Home buyers want it all--a great location, wonderful floor plans, a sense of neighborhood and belonging, and a full array of amenities and upgrades. In an attractive market for financing, buyers generally have been willing to pay for a higher level of quality and creativity.

This year's entries in The Nationals reflected builders' commitment to meeting those demands and to communicating their visions to potential buyers. Celebrating its 23rd year as the home building industry's premier sales and marketing award, The Nationals are sponsored by the NAHB's National Sales and Marketing Council and co-sponsored by Whirlpool Appliances, Gladiator Garage Works, and KitchenAid.

The 2004 competition drew more than 1,100 entries. The gold and silver winners held nothing back in their pursuit of excellence. Their submissions highlighted thoughtful planning, extensive market research, attention to detail, brand integrity, and masterful execution of sales and marketing strategies.

The winning entries called attention to some nationwide trends in home building, notably a move toward neotraditional neighborhoods with strong identities. The growing role of Web sites in a builder's marketing strategy was evident, as well as the power of a consistent message at every buyer touch point.

The winning style of The Strand was inspired by the quiet, casual elegance of historic Santa Barbara, Calif. The second- and third-floor spaces were designed to take full advantage of the neighborhood's hillside location overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The few select ads run by builder Brookfield Homes spoke to a buyer drawn to an affluent yet quiet beach lifestyle.
Courtesy Brookfield Homes The winning style of The Strand was inspired by the quiet, casual elegance of historic Santa Barbara, Calif. The second- and third-floor spaces were designed to take full advantage of the neighborhood's hillside location overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The few select ads run by builder Brookfield Homes spoke to a buyer drawn to an affluent yet quiet beach lifestyle.

Reverse Snob Appeal The Strand at Crystal Cove, Newport Beach, Calif.

Attached community of the year (suburban); best color ad--single project; best interior merchandising of a model priced over $1 million (tie); best attached home plan priced over $350,000 (tie)

They've got plenty of money, but they don't flaunt it. They want a house at the beach for evening walks with their kids, the ocean breeze on their faces, and cookouts with friends, not formal dinner parties with people they don't like but need to impress. They can afford to buy whatever they want, and they want this.

Those are the buyers that Brookfield Homes (back-to-back winner of Attached community of the year) wanted to attract with The Strand, an ocean-view enclave of 42 attached homes designed to feel like the coastal hillside of Santa Barbara, Calif.

All 42 lots were pre-plotted to take advantage of the topography of the site, says Brookfield vice president for sales and marketing Carina Hathaway. The floor plans emphasized casual living and entertaining with outdoor fireplaces and dining rooms with bookcases.

"A less sophisticated person might think the dining room needs to be glitzier," Hathaway says, "but they don't need to prove anything to anyone else. These are rooms where they live year-round."

Planning for the community began with the design team taking a day trip to Santa Barbara, visiting and photographing historic buildings to capture the feel they wanted to recreate. The community's logo, a branch of red coral, was the result of equally careful research, Hathaway says. Rare, precious, and found only in the deepest parts of the ocean, it embodied the mystical qualities they wanted for The Strand.

Courtesy Brookfield Homes

Marketing for the community was as low-key and sophisticated as the community, says Claudia Roxburgh, principal of the Roxburgh Agency. Drawing primarily on The Strand at Crystal Cove's interest list, the development did very little traditional advertising and focused its marketing dollars on the brochure.

"The paper on the brochure has the look of sand in a certain light," Roxburgh says. "The vellum is like foam on the ocean. We got into the texture of the place. We wanted [the potential buyers] to feel the sand between their toes."

Roxburgh also wanted to emphasize the quality of the design features of the homes, devoting two full pages in the brochure to architectural elements such as low-maintenance incense cedar doors and windows, custom cabinetry and ornamental iron, and state-of-the-art appliances.

In addition, the sales process mirrored the lifestyle. Models were open to the public only on the weekends, with docents explaining the community. From that, individual appointments were made for personal tours on weekdays.

