WITH CONDO MANIA IN FULL TILT, IT'S become evident to builders that the sales process doesn't mirror the process for a suburban, single-family detached neighborhood. From the product and the buyers to the marketing efforts and the phasing of sales, everything is different.

For example, “you have to think about how you move people in, because everybody's truck can't get in at the same hour,” says Kathy Courtney, director of sales and marketing for the San Diego division of William Lyon Homes.

It takes more than expertise in vertical construction to have a successful condominium project. Whether it's a three-story low-rise infill project or a true urban high-rise, a condominium project will require a different set of sales and marketing skills from that perfected in a suburban sales center.

SELLING A LIFESTYLE One of the most notable differences in the process is the necessary emphasis on presales and the length of time between taking a deposit and closing the sale. Condominium developers generally need to have the building at least half sold before they can get construction financing, and a two-year time line to completion is common. So while sales agents in single-family communities might see the occasional investor, they're practically part of the business plan for condo builders. Warm fuzzies about the fabulous lifestyle and all the great people they'll meet won't mean a thing to investors; you need to talk their language, which is dollars and cents and financing structures.

Investor clients aside, the buyer profile of a condo prospect can be significantly different from that of a single-family buyer, says Garry Benson, a partner in Chicago-based Garrison Partners, a national sales and marketing company that specializes in product development and placement for large-scale residential development. Single-family buyers want to know about “the parts” of the community, their particular house, its amenities and upgrades, the flexibility of the floor plan, how the house will fit on the lot, and how it's built.

For multifamily buyers, it's more about “the whole,” meaning the lifestyle that goes along with living in the building. If this is a vacation or second home, the ease of maintenance and the ability to “lock and leave” is a hot button as well. The view from the unit is enormously important, as is the proximity to dining, shopping, cultural and sports events, and other services.

“Consumers don't care about the thickness of a high-rise wall because they never see it,” Benson says. “It's much more amenity- and place-driven than product-driven.”

It's also a purchase that's based much more on intellectual decision-making than is buying a single-family house, which can be intensely emotional.

“In multifamily, you're selling a lifestyle; in single-family, you're selling a life,” Benson says. “People are thinking, ‘I'm going to raise my family in this house.'”

Gennifer Grogg, director of sales and marketing for CondoLane, the condo sales and marketing division of Lane Co., an Atlanta-based multifamily real estate firm, calls her prospects “urban pioneers,” a different breed of buyers who can visualize the future of a neighborhood and want to be able to watch it all happen in front of them. They couldn't care less about three-car garages, and they're willing to sacrifice on the size of the kitchen or the master bath and the number of closets to be in what they consider to be the right place.