TRAVERSE CITY — Home tours are normally an in-person experience.

Not that there has been anything normal about 2020.

The Home Builders Association Grand Traverse Area annual Parade of Homes went virtual for the first time last month. The Northern Home & Cottage Tour jumps into the world of virtual tours later this year, beginning Oct. 30.

Bob O’Hara, executive officer of HBAGTA, said the event held Sept. 24-27 fell short of previous attendance figures. That wasn’t unexpected, but it’s still hard to take when it’s the biggest fundraiser of the year.

“Oh yeah,” O’Hara said when asked if the virtual parade hurt the bottom line. “Like many HBAs, it was a really tough pill to swallow.

“But like I tell people, ‘We’re in a different world now.’ We have to focus on ‘how do we go from where we are to where we want to be.’”

Following in the footsteps of the Parade of Homes, the Northern Home & Cottage Tour also will make its first foray into virtual tours.

“It’s a thing we’ve never done before,” My North Media Marketing Coordinator Kara Jarvis said.

O’Hara said the virtual Parade of Homes’ traffic suffered a significant drop from previous in-person events.

“I haven’t seen the final numbers yet,” O’Hara said of the 2020 Parade of Homes, where tickets were $17 in advance and $20 the day it began. “But our revenue was down more than 30 percent, easily.”

The Home & Cottage Tour is also a fundraiser. All proceeds from the donation-only event benefits the Child and Family Services of Northwest Michigan. The tour normally works with Golden Fowler Home Furnishings as a partner and the Traverse City store is now a presenting sponsor.

“The homeowners that are allowing us to come into their homes are opening the door to a child in need, just in a different way,” Jarvis said.

The suggested donation for the Home & Cottage Tour is $15. The online ticket has a range of $5 to $500.

In an email, Jarvis said the virtual event is “{span}right on par with average revenue from past tours.”{/span}

“Our turnout has been way better than we expected,” Jarvis said in a phone interview. “We’ve been blown away.

“We’ve been impressed with how many people have purchased tickets and how generous they are. We haven’t had many minimum donations.”

A slightly different audience might help the Home & Cottage Tour.

While the Parade of Homes typically draws mostly local participants, Jarvis said the Cottage & Home might get a little more of a boost from its ties to Traverse magazine. Jarvis said a virtual tour opens a new opportunity for some of those readers.

“We’re thrilled to be able to do a virtual tour and showcase these beautiful homes and cottagers,” she said. “A lot of our readers are from outside of the area, so it gives us an opportunity for them to be a little more involved than they have been before.”

The two tours also are taking a little different take on dates.

The Parade of Homes ran from Thursday through Sunday. The purchase of a Northern Cottage & Home Tour ticket from generates an email with a unique password. On Oct. 30, a second email contains a link to the online tour. Enter the password and the virtual tour remains open through 2020.

“You have through the end of the year to use that ticket,” Jarvis said.

Both home tours are partnering with production companies. HBAGTA credited Caleb Norris from Norris Design Productions plus Scott Smith and Dan Slater from J. Scott Smith Visual Designs. Northern Cottage & Home worked with Greg MacMaster and Eagle Eye Video Production.

“We tried to expand how we could offer and feature things at the virtual event,” O’Hara said. “One of the things people really liked at the live event was to talk to the builders in the home.

“So we put a lot of time and some money doing a video of each of the builders in the home talking about some of the features they liked and their history.”

While this was an expansion of the norm for HBAGTA, it was a new element for Home & Cottage.

“It gives us a chance to have more conversations with the designers, the builders and the architects,” Jarvis said of the 10-minute long “mini-documentary” pieces. “It’s great to give that opportunity to everybody.”

The HBAGTA Parade of Homes featured nine homes from seven companies: CMB Construction, Bay Area Contracting, Scott Norris Construction, Pathway Homes, Clearwater Builders and MAC Custom Homes had one home each, while Moeller Builders had ‘stops’ No. 5, 6 and 7.

The Northern Home & Cottage tour includes eight stops: Ayers Contracting, Cottage Company, G. Mott Builders, Kitchen Choreography, Mapleridge Construction, Paul Maurer General Contracting & Paige Lee Interiors, Scott Norris Construction and Trillium Shore Custom Homes.

Organizers of both tours said virtual was the only way to go in this year of the COVID-19 pandemic. There was just no way such tour could be safely held in 2020, they said, especially with so many attendees typically going in and out of the same front door.

“It was not too surprising,” O’Hara said. “It’s tough to get a whole lot of people through a home. Even in the large venues, it’s a management quandary.”

“I tell people, ‘We’re in a different world now.’ We have to focus on ‘how do we go from where we are to where we want to be.’” Bob O’Hara, executive officer of HBAGTA