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Home tours still popular with builders, buyers, businesses

From October 14-29, the Home Builders Association of Jackson (HBAJ) conducted its annual Autumn Tour of Homes. Held at Latter Rayne in Flowood, thousands toured homes in the development that offers residences in the price range of $550,000 and above. Brandy Gaillard, special events director at the HBAJ, ranked the event as an unqualified success.

The HBAJ event is an example of just how strong a draw new home tours are. Despite the growing popularity of the Internet and “virtual tours,” brick-and-mortar tours remain an attractive tool for homebuilders to showcase their homes, and other, non-homebuilding businesses also see home tours as an attractive marketing tool.

Come on in

“We’ve been doing Parade of Homes for more than 50 years now,” Gaillard said. “It gives potential buyers a chance to walk through new, furnished homes. So, they remain popular with homebuyers.

“They also remain popular with homebuilders. It gives them a chance to show off their homes. And, who knows the homebuilding industry better than homebuilders? So, yes, in my opinion home tours are as attractive as they have ever been.”

The HBAJ has been offering its Autumn Tour of Homes since 2001, and Gaillard estimated that more than 5,000 potential buyers took part in the 2006 event. Not only did the event offer furnished homes in a variety of architectural styles, it also provided an opportunity to glean new ideas and see the latest trends in design, color, techniques and products.

“It’s a lot like buying an automobile,” said Marty Milstead, executive vice president of the Home Builders Association of Mississippi. “You want to get a good look and feel for the place before you buy. After all, buying a home is the largest outlay most people make in their lifetime.”

Point and click

While home tours remain popular, a relative newcomer is starting to make its presence felt. More and more homebuyers are touring homes without leaving their house via the Internet and virtual tours. According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, approximately two million people tour homes via the World Wide Web each day.

So, are virtual tours going to run brick-and-mortar events out of business? None interviewed for this story felt the Web was a threat to real-world tours. In fact, they view online tours as another arrow in the sales quiver.

Milstead said, “I don’t think virtual tours will replace traditional home tours, but I do think that people are using the Internet as a research tool, a way to do their homework before actually going and looking at the place. And, I think that will continue to grow.”

Gaillard said, “I see virtual tours as an addition to home tours, not a replacement for them. I know virtual tours are something we will probably offer in the future. But, they would be an addition to the Parade of Homes. I don’t see home tours going away because of the Internet.”

Rachel Branch agrees. She is the executive officer at the Home Builders Association of the Mississippi Coast (HBAMC), which has been offering Parade of Homes for approximately 15 years. HBAMC offers a scattered site tour, meaning that the showcased homes are sprinkled across a region or area, as opposed to HBAJ’s single-site Latter Rayne event. Still, the results are the same — thousands flock to HBAMC’s tours.

“People still want to see the place, to get a three-dimensional feel,” Branch said. “On average, we offer 35-45 homes for touring, and we always pull in thousands of people. There is definitely a younger group that is using the Internet, but home tours remain popular, and I don’t see the Internet changing that.”

(For the first time last year, HBAMC did not offer its Parade of Homes. Hurricane Katrina forced its postponement. However, Branch said HBAMC is planning to bring it back in 2007. The event is typically held in May.)

Networking the neighborhood

Homebuilders are not the only ones who see home tours an attractive marketing tool. Non-homebuilding businesses find tour sponsorships, and even special promotions, a way to reach new customers, or existing customers in a new way.

The HBAMC has three title sponsors — Coast Electric Power Association, Singing River Electric Power Association and Mississippi Power. Branch said these three utilities are given the right to first refusal each year, and each year, they say “yes.”

Sponsors for HBAJ’s Autumn Tour of Homes included Community Bank, 84 Lumber Co., Riverwood Home Appliances and The Clarion-Ledger. However, in 2006 HBAJ offered something new — automobiles — thanks to Deuce McAllister Imports of Jackson.

Deuce McAllister Imports put a variety of its vehicles on display during the tour. Gaillard said while this cross-marketing is gaining momentum around the country, it marked a first for HBAJ. And, Branch said the HBAMC was looking into similar relationships.

“I think more and more businesses are starting to see (home tours) as an excellent way to advertise,” Branch said.

Milstead said, “Usually, the homes offered on these tours are on the higher end, and the potential buyers have the income and the demographics that make them attractive to businesses as potential customers of their own. Home tours are a great way to get in front of an attractive, targeted market.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at northway@msbusiness.com.


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