By Jeff McKinney
The Cincinnati Enquirer
HAMILTON TWP. - When Homearama 2003 opens Saturday, all nine houses on display will sport price tags of $1 million or more each.
That's a first in the 42-year history of the show, an event that is expected to draw about 100,000 visitors.
What's made the prices go so high?
Well, just imagine eating breakfast under a "hip-hop design" skylight roof - similar to the one at Kenwood Towne Centre - that's part of a kitchen solarium worth $40,000, not including the glass.
Or enjoying March Madness on a 109-inch movie screen while throwing a party in a combined $100,000 media room, wet bar and billiards area that looks more like a chic restaurant than a basement.
Picture clicking up songs on a $55,000 computer-controlled sound system into 11 rooms, whether you're chilling out in your bedroom or reading in the study.
Those are among the latest bells and whistles featured at Homearama, which is being held in Vista Pointe at River's Bend near South Lebanon in Warren County's Hamilton Township.
This year's show underscores how some Tristate consumers are willing to spend big bucks to buy more expensive homes, despite the weak economy, bearish stock market and job concerns.
Two forces are fueling the elaborate-home buying trend:
Mortgage interest rates have hit their lowest level in about 40 years, allowing consumers to buy more expensive and larger homes.
A growing number of baby boomers and empty nesters want homes to entertain friends and family at their convenience - and in high style.
"I'm seeing more people who want homes that fit their lifestyles," Tony Hering, president of Hering Homes in Delhi Township. "More of my clients want to entertain children and grandchildren at home, they don't want to chase them."
All of the homes have one common theme: more entertainment-type amenities than ever before. They include built-in, stainless steel natural gas grills that sit in veranda-style decks; combined kitchen, hearth room and breakfast nooks; great rooms with 18-foot-high picture windows and bars.
Another key point: Most of the homes are larger than those featured at previous Homearamas. The average square footage comes in at a hefty 7,000 square feet, roughly three times the size of a typical two-story Tristate home.
Brian Sims, president of Rookwood Homes, said a 7,400-square-foot home worth $1.3 million was the largest and prettiest his company built for Homearama.
"This home was built for entertainment," he said.
The average price of the homes is $1.27 million, more typical of what you'd find in Indian Hill.
Still, visitors can at least whet their fantasies about living in such elegant homes. Or, more likely, they can pick up the latest ideas on how to remodel a kitchen, redesign their landscaping or add or build a fancy covered deck.
"We know that 99 percent of the people who go are not in the market for a $1 million home," says Elda Marshall, executive director of the Home Builders Association of Greater Cincinnati. "They want to see what's new in housing, the latest in kitchen appliances and pick up new landscaping ideas. Those really seem to intrigue people."
The market for million-dollar homes is generally strong in southwest Ohio.
Sales of homes priced at $1 million or more totaled 28 in January through May, up from 23 during those months a year ago, according to the Cincinnati Area Board of Realtors.
Yet the average price of these upper crust homes dropped during that time - $1.34 million so far this year, down from $1.44 million in 2002.
So what's driving prices down? A large inventory and more competition, creating a buyer's market for homes in that price range. There were 93 homes for sale at $1 million or more in southwest Ohio during the first week of June, up from 77 from the same period last year, the Realtors board said.
Kathy Overstreet, president of the board, said sellers might have to consider adjusting their prices down as there's more competition to get buyers.
Sales of these most expensive houses may be up because wealthy individuals - weary of losses in the battered stock market - see real estate as a better investment, Overstreet said. Low interest rates also have "helped more people afford those type of homes where they could not have before," she said.
In case you visit Homearama and are eager to buy, you might want to act quickly. Six of the million-dollar homes are already sold.
If you go
What: 42nd Homearama, featuring nine newly built, furnished and landscaped homes, priced $1 million to $1.5 million.
When: Saturday through June 14-29. Hours: 4 p.m.-11 p.m. Monday-Friday; noon-11 p.m. Saturday-Sunday.
Where: Vista Pointe at River's Bend, in Hamilton Township near South Lebanon. From Interstate 71, take exit 28. Go south on Ohio 48, turn left on Vista Ridge Drive. Parking is free.
Tickets: $8 for adults, free for ages 12 and under.
To learn more: Call 851-6300 or go to Web site
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