Week after week, the marketing team at Kaplan Communities in Highland Park, N.J., would look at the new-home ads in the real estate section to see what kind of incentives were being offered.

"People were giving away a car or a trip to Italy," says Christina Santowasso, marketing manager for Kaplan Communities. "I said, 'Why don't we give them furniture? I have my aunt's couch and my uncle's dining room table. Give people what they need."

The result was a "Housefull of Free Furniture" cross-promotion with Ashley Furniture that offered buyers a gift certificate to the furniture store to furnish their new home. It was available at all Kaplan Communities neighborhoods of condos, townhomes, and single-family homes from the low $400,000s to the mid-$600,000s. The result: an 18 percent increase in traffic and a 14 percent increase in sales.

To create the incentive, Santowasso and a representative from Ashley Furniture reviewed each Kaplan Communities neighborhood. The dollar amount of the gift certificate was coordinated with the furniture needs of the largest unit in each community.

"We based it on the square footage of the house," Santowasso explains. "If I'm buying a condo, I don't need as much furniture as a single-family home."

Buyers had an option of picking out basic furniture for the whole house or spending the allowance on one premium piece. The choice was theirs.

"Our salespeople told buyers that if someone wants to buy the nicest leather sofa ever and spend the whole allowance on that, that's fine," Santowasso says. "A couple of sites attracted men whose wives took everything in their divorces. A lot of them were excited because they got to pick out their own furniture for once." 

Marketing for the incentive included banners, e-mail blasts, direct mail, newspaper ads, and displays, both at Kaplan Communities neighborhoods and in Ashley Furniture locations. "Ashley Furniture had a display of our promotion, and their staff was aware of it," Santowasso says. "It was pulling traffic from their stores, too."

The day before the promotion was launched, a meeting was held to thoroughly explain it to the sales staff. The builder's attorney and accountant, and a representative from Ashley Furniture attended so that every possible question could be addressed.

"A lot of salespeople couldn't wait to leave because they had people sitting on the fence," Santowasso says. "They knew it would bring people in, and it did. …

It cost about the same as paying someone's closing costs. With free furniture, they can touch it, pick it out together, and show it off. You can't show off your closing costs."

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Trenton, NJ, New York, NY, Atlantic City, NJ.