Anyone looking to tour homes in person during this year’s Janesville Parade of Homes is out of luck.
But not totally out of luck.
The South Central Wisconsin Builders Association still intends to host the annual showcase of renovations and new homes designed and built by local builders, albeit a month later than usual.
The biggest difference—one that’s become predictable in the era of COVID-19—is that the parade of homes includes no in-person open houses or in-person showings. This year, mostly because of the ongoing pandemic, the parade will launch Oct. 31 as a virtual-only event that will stretch for several months.
Builders association Executive Officer Heidi Van Kirk said the home builders trade group will have a new web page that will offer people immersive, 360-degree visual tours of homes in this year’s parade. The site goes live Oct. 31 with virtual tours for nine new homes in Janesville along with renovated spaces and outdoor landscaping upgrades.
Van Kirk said it wasn’t uncommon at past events to see 30 or 40 people arrive at once at an open house. Her group wanted to find ways to offer a parade that complies with social-distancing recommendations.
“The COVID-19 pandemic was a huge player in the changes, primarily because of the orders to not gather,” she said. “But also, through COVID-19, our builders have been very busy, actually. So this was a great opportunity to still have such a respected event, the parade, and bring people together while respecting the public health recommendations and orders and allowing our builders to continue working.”
Under the association’s plan, a portal to the virtual showings will be active for several months—much longer than the parade of homes typically runs. And the tours also will give people a chance to communicate with local builders and local real estate and lending partners.
Van Kirk said her group is working with two third-party companies on marketing and software that will allow the parade to film 360-degree videos of each home. All the virtual tours will become available at the end of the month and remain available through next July.
She said the tours will be more immersive than the 360-degree “fisheye” photos of rooms used in the past. She said a group in the Fox Cities used the new virtual tour software, and a preview of that group’s tours showed visuals that allow users to zoom into all nooks and crannies of every room in a house.
Unlike other years, the virtual parade of homes is free, although people who want to donate to the builders association can do so. The parade is one of the group’s major events.
The decision to make the parade virtual and free came on the heels of canceling the spring home builder’s expo, another moneymaker for the organization.
Van Kirk said donations for the parade will help the builders association continue its involvement in educational programs, such as its student-built home program in partnership with Parker and Craig high schools.