local home-building magazine executive and HBA member who helped negotiate deals for the marketing effort, characterized it as "the largest public-awareness campaign this organization has ever done." He said it comes at time when new-home sales are "clearly in a lull."

The thrust of the campaign message, he said, is that the lull will not last. "Smart people buy in the lulls," he said. "You just have more negotiating flexibility."

Noles, group publisher for Gulfshore Media's Homebuyer magazine division, said the Orlando and Florida home-buying markets historically have been cyclical, so the current slowdown in sales "is not so unusual. It goes like wildfire for a while, then there's a lull. It happens over and over."

But while demand will rebound, possibly by midyear as the inventory of homes is reduced, he said, the market is unlikely to return to the "crazy" atmosphere of recent years, when new-home builders had long waiting lists and existing homes sold within days of posting a for-sale sign.

Keith Bass, Orlando division president for Ryland Homes, said that, based on his company's inquiries and sales in recent weeks, the local market is already showing renewed life. The marketing campaign, he added, should add to that momentum.

The campaign's TV spots are running on all three local network affiliates as well as various cable channels and several Spanish-language stations.

"I think people who were on the fence really are beginning to move," said Bass, who volunteered to raise money for the marketing campaign from among the region's top 25 production builders. "Traffic in the last two weeks has really been strong."

The association's generic marketing campaign is different from the brand-oriented advertising that Ryland and other home builders typically use, Bass said, but all of the major builders contributed to the campaign "to get the facts out, about how strong this market really is."

Bass said that Ryland's Orlando division, for example-mainly building in Orange County but to some extent in Osceola, Seminole and Lake counties-actually closed on more homes in 2006 than in 2005. The division built about 930 units, he said, up from about 900 the year before, though the second half of the year was slower as the industry nationwide began to contract.

New-home starts overall in the Orlando area fell during the third quarter by 32 percent compared with the same period in 2005, according to the most recent data from Metrostudy, which tracks subdivision markets in Florida and other states.

As of Sept. 30, the region's 12-month start total for homes was off by 9.8% compared with the same period a year earlier, but the new-home inventory as of that date-22,794 units-was actually down slightly and represented an 81/2-month supply.

The category of "finished but vacant" homes was up sharply, however, from a year earlier for a second straight quarter, surging 123 percent to 8,179 units.

Copyright © 2007, The Orlando Sentinel, Fla.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.