Caruso Homes CEO Jeffrey V. Caruso knew he had a powerful secret sales weapon holed up in its Symphony Village community in Centreville, Md., he just didn't know how powerful, until recently.

The active adult community's residents have become a strong driving force for sales in the community. Of course, it's typical for happy residents to spread the word about their new home to friends and family, but the residents at Symphony Village have taken the standard word-of-mouth referral system a few steps beyond the norm.

MAKING THE RULES: Homeowners living in Symphony Village in Centreville, Md., are responsbile for creating and enforcing many of the rules for the amenities in the community, such as when children can use the pool. Photos: Courtesy Caruso Homes For a while, Caruso has been using a rotating list of eight residents as "ambassadors" at the sales center, paying them a daily rate to take residents on tours of models and to act as living, breathing examples of homeowner contentment.

"They get really involved in it," says Caruso. "There is a waiting list" of residents interested in the job. "They really believe in the community."

Then, last year, while looking for a new way to raise money for its favorite local charity, the four-year-old community's homeowners' association hit on the idea of putting on a home tour, not of the community's models but of their own houses. It was so successful last year that they did it again this spring, creating an even more successful event.

"They were proud of their homes and they wanted to see each other's homes so they sold tickets [at $50 each] to each other to go through 14 homes," says Caruso. But the visitors weren't only from within the community.

"They were bringing their friends and Caruso bought a certain number of tickets and gave them to prospects," he says. As a result, the models were hit with crowds, not only of prospects, but also potential prospects in the form of friends and relatives of current residents. "It was a great benefit to us and it was all coordinated by the homeowners, Caruso says. "We sold two homes that weekend and we have a lot more that we are talking to specifically because of that. It was extremely successful. I think the traffic doubled this year."

Partnering with the community's residents in all kinds of instances, even beyond the sales realm, has become de rigueur at Symphony Village. For example, the developer?builder relied on the homeowners association, for the most part, to set the rules for the amenities. "We empowered them early in the game," says Caruso. "We didn't give them total control but we gave them a lot from the outset."

They even manage the clubhouse bar. It's tended by various residents, who leave their own bottles of liquor parked behind the pricey wooden showpiece that looks like something you'd find in a fine hotel.

There have been a few instances, however, when Caruso has had to temper the residents' fervor to create extra-strict rules, specifically for the pool. "They were too tough," says Caruso. "They had the hours that grandchildren could visit the pool that were a little too restrictive. They were going to have a tough time living up to them themselves."

Still, Caruso found the system of resident empowerment to work extremely well for Symphony Village. "The beauty of it is that they are extremely gung ho and they are all very well-educated and hardworking people who are successful. When you give them a task they are extremely demanding."–Teresa Burney