Arizona is one of the top destination states for active adults. The outer perimeter of Phoenix abounds with Del Webb and Robson resort-style communities. So BUILDER sent me to scope out Sun Lakes, Robson's active adult community south of Phoenix. Sun Lakes is big-- two miles square--with its own zip code and interstate exit off I-10. It's close to the local economic powerhouses of Chandler, Mesa, and Phoenix and only thirty minutes from the airport.

Since I'm not old enough to buy in an age-restricted community, I took along an AARP card-carrying friend, who just turned 55. We went to Sun Lakes, where we presented ourselves as a frequent-traveling, still-working active adult couple who needed convenient access to Phoenix's Sky Harbor Airport.

A standing hostess posted at the sales center's front desk greeted us and immediately presented a qualification postcard for our completion. This diverges from sales and marketing guru Nicki Joy's approach (she prepped me and my co-workers to mystery-shop homes), but in my experience it is common at large master planned active adult communities. Shoppers know the routine. Our hostess quickly passed us along to the next available sales associate, Jamie Mendell. She was absolutely great--friendly, not at all pushy.

Active Retirement
My first surprise was Sun Lakes' definition of active adult, which, according to Jamie, was any person over 40; I need not have brought my friend. The raison d'etre of this re-definition became apparent later, when I followed Jamie's suggested route to Sky Harbor Airport through what was clearly a bustling high-tech corridor, boasting Intel and Motorola semiconductor plants.

Jamie may also have been widening her sales chances, not sure that either of us was the magic age of 55. Sales literature at Sun Lakes uses the classic active adult definition and says that a limited number of units may be sold to someone at least 40.

Jamie escorted us to the obligatory topography table for a detailed bird's-eye view of the evolution of Robson's community and product mix. She demonstrated where the models were in relation to the rest of the community and showed us the shortest route to the airport. She then presented a map of the 14-model complex, x-ing five models she thought appropriate to my requirements for a home office and guest accommodations. Financially, "we" qualified for the entire product range.

The only product features she failed to capitalize on were Robson's building construction and energy-efficiency technology; there was a sample of insulated block wall adjoining the topo table. I later learned from sales literature that house exterior walls were built with Integra block, a product with noteworthy green features.

Jamie ushered us off for an unaccompanied tour of the models. Though the unchaperoned tour deviates from Joy's suggested techniques, it, too, is a standard operating procedure at active adult communities, since many prospective buyers are simply browsing on their first visit. Active adults are slow decision-makers who quickly bridle when pushed and often visit communities several times before reaching decisions. Jamie's hands-off guidance seemed quite appropriate for success with such a wary market segment.

The models were effectively and appropriately furnished and merchandised for the target market. The models Jamie suggested really did work best for my home office needs.

Once back inside the sales center, Jamie gave us the glossy brochure (with explanations of more features and even a brief biography about herself). She told us that Sun Lakes has its own aquifer and wells for an assured water supply and mentioned that Robson's homes are part of a utility-sponsored, energy-efficiency plan.

Jamie had answers for all of our questions. Then she invited us to lunch. Alas, I had already been several hours at Sun Lakes, far longer than expected, and really did have a plane to catch. I used her recommended shortcut.

Jamie's thank-you letter found its way posthaste to my home mailbox. Her subsequent follow up included a copy of Robson's newsletter, with a return postcard should I wish to receive regular newsletters (a nice bit of opt-in marketing). I am also mulling over Robson's Preferred Guest Program, inviting potential buyers to try a Robson community on for size.

1. Meet and Greet -- A

2. Bond With Prospect -- A

3. Qualify the Buyer -- A

4. Ask Open-Ended Questions -- A

5. Demonstrate Features and Benefits -- B

6. Create Urgency -- C

7. Ask for the Sale -- N/A*

*(Active adults prefer a low-key sales approach, so asking for a sale would not be appropriate for this group.)

8. Follow Up -- A

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Phoenix, AZ.