Most houses at the Parade of Homes are built on spec. So what happens when one is sold beforehand? "We're creating a work of art for the buyer," says one builder. Oh, and you'll have 35,000 visitors before you even move in.

"I absolutely love my home!" says dentist Maria Van Huffel. Her house-a two-story, 4,000-square-foot Georgian classic in New Albany with five bedrooms and three and a half baths-was crafted with care in 2010 for her family. But before they could move in, roughly 35,000 people traipsed through the brand-new rooms.

Van Huffel's home, you see, was showcased in the 2010 Building Industry Association (BIA) Parade of Homes in New Albany's Ackerly Park development. She just happened to buy the house before it was built. That's not unusual, says Craig Tuckerman, president of Tuckerman Home Group, which constructed Van Huffel's house.

"Absolutely, we like the whole process of building a pre-sold parade home," he says. "We were planning on building a spec home for the event, but got a call from a buyer who wanted us to custom-design a home." Buyer and builder soon realized that the parade home would click for both their needs. It took a little of the risk out of building the showcase home for Tuckerman's group, and it provided some hefty discounts from vendors and suppliers for the buyer.

That's one of the big pluses of buying a parade home, says Mark Braunsdorf of Compass Homes. "Vendors want to showcase their best products," he says, "so it presents an opportunity for product upgrades and the latest trends." Van Huffel, for instance, says she appreciates the energy-efficient appliances and innovative kitchen and bath fixtures spotlighted in her new home.

But the process itself takes a lot of collaboration. "It was absolutely a team effort," Tuckerman says. "It involves a bunch of different steps, working together with the new owner, the builder, architect, trades and suppliers, from the interior decorator to the landscaper. This team has to get together and work together."

He says the construction group has to be sure to listen to the needs of the buyer . . . but the builders (and suppliers) have their own desires in spotlighting a parade home as well. "I really like the process that we go through," Tuckerman says. "It takes more communication and a shared partnership, but it's fun. We're creating a work of art for the buyer."

Teresa Collins of M/I Homes agrees. "It's great to have a buyer in advance of the parade," says Collins, who pre-sold a parade home in New Albany last year. "You form a partnership with the buyer and create a win-win situation for everyone involved. It can be a really positive experience." The team has to consider everything from color schemes and light fixtures to appliances, draperies and what's planted in the backyard, she says. "It's comprehensive."

"This was not just my new home," says Van Huffel. "It was a showcase for so many people-the builder, architect, interior designer, plumbing supplier, landscaper. It was really fun to all work together." She was looking for a home that could truly be a happy-and healthy-dwelling for her active family, which includes three school-age children.

"This was definitely a home designed with their family and their healthy lifestyle in mind," Tuckerman says. One of the main focal points of the house is an inviting kitchen where they could create healthy meals. It includes two ovens and two sinks, one overlooking the backyard herb garden.

"I love the big kitchen," says Van Huffel. "It has a big island in the middle where we can all be together." She says it's a great space for preparing foods, casually sharing meals and working on homework assignments. There's also a spacious library on the main floor. "The kids have definitely taken over the library," Van Huffel says. "There's a TV, the Wii game system, a big comfy couch. It's a great space for kids to hang out-very much a family living space."

Most unique, perhaps, is the main-floor workout room. "The buyer wanted an exercise room on the first floor of the house," says Tuckerman, "so she could hop on an exercise bike instead of watching TV. We listened to her needs and created the workout space. We designed it to be flexible, however; if the next owner doesn't want it to be an exercise space, it can easily be turned into a sunroom." Van Huffel loves the result. "It has six windows and tons of natural light. It makes it a really inviting place to work out."

The planning extended outdoors, too. "It's beneficial to have the homeowner involved," says Andy Cihla of Wilson Landscape Associates, which carefully landscaped Van Huffel's property. "When we know who the ultimate users of the space are and what the primary function of the space is going to be, the designer can make decisions more confidently," he says. "Having the buyer involved opens the door for more unique spaces designed specifically for their needs. Working with Maria was a pleasant experience-we achieved everything we were aiming for in terms of the landscape and outdoor living areas."

