This year marks the 75th anniversary of the Parade of Homes!
Since the tour’s inception, hundreds of thousands of people have enjoyed the tour with their families, flocking to the now-biannual, four-week-long event to gather inspiration and see firsthand the latest offerings from local builders.
In celebration of the milestone anniversary, look back at the Parade of Homes’ history — and learn how it continues to benefit homebuilders, homebuyers, and the Twin Cities community today as the largest home tour in the country.
The birthplace of the home tour
The modern home tour concept’s origin story starts in Edina in 1948. Six members of the Minneapolis Builders Association — looking to showcase the best of what new construction had to offer — collaborated on a house in the Edina Highlands neighborhood, drawing a crowd that lined up around the block to get a glimpse inside.
Two years later, in 1950, the Minneapolis Builders Association launched a bigger, scattered-site tour featuring multiple homes from multiple builders. Throughout the next decade, the Parade of Homes continued to grow in popularity and size. The tour was a valuable shopping opportunity for G.I. soldiers returning home from war and ready to settle down with families in the suburbs. Curious potential homebuyers continued to show up for the tour in droves, and there was even a Parade of Homes parade, complete with a Queen of Homes royal court.
“The association realized they had a gold mine on their hands if they knew how to protect it, and I think they’ve done a darn good job over the years,” says Wendy Danks, the former director of marketing and communications for Housing First Minnesota, the building advocacy association — formerly known as the Building Association of the Twin Cities (BATC) — that produces the Parade of Homes.
Noticing the success, the Minneapolis Builders Association was experiencing across the river, the St. Paul Area Builders Association started its own Parade of Homes, and eventually joined forces with Minneapolis to launch a second yearly tour in the spring. “We found that doing the Parade of Homes at the same time made sense for promoting the event,” says Bob Hanson, who was an executive for the St. Paul Area Builders Association when it merged with the Minneapolis Builders Association in 1992, forming BATC.
BATC continued to offer two Parade of Homes tours per year: one in the fall and one in the spring. “The fall parade was always the big one with more expensive, custom spec homes builders wanted to present,” says Danks. “Spring is the height of the new sales market. Families who are looking to change housing want to do it sometime around May or June when their kids get out of school and before they go back to school. So spring was really when big crowds would come out for the tour.”
At one point, there were roughly 1,300 homes presented in the spring Parade of Homes and 800 in the fall. Then, the Great Recession hit. Single-family home building fell by 75%, and millions of people lost their homes to foreclosure. The Parade of Homes had to pivot.
People have an emotional and personal connection with their home, so the Parade of Homes started showcasing those stories.
“In those days, our commercials for the Parade of Homes were kind of fun and silly,” says Danks. “When the crash hit, we reevaluated, and that’s when we started interviewing and showing real buyers.”
The association was no stranger to adapting to the needs of the market and homebuyers. As the internet gained momentum as a vehicle for home buying around the turn of the century, a website for the Parade of Homes was designed to offer a digital tour guide, provide year-round resources and a search feature for builders and remodelers, and allow visitors to map their own personal tour route with an online tour planner.
Danks also recalls an online tool that enabled website viewers to change the wall colors and wood finishes of Parade Homes. “It was a turning point in how people buy houses,” she says. “These virtual tools helped keep the Parade of Homes brand relevant during some tough times.”
Despite the challenges throughout its history, the Parade of Homes has always persevered. In the past 75 years, the tour has only been halted once: spring 2020, at the start of COVID. Even then, Housing First Minnesota and participating builders got savvy and launched a virtual-only tour in May of that year, which has since become an option for some builders every tour.
Danks credits the Parade of Homes’ longevity and success to the transparency of the builders in the pricing of their tour homes. “When you come to the Parade of Homes, you see what it costs; you see the finishes that you’ll get,” she says. “If granite is really important to you and you go into a house that has granite, the price they’re quoting you is the actual price. I think, from a marketing standpoint, that really helped us solidify the brand.”
A Time-Honored Tradition
Today, more than 200,000 people attend the tour to see the 350-plus homes presented during each event, making it the largest Parade of Homes in the country.
