CHAD AND JAN WILSON HAVE been married for 16 years. They were college sweethearts. He's an electrical engineer; she's a marketing executive. Chad's passion is cooking, and he loves to try out new recipes when their alumni club gets together to cheer for the team on TV. Jan is a history buff and is particularly interested in the Renaissance period.

Their son, Clint, is 13, excels at science and can tell you the names and records of every team that made it to the quarterfinals of the last World Cup. Their daughter, Katie, is 10 and has just gotten the lead role in the local children's theater production of “Annie.” Her idea of a great way to spend the day is writing a play and then designing and creating costumes for all of her characters.

Who are the Wilsons? They're a target demographic of second-time, move-up buyers. Model merchandisers regularly dream up family profiles to create memorable model homes and help buyers connect on a very personal level with the house.

By giving target buyers an identity, builders don't lose sight of their goal during merchandising, says Barbara Decker, principal of Denver-based Captivating Design Service. “The secret is to tug at their emotions and have them say, ‘I love this home!' ” she says.

DRAMATIC SCALE: Even the smallest model, such as this 485-square-foot studio at Seabridge Villas in Los Angeles, can feel inviting and spacious with properly scaled furniture and accessories.
DRAMATIC SCALE: Even the smallest model, such as this 485-square-foot studio at Seabridge Villas in Los Angeles, can feel inviting and spacious with properly scaled furniture and accessories.

It's just one of the tools that top merchandisers use to help increase sales of both houses and options and upgrades. Here is a top 10 list of tips from the pros on how to make your models simply irresistible.

1. STAY ON TARGET Everything needs to work together, says award-winning model merchandiser Mary DeWalt, principal of Dallas-based Mary DeWalt Design Group, because buyers may look at as many as 75 models before they make a purchase decision. The merchandising should show them how a family just like theirs lives in the house.

“A model has to have all the parts in place; it's that subliminal,” DeWalt says. “What makes it so great is everything. I hate to hear builders say, ‘We want to do a Spiderman bedroom to make people remember the house.' You don't want them to remember one really bizarre or trendy thing. It's everything that resonates with how they want to live.”

2. GET THEM AT THE FRONT DOOR The entrance is extremely important because it sets the tone for the buyer's expectations, says Julie Hilton, director of design for Virginia-based Oakcrest Builders. Make sure the house seems as open as possible and take advantage of natural light. “I liken it to displays you see in a department store to make it appealing,” she says.

3. SPEAK THEIR LANGUAGE Research the neighborhood and see where your buyers shop. You'll use a different approach if the closest store is a Neiman Marcus than if it's a Target or a Steinmart. Incorporate items from those types of retailers in your models, DeWalt says. “It creates a real strong comfort level,” she says. “It's like greeting an old friend. You're showing them ideas they can recreate.”

What you don't want to do, she says, is become so specific that you cross into the realm of stereotyping and clichés, whether it's with ethnic groups, the architectural style, or the theme of the house. You can convey an equestrian lifestyle, for example, without plastering the house with horse accessories.