SOME PROJECTS SELL THEMSELVES; others need a little help. Seabridge Villas was a bit of both. A condo conversion project located just a mile from the Pacific Ocean, its 344 units had a starting price under $200,000, considered very affordable in the white-hot Los Angeles real estate market.

The target buyer was a young, active single or a married couple who wanted to enjoy the ambiance of a coastal community at an affordable price. By comparison, a dilapidated beach cottage not much larger than one of Seabridge Villas' studios cost twice as much, and these came with a builder's warranty and a “whiz bang clubhouse.”

Marketing for Seabridge focused on being able to walk to the beach and shopping, having a maintenance-free lifestyle, and the ability to stop paying rent and own a home.

“It really worked,” says Sabrina Gilchrist, account executive from Culver City, Calif.–based RAP Communications. “The traffic was phenomenal.”

There was just one problem: 80 out of 344 units were studio units with just 485 square feet.

“In downtown city areas, selling a studio is a common concept,” says David Jacobson, senior vice president for developer Regis Homes. “This was a suburban, relatively low-density area. To offer 80 studios that were only 485 square feet was risky. There were no comparables. If you'd been there, you would have said, ‘I don't believe anybody can take this space and make it feel larger.'”

Jacobson called in Lana Canova from Design Tec to see what, if anything, could be done with the model to make prospective buyers think it was anything more than an oversized walk-in closet.

Canova used streamlined contemporary styling, vivid colors, every available inch of wall space and moveable room dividers to give buyers a host of ideas. The result was a project that sold out within a year.

The decorating showed its livability potential, Jacobson says. “All the models were zingers. ... This was a case of taking something that would scare a lot of marketing people and making it a benefit, [not] a concern.”

Builder: Regis Homes, Irvine, Calif.
Landscape architect: Closson & Closson Landscaping, Orange, Calif.
Interior design: Design Tec, Newport Beach, Calif.
Ad agency: RAP Communications, Culver City, Calif.
Signage: Outdoor Dimensions, Fullerton, Calif.

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