The BIA Parade of Homes is an annual event at which around a dozen top Central Ohio builders present new houses exhibiting the latest trends in home design. The 2010 parade in New Albany showcased eight homes; this year's event spotlights 11 builders June 11 through 26 in Delaware County's Olentangy Falls neighborhood. "I believe five of the 11 homes are already sold," says Braunsdorf, who serves as president of the BIA. "That says something about the strength of the housing market here in Central Ohio."

Buyers are aware that during the two weeks the parade homes are open to the public, some 35,000 people might be walking through "their" new homes.

"I always caution the buyers right up front that there will be people parading through their home and looking at their decisions. At any one moment during the parade, 90 people might be standing on your carpet in your family room or feeling the pillows in your master bedroom," says Tuckerman. "I tell them they might want to take a vacation during the parade and come back to a home that we've completely cleaned so it's just like new."

But the prospect didn't scare off Van Huffel. "That was Craig's very first question-would we be OK with all the people coming through the house," she says. "But I was fine with it. Really, it was kind of fun. I hung around and listened to people's comments about my house-it was really fascinating."

Braunsdorf pre-sold a parade home in 2009 and says, "The buyer was so excited about the house she kept coming through it and bringing all of her friends with her. I could have put her to work!"

He adds that the furniture in the parade home generally is not the client's-it's used just to showcase the home-and any damage or wear-and-tear to the house itself is completely repaired before the buyer moves in.

Building a pre-sold parade home, Braunsdorf says, "is very much a give and take. It has to be the right combination. It's more hands-on for the builder, and it's more hands-on for the buyer."

So, what are the secrets to making the process a success for all involved? Tuckerman sums it up this way: "There are definitely three things that are important in building any home, whether it's a parade home or a custom home: Communication. Trust. And enjoyment."

"Communication is one of those things that is probably the most important element of my day," he says. "That means communication with the buyers, with the trades, the field people, the employees. Sometimes it's good to keep communication to a minimum-let the field people on-site concentrate on doing their jobs. Other times, you meet and talk and make decisions of the utmost importance to get the home the buyer is looking for."

In Van Huffel's case, she relished the process. "I was able to sit down with the architect and builder and figure out the space. It was a team effort, and really fun to work together."

Communication is key for Braunsdorf, too. "You have to really get to know the client," he says. "Early on, you have a plan figured out that will meet the client's needs and will also show well in the parade. The buyer, for instance, has a say in the paint colors, but I'll have a say, too. We don't want anything way out of whack. Our designer works with the buyer to help them through the process. We work closely with the buyer to plan the major options and choose colors upfront, keeping within their budget range."

Communication works both ways. Tuckerman says it's important for him to communicate with the buyer. "Sometimes it means just explaining to them it's OK if it rains or snows on their home's wooden frame during construction," he says. "These trees were out in the forest in the elements, and the weather is not going to ruin them."

"Likewise, we want the buyer to communicate with us. If we put up a light green paint and they don't like it, tell us. We don't want them to be stewing in bed at night. We want to put their mind at ease." He says phone calls are a good way to keep in touch, but e-mails and texts have made it even more convenient to communicate.

Tuckerman's second key is trust. "The buyer needs to trust us as a builder," he explains. "They've obviously done their homework to find a quality builder. So when they come in, they can trust us to guide them though the process of building their house. We are professionals. From helping them pick their decorator to choosing between a concrete or blacktop driveway, they should trust us that we have their best interests in mind."

Finally, Tuckerman advises buyers to "Enjoy! Enjoy the whole process. You never want to forget that. Some people come out to the building site every day, and we welcome that. It reinforces how much they can enjoy the process. We have their backs. We're going to have their best interests at heart. We're with them every step of the way."

"In the end, we are creating something really special, really personal for the buyer," he says. "It is one of the last hand-built items you can purchase. It's made by hand, out in the field. Not by machine. Not by computer. Not in China. It's man-made of God-made products like wood and stone and granite. It's important to enjoy the whole process . . . so then they can enjoy living in their new home."

Victoria Ellwood is a freelance writer.