Brian Swartzwelder, Grey Street Studios

New-home shoppers hate most new-home sales centers.

That’s the conclusion Teri Slavik-Tsuyuki, Newland Communities’ chief marketing officer and senior vice president, made after spending several months visiting new-home sales centers across the country.

“‘Hate’ is not too strong a word,” she says, recalling customer stories from her trek.

“One woman said she would leave her husband in the car with one foot on the gas, the other on the brake, while she dashed [into sales centers] and grabbed brochures so they could take off before they were trapped by any sales people,” Slavik-Tsuyuki says.

Other shoppers said they avoid sales centers altogether, choosing instead to chat with residents in local parks for intel. Almost all said they hate the fences that herd buyers past the sales agents before seeing models.

The stories convinced Slavik-Tsuyuki that sales centers needed to transform from anxiety-producing environments to welcoming venues.

When Newland set about developing two new communities—the 5,900-unit Tehaleh in Washington state and the 3,800-unit Waterset in Tampa, Fla.—it built cafe/welcome centers separate from model homes. The transparent boxes offer shoppers a clear view inside, and rather than sales agents sitting at desks in a garage, shoppers see baristas serving locals coffee and pastries.

The result is a casual environment where current residents—as well as the baristas—become ad hoc sales agents, offering authentic reviews of what the community is like.

Because of Tehaleh’s remote location at the end of a road, there are not many gathering places nearby. The community’s Caffe D’arte has become a natural place for shoppers to sit and reflect on homes they’ve just seen in a non-pressured environment, says Slavik-Tsuyuki. “Baristas are getting more comfortable telling our stories to visitors who head straight for the coffee,” she adds.

The number of people who interact with the baristas is impressive—Newland has had more than 1,000 group visits to the cafe/sales center this year and sold 95 homes in eight months.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Bremerton, WA, Tampa, FL.