South Bend, Ind., isn't exactly a hotbed of real estate activity. The area's growth is essentially flat, and a recent economic outlook from Indiana University's School of Business and Economics called the forecast for 2007 “less promising than recent years.”

Yet South Bend builder Weiss Homes had its best year ever in 2006, vice president of sales Kym Baker says. To help buyers who were skittish about purchasing a new home, Baker armed sales consultants with data on the local housing market and solid reasons why customers should buy now.

“We're the experts,” she says. “We have to help them think it through.”

SOLID VALUE: The Truman, shown here, is one of the best-selling plans at Weiss Homes' Lafayette Falls community.
SOLID VALUE: The Truman, shown here, is one of the best-selling plans at Weiss Homes' Lafayette Falls community.

One of its best-selling communities—and the fastest-growing new neighborhood in the city—is Lafayette Falls. It averages about a sale a week, split fairly evenly between its maintenance-free villas and its larger single-family homes. That's about double the average sales volume for new-home communities in the market, Baker says. Besides a favorable location and appropriate pricing, the success of the community comes from a combination of innovative marketing and design strategies.

RESPECT FOR REALTORS Weiss Homes has cultivated an unlikely, but powerful, ally—the local real estate agent community. Any agent who registers a client at Lafayette Falls will be paid the standard agent's commission instead of being cut out of the deal by the builder's sales consultant if the buyer later shows up without his agent. That common practice often makes real estate agents extremely reluctant to take their clients to look at new-construction homes.

“If I have someone who is even thinking about building, I can register them with Weiss and if they build, I know I'll get compensated,” says South Bend Realtor Rodger Pendl. “They make it real simple. By simply faxing a [customer's] name, I have the security that this is a builder [I want to] recommend.”

Realtor Joan Allen says it's also important to her that the buyer's base price is the same whether an agent is involved or not. Otherwise, the buyer would be tempted to work without her to get a lower price on the house.

“I don't need to fear that they'll try to cut me out,” Allen says. “Even if I bring someone in just once and the buyer comes back without me, they honor that. You have a really good trust level from the start.”

The policy on commissions, which Baker says she considers a marketing expense, has paid off. About 25 percent of their sales come via agents.

“Realtors are a tight-knit group, and they network a lot,” Baker says. “If you do one of them wrong, they're all going to know. And on the flip side, they'll remember you as well.”

Learn more about markets featured in this article: South Bend, IN.