By BUILDER Magazine Staff. Brenda Kunkel figured she had a whole year to kill before the serious sales and marketing would start for Terrabrook's new community, MiraBay, in Tampa, Fla. It was summer 2002, and the developer was still jumping through countless permitting hoops related to the docks for the waterfront master planned community. And the models wouldn't even be finished until spring 2003. "But the issues with the docks started getting press and suddenly people started calling to get on the list, and we started collecting names," says Kunkel, vice president of sales and marketing for MiraBay.

All tolled, the list of prospective buyers came to 1,000 names. So Kunkel seized the opportunity to create a preferred-purchaser, pre-sales program that created a strong sense of exclusivity. She sent everyone on the list a special invitation to attend one of three presentations at a local hotel, and 50 percent turned out.

The event included literature, a video presentation, an announcement about who the eight builders were, and rough estimates of the home and lot prices. Prospective buyers gave a refundable $1,000 deposit to secure an appointment. Kunkel kept things fair by putting the checks in identical envelopes and drew them out of a beach bag at the end of the day. She had 154 envelopes with $1,000 in them and ended up setting 127 appointments.

"The buyers really pushed us into doing something, and it was all kind of backwards," says Kunkel. "But it gave us 75 home sales ($26 million) that we would not have had on our books last year because we weren't slated to start selling until this spring."