Real-estate voyeurs will have to get their fix of six-car garages, stone-hewn wine cellars, and home theaters elsewhere this year: For the first time in nearly half a century, Homearama has been cancelled.
The annual orgy of housing excess fell victim to the real-estate bust as cash-strapped builders refused to gamble on speculative construction of luxury housing. Homearama had been showing signs of distress for at least a few years before the Home Builders Association of Greater Cincinnati pulled the plug in March. Houses from the 2007 and 2008 shows lingered on the market, and last year’s show moved from the pricier Long Cove in Deerfield Township to the less-expensive Carmelle in Mason, attracting only five builders instead of the usual dozen or so. Those houses, which ranged from $550,00 to $800,000, sold more quickly, but they revealed the delicate balancing act at the heart of the home show: Few people can afford to buy a $2 million house, but who wants to pay to tour a house they can almost afford to buy?
Other changes to the market have made Homearama houses less fashionable. The shows are usually located in new exurban developments, while worries about gas prices and the economy are prompting buyers to look for more modest houses and central locations.
But some market watchers believe the mega-house is poised to make a comeback. “They’ve always been a little harder to sell, especially now with people worried all the time,” says real estate agent Diane Tafuri, who recently re-sold a 2007 Homearama house. “I think it’s probably going to take a couple of years until people feel more comfortable, but there are people out there who have the money, and they want to enjoy themselves. They don’t want to leave it all to their grandchildren.”
It could even happen sooner than expected: The high end of the local real estate market has been showing signs of life in 2010 after at least two years in the doldrums, and building permits for single-family houses were up during the first quarter of this year compared to last year. And last month the HBA announced Homearama’s 2011 return. For those who can’t wait, previous Homearama houses are currently on the market (see right). On a weekend open house, you won’t even need to pay to get in.