Free event opens Saturday and continues through March 11

Wandering through radiant new homes, observing the luxury lifestyle and imagining ownership is surely vicarious entertainment for many home show visitors. Right?

“You dream. We build.”

That’s one of the slogans for Arthur Rutenberg Homes.

That best be a big dream, too. The company builds “luxury custom homes” with “elegance, craftsmanship” and “lasting value” in mind. That doesn't come cheap.

The homebuilder will showcase four models among the 117 entries in the 2018 Parade of Homes Manatee & Sarasota Counties. The Manatee-Sarasota Building Industry Association event, which is free, opens Saturday and continues through March 11.

My wife and I waded into the high life a few years back while visiting the Lake Club at Lakewood Ranch during a home show. Geez, the monster mansions had it all, with home theaters, libraries, dens, outdoor entertainment areas and, of course, gourmet kitchens. The wow factor included the interior decorating.

We couldn’t help but make judgments on just about everything we saw, but we weren’t keeping score, just registering likes and dislike — all the while knowing full well the dream bubble would soon burst. We never went looking to buy, but plenty of people do.

Dozens of real judges do inspect the properties, evaluating and then awarding individual honors for best floor plan, best master suite, best kitchen, best architectural detail and best curb appeal in both single-family and multi-family categories.

The competition extends to landscaping, pools and interior design, and everyone wants to win and market that honor. And sell you one of their products.

Our best takeaway from home shows has been learning about decorating trends and styles, kitchen design positives and negatives, and the open floor plans that allow togetherness instead of the detachment created by walled-off rooms.

The Lake Club, The Concession and The Founders Club are among the high-priced communities with homes priced at $900,000 and above.

But there are plenty of more affordable homes among the 117 entries — affordable being a relative term. Some of the 16 communities in the parade feature entries that top out at $249,000. That’s about $30,000 less than 2017’s median sale price for a single-family home in Sarasota and Manatee. In the Trevesta development in Palmetto alone, home prices start in the low $200,000s.

Neal Communities and Medallion Home are two major private homebuilders in the region — both based in Manatee County — and both offer less expensive homes besides their top-dollar ones.

The event’s website — paradeofhomesinfo.com — promotes all the entries as “quality built luxury homes.”

After touring past Neal and Medallion homes, we found that to be true. And the smaller, cheaper residences have their own charm and something missing in the mansions, unless you’ve been spoiled by that lifestyle: the comfort and warmth that does not come with soaring ceilings, stadium-size rooms and sprawling outdoor kitchens/living rooms bordering a pool with a waterfall and spa.

To some, that sounds more like a resort than a home.

But that’s what’s fun about the Parade of Homes. You get to see it all and judge for yourself. And let the imagination run wild.

Chris Wille is the Herald-Tribune's real estate editor. He can be reached at chris.wille@heraldtribune.com and 941-361-4805.