Model merchandising focused on low-key sophistication for a prospective buyer who didn't feel a need to show off. That attitude was expressed in the wealth of informal yet upscale indoor and outdoor gathering spaces.
Courtesy Brookfield Homes Model merchandising focused on low-key sophistication for a prospective buyer who didn't feel a need to show off. That attitude was expressed in the wealth of informal yet upscale indoor and outdoor gathering spaces.

Two special events targeted purchasers and A-list potential buyers. One featured demonstrations by the various companies that had provided the homes with their special products, such as the appliances. The second was in conjunction with nearby merchants and featured modeling of holiday fashions, gourmet hors d'oeuvres, and a wine tasting.

"This was about giving individual buyers quality time to understand what these homes are about rather than running thousands of people through them," Roxburgh says. "These are upscale buyers. We wanted to treat them very specially."

Builder: Brookfield Homes, Costa Mesa, Calif.; Architect: Scheurer Architects, Newport Beach, Calif.; Landscape architect: The Collaborative West, San Clemente, Calif.; Interior design/Sales office design: Color Design Art, Pacific Palisades, Calif.; Ad agency: The Roxburgh Agency, Costa Mesa; Signage: P-11 Creative, Santa Ana Heights, Calif.

Old World Flavor Fiore at Turtle Ridge, Irvine, Calif.

Detached community of the year priced $500,000 and over; best sales office over 600 square feet; best model complex landscape design

It's not easy to make your community stand out when a master developer maintains tight control over your exterior elevations. But that's the price of entry into an Irvine Co. development. For Pardee Homes to develop Fiore, its homes had to fit into a theme of French or Tuscan farmhouse.

Courtesy Pardee Homes

"There's not much difference between French and Tuscan," says Bob Clauser, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Pardee Homes. "When we do stand-alone projects or our own master plans, we find our buyers tend to enjoy a little more diversity. We're comfortable doing Spanish next to French next to traditional. This has a more homogenous village approach. It's very handsome; it's just different from what we're used to."

Its award-winning sales office made full use of a model, carefully blending the interior design elements of the house with the needs of the office, says Julie Schneidewind, designer of the Fiore sales office. Too often, designers put the sales center in the garage of the model and "forget the garage is attached to the house," she says. "It has to feel the same, emotionally and intellectually. You don't want people to walk from one jarring experience to another one."

To establish the sales office as a separate space but still make it feel connected to the model, Schneidewind used similar flooring materials, wall coverings, and window treatments.

To create the Old World feel of the French or Tuscan countryside, landscape designer Mike Piering used cypress and olive trees, lavender, and other materials reminiscent of Tuscany. He took full advantage of the hillside views, the city lights, and the model complex location on the end of a quiet street.

Builder: Pardee Homes, San Diego; Architect: William Hezmalhalch Architects, Santa Ana, Calif.; Landscape architect: Land Concern, Santa Ana; Ad agency/Signage: Alan Zukor Advertising Design, San Diego; Interior design/Sales office design: Color Design Art, Pacific Palisades, Calif.

Jewel in the Desert The Villas at Southerng Highlands Golf Club, Las Vegas

Detached community of the year priced under $500,000; best single-family detached home priced from $400,000 to $650,000

In a market known for high rollers and lavish living, it can be tough to sell buyers on a smaller home. That was the challenge facing Christopher Homes with The Villas at Southern Highlands Golf Club. One of the smallest houses offered in the area's top golf course community and surrounded by homes that sell for $1 million-plus, The Villas needed to fire on all cylinders to capture the attention of prospective buyers.

"They're looking for a home with all the amenities, but they don't need 5,000 square feet," says Erika Geiser, Christopher Homes' vice president of marketing. "I don't think you're finding that in smaller square footage homes. It's like the jewel in the desert. They don't want all the extra space to maintain. It's very responsive to the needs of those professionals."

Courtesy Pardee Homes

The positioning statement for The Villas hinged on buyers getting the Southern Highlands lifestyle--golf, spa, on-site restaurants, tennis, swimming, and concierge service--at a much lower price point than might be expected.