There have been small tweaks over the decades: In 1996, the Foundation Dream Home program began, collecting entry fees at a handful of exclusive, high-end homes in an effort for the Builders Outreach Foundation (today called the Housing First Minnesota Foundation) to raise money to build and remodel homes for families in need.
The Remodelers Showcase was launched in 1984, highlighting remodeled housing projects and then folded into the Parade of Homes event in 2000. “It’s a great opportunity for a person looking to remodel to go out and see what a remodeler can do with a house,” says Hanson.
Then, in 2011, the Green Path Energy Tour became a special section of the Parade of Homes tour to educate homebuyers on energy efficiency in new homes. Finally, the Artisan Home Tour — a ticketed tour of new and remodeled luxury homes — was created as an extension of the brand in 2014.
BATC later became Housing First Minnesota in 2019, reflecting the advocacy association’s mission to provide homeownership opportunities to all Minnesotans. The Parade of Homes is one way the association meets that goal. “The bottom line the tour has operated on is that everybody needs to have a roof over their head,” says Danks. “We want to help you find what will work best for you and show you the reality of what it costs to have a new house.”
A Benefit to Builders and Buyers
Through it all, the Parade of Homes’ purpose to showcase and promote local builders and remodelers hasn’t changed.
“Beyond the personal significance, these tours serve as a remarkable platform for builders to establish their presence, exhibit their craftsmanship, and generate valuable leads — not to mention the ability to elevate one’s brand awareness and forge new connections that can propel their business forward,” says Ryan of Sustainable 9 Design + Build, whose 2016 Dream Home at 50th and France in Edina drew a record-breaking number of visitors with its lower-level wet bar, luxury primary bath, and iconic fire pole that connects the second floor to a walkway adjacent to the state-of-the-art kitchen.
For Pratt Homes — which, in 1992, was awarded builder license #000001 in Minnesota after lobbying for statewide home construction standards — the Parade of Homes has become an essential tool for promoting their custom new builds and development communities. Founded in 1973 by brothers Len and Lowell Pratt, Pratt Homes is also celebrating a milestone anniversary this year — the golden 50th — and nearly as many Parade of Homes houses, as they haven’t missed a single tour since their first entry in the late 1970s.
“After all these years, we’ve learned that customers come expecting to see some new ideas,” says Len, president of Pratt Homes. “They can come in and see it, touch it, look at it, talk about how we assemble the homes. That really made a difference for us as we grew our business.”
The Parade of Homes has also made a difference for the hundreds of homeowners who’ve found their home — or their builder or remodeler — because of the tour. “When consumers come to the Parade of Homes, there’s somewhere between 20-30% that are actually thinking about buying a new home,” says Danks. “Some of them have plans to build in three, four, or eight years, but the rest of them are looking for ideas, things to decorate with, and paint colors.”
The importance of cultivating that long-term relationship with tour-goers is why Len insists that Pratt Homes participates in the tour every year. “Some people will come look at our models, even though they’re not at a place in life where they’re ready to buy a home from us,” he says. “But 20 years later, their position in life may have changed, and because they’ve followed us all these years on the Parade of Homes, they’ll choose us to buy from. They trust us.”
From 1948 to 2023, that is what the Parade of Homes has always been about.
This Fall’s Tour
This fall’s tour will run from Sept. 9-Oct. 1 with homes open Thursdays-Sundays from 12-6 p.m. The public is invited to join in several community events throughout the Twin Cities metro before and during the tour to celebrate the milestone anniversary. Events will include a brewery bash and community pop-up events on the tour. These events will serve as a testament to the Parade of Homes’ commitment to celebrating homeownership for all Minnesotans.
Written By Taylor Hugo
Taylor Hugo (taylorhugo.com) is a freelance writer and editor who has experience creating content for regional and national magazines, small businesses and Fortune 500 companies, and everything in between. After spending most of her life in Minnesota, she recently relocated to Colorado, where you’ll find her hiking the Rocky Mountains and decorating her first home that she shares with her husband and dog.