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Dream Homes '96 to go on despite low draw in '95 Howard County site expected to boost June exhibit's turnout; Up to 10 houses expected; Rainy weekends, school in session called deterrents


Despite a disappointing turnout for the annual Dream Homes event last month, builders say the show will go on next year.

The Home Builders Association of Maryland, co-sponsor of the new-homes extravaganza that debuted in 1994, has found a site in Howard County where up to 10 builders could construct showcase homes displaying innovative designs and products, as well as cutting-edge technology.

"We are planning on moving forward," said Dwight Griffith, president of the association, which needs commitments from at least eight builders by Oct. 16.

An estimated 30,000 visitors toured six models in Piney Orchard in Anne Arundel County during three weeks in September, taking in opulent master-bedroom suites, two-story grand foyers, video viewing rooms and sunny breakfast nooks.

But the Home Builders' attendance estimate fell far short of the 50,000 who toured nine mansions in northwest Baltimore County during the first show in June 1994.

For that show, residences as large as 6,000 square feet listed for as much as $775,000, one outdoing the next in sheer size and extravagance. But many homes took months to sell. This year's smaller homes on smaller lots ranged in price from about $295,000 to about $375,000.

Mr. Griffith said he doesn't believe the drop in attendance was linked to the homes' scaled-down size and price. Rain on two weekends kept some people away, he said. Others in the Baltimore region, in Carroll or Harford counties, might have found the location too far. Still others might have been less in clined to visit in September -- busy with school and work activities -- than in June, Mr. Griffith said.

Given this year's turnout, the Home Builders scheduled next year's show in June once again, although this leaves builders just eight months to decide whether to participate, design and build the homes. The association needs builders to sign up and deposit $3,000 each by Oct. 16, said Marty Stephens, director of events.

Next year's show has several factors in its favor -- the site, for one, Ms. Stephens said. Finding the right site, at the right time, has been among the greatest challenges for Dream Homes organizers, she said. In a region with intense competition for lots, land has often been too expensive. Or developers already have contracts with builders unwilling to give up any lots.

"Howard County is a real plus, with a lot of quality prospective builders," said Ms. Stephens, who added that the association had hoped to stage this year's event in Howard but couldn't find land. "It has a strong market for housing and an active [HBAM] chapter with active members."

For Dream Homes '96, builders constructing homes in Lyndwood in Elkridge have agreed to give up as many as 10 quarter-acre lots for the event. The community, at the future crossroads of I-95 and Route 100, is projected to have 361 single-family homes and townhouses and be adjacent to The Timbers at Troy, an 18-hole public golf course opening next year. The developer, 100 Investment Limited Partnership, will sell lots ranging in price from $117,800 to $150,500. Homes are expected to sell in the $H $350,000 to $450,000 price range.

Stephen Hembree, vice president of construction for Orion Homes, a Dream Homes builder for the past two years, said builders view Howard County as a strong location that will draw people from much of the Baltimore region.

"Dream Homes helps push the idea that builders are still out there and alive," he said. "The feeling I get from the few [builder] meetings is there is still interest. We'd like to see the event continue. Our concern is always building the right thing at the right time at the right place."

He said his company has not decided whether to participate next year.

Dream Homes '95 builder Ryan Homes is considering participating next year, said Bob Coursey, marketing director. But company executives must weigh factors such as preparation time and Howard County's higher land prices before committing to the expense and manpower required in building a "dream" model, he said.

The company originally had decided not to join this year's showcase but reconsidered a couple of months into the planning process. Through it all, the builder remained concerned about the length of time it had taken to sell Dream Homes houses in 1994. But the gamble has paid off, Mr. Coursey said.

"When we look back at the management time and energy, plus the resources we spent on Dream Homes, we believe we have recouped that -- and then some," he said.

The Ryan Avalon model, a traditional four-bedroom, four-bath home with a stucco facade, had a sales contract in just 48 hours, selling for $335,000. The company also got several requests to build the same model in other areas and boosted traffic in model homes by offering house hunters there free Dream Homes admission, he said.

"We had thousands of visitors that saw our product in a [new] light," he said.

Rick Kunkle, president of Patriot Homes, a Dream Homes '95 builder that also is building single-family detached homes in Piney Orchard, agreed that the show has paid off. Even the lower-than-expected attendance became a plus when company representatives found more time to talk with visitors, he said.

The show also gave his company a chance to show and use new products, such as new types of floor tile, copper roofing, and detailed cabinets and trim.

"We wanted to show something innovative, something you wouldn't see in a regular model home," he said.

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