The sales consultants at Pulte Homes at Potomac Yard don’t have to ask too many questions about where sales center visitors live, work, or send their children to school. Potential customers tend to walk in the door, stop abruptly at the 19-foot-long detailed local aerial photograph on the floor and start pointing to their personal points of interest. Mothers and children sometimes drop to the floor to point out schools and homes.

“They just start revealing information about themselves,” says Jane Lyons of Lyons & Sucher Marketing. Design. Digital., which designed the distinctive sales center that won a Gold NAHB Nationals award this year.

While the easy information about customers is helpful to sales agents, what is more valuable is that the huge aerial map is a big first step in the process of emotionally bonding potential buyers to the location by showing, rather than telling, how connected the Potomac Yard location in northern Alexandria, Va., is to Old Town Alexandria, Crystal City, Washington, D.C., the Metro subway system, and major highways.

The map, along with the other elements in the sales center, has been successful at helping convert shoppers into buyers at Potomac Yard. The sales center opened in mid-2011 with no models built and PulteGroup immediately started selling five to six homes a month, according to its Nationals awards application. Since then, the sales pace at Potomac Yard has increased. (PulteGroup does not release specific sales pace data.)

While the aerial photo on the floor is the flashiest and most unusual element in the sales center, there are others that work well with it. Shoppers progress from the aerial image to an overview model that shows the general layout of the mile-long, skinny site including the planned amenities: parks with baseball and soccer fields, dog parks, playgrounds, a splash park, and trails.

From there, visitors move to a detailed streetscape populated with three-dimensional models of the luxury townhomes and urban loft condominiums available for sale. The tiny houses are complete with their specific details—brick, siding, windows, decks—so customers can more easily choose which unit they would like.

PulteGroup was in a hurry to get a sales center on the site when it hired Lyons & Sucher near the beginning of 2011, says Lyons. It needed to communicate to the community that the long-empty piece of land was soon to be a neighborhood. It was in such a hurry that it decided to make the sales center, which needed to be very visible to drivers, out of a triple-wide mobile home rather than deal with permits required to build a more permanent structure, she says.

But nobody wanted the mobile home to look like a mobile home, so Lyons & Sucher looked to the surrounding neighborhood for inspiration and came up with an exterior brick treatment with columns that was inspired by an iconic local bakery. The big words across the front of the building: “Pulte Homes at Potomac Yard” took up all its signage allowance, so to communicate more information about the community, Lyons & Sucher put murals on the street side of the building, displaying icons that denote the community’s lifestyle. There’s a bicycle, a metro train, a dog with a leash, a woman with a briefcase, and the Capitol dome.

The sales center has become more than a sales tool. It also serves as the community’s unofficial clubhouse, a venue to host parties and events with prospects, brokers, and the media. “It creates excitement,” says Lori Windsor, a sales consultant with 33 years of experience who works out of the center. “It’s what every sales center should be.”

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Washington, DC.