Builders know that even the greatest plan can flop if buyers can't imagine themselves living in the house. That's where model merchandising becomes critical. These projects highlight the difference that details can make.

NO LIMITATIONS David Jacobson, senior vice president of Regis Homes, knew he needed top-notch merchandising to make Watermarke a success. Of the 534 units he had to sell in the project, 155—almost a third—were the Astor Court plan, a one-bedroom, one-bath model with just 635 square feet. He needed to communicate that “although the condos may be small, they offer lots of opportunity for personalization and lifestyle.”

He called Lana Canova, the same design pro who had helped him score a home run with Sea Bridge Villas, where the bulk of the units in the project were 200 square feet smaller than the Astor Court.

Thanks to detailed market research, Canova knew that her buyers were “the height of sophistication. You could make it edgy and innovative and cutting edge because they were going to get it. There just weren't any limitations.” So she went all out on the finishes, materials, and color, creating a look that appealed to both design-jaded professionals and number-crunching investors, both of whom were among the buyers of the units.

LIVING LARGE: Even a small room can feel sophisticated. Properly scaled furniture, a mix of materials, and artwork that draws the eye upward all help make this living room in Regis Homes' Astor Court model truly livable.
LIVING LARGE: Even a small room can feel sophisticated. Properly scaled furniture, a mix of materials, and artwork that draws the eye upward all help make this living room in Regis Homes' Astor Court model truly livable.

That's not to say she spent money with abandon. “David puts together a team that is very conservative,” she says. “I'll spend his money, but I'll spend it wisely.”

It paid off. Watermarke sold out a year after Regis Homes started taking contracts.

CREATING DISTINCTION To be sure, market research regarding the target buyer is a fundamental element of model merchandising. Holly Polgreen, president and co-founder of House2Oasis, drew on it heavily for the design of the South Beach model in Miller & Smith's Veranda neighborhood at The Peninsula on the Delaware shore.

As a result, Polgreen knew that the potential buyers who would be visiting the South Beach were upscale Washingtonians who were used to the good life but weren't pretentious about it. “They're very secure in their shoes, and now they want to kick them off,” Polgreen says. She chose a very contemporary look with lots of white furniture, chrome, and glass because these buyers wouldn't be caught dead with wicker at a beach house.

The reason Polgreen could push the look as much as she did was because the South Beach was one of seven location-themed models (such as Nantucket and Malibu) grouped together in a park. She needed to make them distinct so that visitors could keep them straight in their minds. “Doing seven models that go in at the same time and not duplicating anything is a challenge,” Polgreen says. “It was one of the most fun projects we've ever worked on.”

OUTDOOR STYLE The other key to getting great results from your merchandising is to involve the designers early in the process, says Brent McPherson, marketing director of Colorado Springs, Colo.–based Keller Homes. It has worked for years with ColorDesign-Art in Culver City, Calif., to merchandise its models, and La Bellezza at Peregrine, a high-end community of cluster homes, was no different. The emphasis was on creating the look and feel of authentic Tuscan villas.

With that as a reference point, the design team members quickly agreed that the models needed to make maximum use of the exterior courtyards, creating full-fledged outdoor rooms that offered a sense of privacy that can often be lacking in a higher-density community.

It worked beautifully, McPherson says. The models continue to draw strong traffic months after the grand opening. “We had 150, 200, even 300 people [every weekend] for several weekends,” he says. “It was almost like a parade home.”

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Colorado Springs, CO.