Builders guard sales gadgets that help market new homes

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The new-home sales center, once a supermarket of paint colors and cabinet designs, now sells something less tangible than granite countertops.

Condensed in tricked-out double-wide trailers with free coffee and scones, the American ethos of opportunity oozes from carefully designed showcases worthy of an Epcot exhibit and so secret that developers are loath to share the details.

Sunrise, Fla.-based builder GL Homes politely declined to discuss, or demonstrate, its super-charged, proprietary technology that allows buyers to manipulate visions of their potential home on a touch-screen model of the community, even though the public can freely wander its sales centers.

A Colorado designer said she was barred for years by a developer from taking pictures of sales centers she set up for fear the competition would copycat. The builder relented recently, defeated by shared images on the Internet.

From the wattage of the lights to the scents in the air, sales centers for new homes have evolved, orchestrating a feeling of not just what your new home will be, but who you will be when you buy it.

“The building side of the home industry wants to make buying a home a journey where you are creating the dream,” said Lita Dirks, CEO of the Denver-based design and consultancy firm Lita Dirks & Co.

Cafes and front porches with sitting areas are typical features of new sales centers. More subtle additions include added scents that match the lifestyle being sold. A beachside community may have ocean overtones in the air, while a property with lots of trees may add a pine fragrance.

Developers have jumped back in the home-building business in the past two years, buying up land and gussying up sales centers that were quiet during the recession.

Homebuyers can find so much out about communities online, such as designs, pricing and the site plan of the neighborhood, that they don’t need as much procedural information from the sales center.

Where once the walls may have been covered with only printouts of floor plans, now there are accessories that try to evoke an emotional response.

“Today, when people walk in, we’re promoting a lifestyle,” Ms. Cohen said. “We have photos of the amenities that we offer, photos of the schools, maps of points of interest, grocery stores, where they want to shop.”

While buyers are still likely to come across the massive Monopoly board-style 3-D community renderings, Toll Brothers is also adding “interactive site plan tables” where buyers can see videos about the community and pull up maps, all while digitally designing a home and choosing a specific lot.



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