Marketing for the community included several invitation-only events tailored to women in the buyer profile, including upscale charity fundraisers and demonstrations with interior designers and china manufacturers so buyers could "experience the homes as they would entertain in them," Geiser says.

Sales doubled in 2003 over 2002, Geiser says, primarily because Christopher Homes responded to a subtle second-home buyer preference. Early models featured a backyard that opened onto the golf course, which sold well in other markets but didn't offer Villas customers the privacy they wanted. Now, rear walls are standard.

The best-selling floor plan is the Nechita, which locates the bulk of the living space on one floor, centered around an interior courtyard. Upstairs is a low-maintenance game room, bath, and a covered deck suited to entertaining and taking advantage of the view.

"It's amazing what you can see when you get 10 feet off the ground," says architect Mark Scheurer. "The views are just incredible. You walk out on that covered deck at night, and you can see 50 miles. That's something we didn't want to leave out."

Builder: Christopher Homes, Las Vegas; Architect: Scheurer Associates, San Francisco; Landscape architect: Nuvis, Costa Mesa, Calif.; Ad agency: CKN Partners in Advertising, Las Vegas; Interior design: Design Tec, Newport Beach, Calif.; Sales office design: Habitat/Christopher Homes, Las Vegas; Signage: Motivational Systems, Las Vegas

Intranet Observant Ladera Ranch, Ladera Ranch, Calif.

Best overall ad campaign

The inspiration for Ladera Ranch's award-winning marketing campaign, which centers on the word "belong," came from watching and listening to Ladera Ranch's residents on its intranet site, Laderalife.com.

"It's an amazing tool for communication in the community," says Sandy Keedy, president and creative director of Hayes Martin Associates, the agency that created the campaign. "That's what gave us the insight into how people felt about living here."

Courtesy Rancho Mission Viejo

Used in newspaper and real estate magazines and carried over on the Ladera Ranch Web site, the campaign features strong emotional tugs based on everyday moments, such as lying in a hammock or teaching a child to swim.

"The copy is very evocative and very memorable," Keedy says. "It stops you in your tracks. It makes you want to take a big, deep sigh. It's very soft but very powerful."

The campaign generates 10,000 to 14,000 Web site visits per week and drives traffic to the sales center "without traditional methods, like driving directions or maps," Keedy says. It's also eliminated any need to do direct mail.

"We've used non-traditional messages in very traditional mediums," she says. "That's why it's so effective. It breaks apart from the clutter."

It also helps sell houses. Every new phase that's released sells out within days or even hours, she says.

With a development that is far ahead of its build-out schedule, Keedy says the primary challenge in creating the campaign came from within.

"We do a new ad campaign every year for Ladera Ranch," she says. "Every year, we raise the bar for ourselves from a creative standpoint. The only challenge is to exceed that level."

Builder: Rancho Mission Viejo, San Juan Capistrano, Calif.; Ad agency: Hayes Martin Associates, Newport Beach, Calif.

Top of the Hip Paces 325, Atlanta

Best community brochure--$250,000 to $500,000

It's never easy being the first builder to offer a product in a community. Chartwell Development Partners was breaking new ground with a 22-story, high-rise in a part of Atlanta's Buckhead community that isn't typically residential or high-rise. Within walking distance to street cafes, art galleries, and upscale boutiques, the company needed a brochure to emphasize the "hip" factor of a building that didn't yet exist. It also had to counter negative publicity about crime in the area by emphasizing an active, fun lifestyle in a safe neighborhood.

Courtesy Chartwell Development Partners

Atlanta-based Idea Associates created a tall, sleek piece that emphasizes Paces 325's high-rise profile in a low-rise environment. Front-cover windows allow for various inserts that provide a cost-effective way to update the brochure at various stages of construction, says Nixon Jefferson, president of Chartwell, the building's developer. A rear pocket lets the sales staff customize each piece to fit the interests of prospective buyers.

At a cost of $4.75 per piece, Jefferson says the brochure is the "right balance between upscale and sleek, but we also didn't go off the deep end on price. We got a very well done brochure at a great price." Best of all, the brochure has helped Chartwell tell the story it wants the buying public to hear.

