BREAKING THE MOLD CAN BE SCARY FOR A builder, especially when that mold worked pretty well. But that's the step Benchmark Homes took when it hired a California architect to introduce a whole new look to the market at its community The Grove.

“Omaha's market is really stagnant and boring in terms of architecture,” says Benchmark Homes director of marketing Julie Minton. “Every builder builds the same plan. It's a box on a box with the garages up front, and the exteriors look the same.”

Benchmark brought in B3 Architects from Santa Barbara to totally redesign its product line to help the company transition from being an entry-level builder to becoming a move-up builder. B3 took a mix of French country and English cottage and “put a Mid-western flair on it,” Minton says.

The architect also introduced Omaha to a brand-new product, the villa home, a smaller-footprint unit with higher density that comes with a maintenance package of snow and lawn care. The product is geared toward young professionals, empty-nesters, and move-down buyers. The bulk of the buyers has been transferees who have seen similar homes in other markets and understand their appeal.

It didn't take any time for anyone to understand—and fall in love with—Benchmark's new single-family homes. To emphasize its position as a move-up builder, Benchmark created a custom package that includes rounded corner beads, extensive use of arches, and 9-foot ceilings.

“People couldn't believe they could get these things at this price point,” Minton says.

To unveil the new concept, Benchmark threw a steak dinner at The Grove for area Realtors and gave away $10,000 in cash.

“It was a great way to introduce the Realtors to who Benchmark Homes is now,” Minton says. “We were kind of known as an entry builder. It was important to make this kind of statement.”

Market: Omaha, Neb.

Project: The Grove, Elkhorn, Neb.

Date sales started: January 2001

Sales through February 2005: 351

Total units planned: 650

Unit size: 1,650 to 2,950 square feet

Price range: $206,900 to $268,900

Builder/Developer: Benchmark Homes, Omaha

Architect: B3 Architects, Santa Barbara, Calif.

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