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RISMEDIA, Feb. 27, 2007-(MCT)-After scrambling to get homes ready for the Parade of Homes, builders and associates had a chance to relax a bit Friday night. The Sarasota Cay Club hosted the Parade of Homes kickoff event for builders and judges.

"I'm so excited to have the parade when it's clear that the market has bottomed out and buyers are responding," said Tammy Lynch, president of the Home Builders Association of Manatee County.

Saturday was the first day of the joint Parade of Homes. The Home Builders Associations of Manatee and Sarasota counties come together every winter to promote one of the state's biggest parade of homes, culminating in an awards ceremony the last weekend of the parade.

The builders have to wait until an awards ceremony in March to find out how they compare to the competition.

One of John Cannon Homes' most award-winning models will close in May after three years of being featured in the parade.

"The Temora is an incredible home, and we want people to see it," Nancy Hielscher of John Cannon Homes.

Judges join those in search of a new home or looking for decorating ideas as they comb through each home for its best feature and rank it alongside those in its price range.

This year the parade features 124 homes by 51 builders. Prices range from $245,000 to $5.8 million.

While there are several homes that exceed $2 million, the two most common price ranges are homes in the $400,000s with 17 entries and the $1 million to $2 million range with 15 entries.

In addition to the home entries, 51 subcontractors from interior designers to landscape architects and pool designers are also vying for recognition from parade judges.

While getting recognition for design is a benefit, one of the main attractions that leads builders to enter models is the traffic the parade produces.

"I think what the parade does and what it's meant to do is bring the buyer to the builder," said Alan Anderson, vice president of system development at Neal Communities.

Neal Communitiesfour of their neighborhoods and eight of their models located throughout Manatee entered.

The theme of this year's parade is finding treasure on Florida's Gulf Coast. With home prices lower than last year's and builders offering incentives to coax buyers back into the market, many builders reported increased traffic even before the parade kicked off.

Debbie Gonzalez, director of sales and marketing for John Cannon Homes, said she has noticed traffic picking up throughout many different communities and a change in the prospective buyers' attitudes.

"They're not afraid to sit down and talk," Gonzalez told the Bradenton Herald earlier this month.

Copyright © 2007, The Bradenton Herald, Fla.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.