Acting Out

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Actors show southern California home buyers how life would be to live in Centex Homes' Milestone community home.

August 01, 2006

You won't hear a family argument save for a minor squabble between brother and sister, nor see kids' toys strewn everywhere. But home buyers visiting Centex Homes' Milestone community do get the chance to envision how their own family would look living in the 166-home neighborhood in Santa Clarita, Calif. — at least that's what the creative minds behind the strategy hope.

The home builder's LA/Central Coast division first introduced HomeLife in May with such success it repeated a day-long performance in June and July. The way it works: actors portraying a mother, father, brother and sister have a general story line they improvise throughout the day. Curious home buyers can stand by and watch or interact with the family, who in their June encore pretended to celebrate mom's birthday, complete with cake and presents.

So far, so good. The presentations have brought in 30–40 people an hour at times, and although Amanda Larson, the division's marketing director, doesn't directly attribute home sales to the event, it has affected the conversion rate, she says. Best yet: a one-day event costs less than a typical Centex ad.

"It helps [home buyers] see how they would fit into the home" even on a basic level, Larson says. Having 30 people in the home during the pseudo-birthday party, for example, shows how the home can accommodate a large family.

The division's marketing team crafted the idea a year ago while brainstorming ways to make their model homes more personal — contrary to the depersonalization sellers might aim for in re-sales.

"It's not just acting," Larson says. "It gives the home a heartbeat and makes it an emotional experience."

As guests roam the house, Mom points out a whirlpool tub while putting on her makeup, Dad demonstrates kitchen appliances, and the kids — whether actors or visitors — sometimes find themselves playing together outside. The goal is two-fold: actors are prepared to answer questions about the home's features, too.

It's an out-of-the-box idea builders — not to mention CNN and The Washington Post, to name a few — are noting. Builder David Hunihan of Fidelity Homes in Venice, Fla., admits his initial reaction questioned the idea but acknowledges builders tend to stay in their comfort zone.

"But more power to [Centex]. Anyone stepping out with a new idea forces you to explore new ground and think about what else could be done. I'm always impressed by any creative, cutting-edge marketing idea."

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