"It is getting the message across," says Sibet Freides, principal at Idea Associates. "People are leaving [the sales office] saying the things we want them to say."

Builder: Chartwell Development Partners, Atlanta; Ad agency: Idea Associates, Atlanta

Swinging on a Star The Crosby Estate, Rancho Sante Fe, Calif.

Best brochure--master planned community

Having a beloved icon attached to a community can be fabulous, frightening, or a bit of both. In the case of The Crosby Estate, a luxury golf community tied to the late Bing Crosby, it has been sheer delight.

"Having Kathryn Crosby's support and involvement allowed for a level of authenticity and respect for the utilization of Bing's name and image," says Sam Robinson, development partner with Starwood Development.

The community's brochure has the look and feel of a treasured family photo album and features several photos of the entertainer, taken from Kathryn Crosby's family archives.

Courtesy Starwood Development

"When she decided to come on board and endorse the project, we went to her house, had lunch, and she introduced us to the treasure in her basement, which was thousands of photos of Bing," Robinson says.

To preserve the photographs, which had been exposed to dampness and water for years, ad executive David Gauger hired a photographer, who scanned volumes of images and created a digital archive for the family.

The brochure subtly ties the past to the present by gradually shifting from black and white to color images and uses golf tees as a graphic element to solidify The Crosby Estate's position as a premier golf community.

In conjunction with the sales center, the brochure "put us on the map the day it hit the street," Robinson says, with regional media coverage.

"With the quality of the brochure, there was no question of who we were or where we were," Robinson says. "That undoubtedly was one of our objectives, to be known real fast and not have a ramp-up."

Builder: Starwood Development, Rancho Santa Fe, Calif.; Ad agency: Gauger + Santy, San Francisco

Something Totally Different Front Street, Ladera Ranch, Calif.

Best logo

Front Street isn't your average subdivision. Located within the master planned community of Ladera Ranch, it is the ultimate live/work community, with homes designed to accommodate work-at-home professionals. The houses have separate entrances for home offices and spots to literally hang out their shingles.

As a result, Standard Pacific Homes needed "something totally different" for a logo, says Karen Spargo, vice president of sales and marketing for the Orange County division. The result was an image taken from one of the elevations, drawn in rich, sunny colors reminiscent of a story book. Front Street refers to the fact that so much of the community orients to the street.

"What was important was to demonstrate it was a very different kind of residential product," she says. "Front Street is a very different name. We wanted to conjure up intrigue and make people ask, 'What is this?' but also capture the charm of the village. It's so cute and imaginative, people smile when they see it. The colors are so deep and true, everyone immediately smiles and says, 'Wow, that is great.' We wanted to provoke a response. Doesn't it look like a happy place to live?"

Builder: Standard Pacific Homes, Irvine, Calif.; Ad agency: Hayes Martin Associates, Newport Beach, Calif.

Mile-High Style Mountain Air Country Club, Burnsville, N.C.

Best signage; best direct mail

A family venture that has been undertaken with sizable amounts of love and devotion, Mountain Air Country Club already was the winner of two gold Nationals statuettes when it entered this year's competition and brought home two more, as well as a silver for its Web site.

Courtesy Mountain Air Country Club

The signage is for a three-acre mountain village center that includes a lodge, restaurants, a movie theater, a post office, a grocery store, and other services. Hand-carved and hand-painted, they reflect the mountain ambiance and the community's high level of quality.

"They're not cartoonish, but they're fun signs," says Warren Grant, president of Windfall, the community's marketing arm. "The signage reflects the active spirit of the mountain village."

With a nod toward the practical issues related to a community a mile above sea level, the brackets for the signs are powder-coated steel, providing stability against high winds and low temperatures.

Builder: Mountain Air Country Club, Burnsville, N.C.; Ad agency: Applied Communications, Calgary, Alberta, Canada; Sign designer: Joe Sonderman, Charlotte, N.C.

The Nationals, Part II

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Los Angeles, CA.