Before the ribbons were cut on the first 10 model homes at Tehaleh, Newman Communities’ new development near Tacoma, Wash., the local moms were abuzz about the development’s new coffee house.

“We are so excited about our Eismann Mamas … coming through and enjoying Caffe D’Arte!,” one posted on Tehaleh’s Facebook page.

Such interest in the community’s visitor center coffee house by locals might seem pointless to most developers, since most guests already own homes locally. Not to Newland. For Newland, having the mothers of children who attend the adjacent elementary school visiting the coffee house inside its visitor center is an opportunity.

“It shows community from day one,” says Teri Slavik-Tsuyuki, Newland’s senior vice president and marketing officer.

Even before the grand opening, the coffee shop inside The Post visitor center had become a social hub, said Slavik-Tsuyuki. Area residents were riding their bicycles down and drinking the custom-roasted coffee on the deck. Local college students were studying there. “We sold out of food twice last week, she said. “It was all over Facebook.”

Newland has begun turning many of its community sales centers into community hang-outs with the thought that home shoppers, weary from visiting communities, will stop there to have some food and drink and rest while considering the homes they just looked at. In the process, Newland expects them to interact with people who already live nearby, allowing Newland to tap into powerful word-of-mouth recommendations from residents and locals, and the shoppers to tap into a favorable sense of community.

Newland made heavy use of Facebook and other social marketing techniques to introduce Tehalah to the locals. In addition to opening the coffee house early, there was also an online contest to win a home that required contestants to go on the Tehaleh website to find answers to various quizzes about the development. The contest culminated in a physical challenge contest during the grand opening weekend.

The result was the most successful grand opening Newland has had in years, said Slavik-Tsuyuki. “There were at least 2,000 people there. The builders, Lennar and Quadrant Homes, said they hadn’t seen that many people at a community grand opening since 2005. Shea Home’s active adult community model “was so slammed you could hardly walk in it,” she said.

And the people who came were good prospects. “They were motivated, they were qualified, and they were booking appointments on the spot” for sales meetings, she said. The five builders in the project, Lennar, Richmond American Homes, Quadrant Homes, Benjamin Ryan Communities, and Shea, were all pleased, she added. Unofficially there were 13 sales on the book by the end of the weekend.

Newland, in partnership with Sekisui House, Japan’s largest builder/developer, bought the 4,200-acre development approved for 5,900 homes, at Bonney Lake, Wash., from a failed developer in March 2011. Once called Cascadia, the land was renamed “Tehaleh,” a Chinook Jargon word for “land above” because it sits on a high plateau with views of Mount Rainier.

Teresa Burney is a senior editor for Builder magazine.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Seattle, WA.