This story was originally published in Builder.

The homes in West Village at One Loudoun feature three to four bedroom models and start in the $600,000's.
Courtesy Miller & Smith The homes in West Village at One Loudoun feature three to four bedroom models and start in the $600,000's.

For this year's selling season, McLean, Va.-based builder Miller & Smith is hoping to draw in buyers with a series of unique, hands-on open house events.

In an effort to provide shoppers with more than just a model home tour, prospective buyers can see cooking demos from local chefs, take a DIY classes with local artisans, experience a guided fitness workshop, or partake in a personal styling session from a local boutique--all inside the communities' model homes. With the educational pop-ups, Miller & Smith hopes to engage shoppers with both their potential new home spaces and the local community partners they'd be interacting with were they to purchase a Miller & Smith home.

Miller & Smith will hold its first FIRST LOOK event on Feb. 9, with a subsequent one to follow on March 23. The events will be held in eleven model homes across six Maryland and Virginia communities between the two weekends.

Here, BUILDER talks with Miller & Smith's vice president of marketing, Kim Ambrose, about the new campaign.

Miller & Smith's Walhaven at Kingstowne community in Alexandria, Va., offers three-bedroom townhomes starting at $601,990.
Courtesy Miller & Smith Miller & Smith's Walhaven at Kingstowne community in Alexandria, Va., offers three-bedroom townhomes starting at $601,990.

How is FIRST LOOK different than traditional model home tours?
Unlike the typical hands-off approach to an open house where home buyers' weekends are filled with balloons and cheese platters, the Miller & Smith FIRST LOOK models will become a hub for families to roam free, interact with local community partners, play, build, listen and learn for a truly immersive experience. It’s about the first time you take your first step into a Miller & Smith model, and we want buyers to feel at home before the door even closes.

We've seen experiential marketing take off in the hospitality and retail industry over the years with great success. Looking ahead, we have an opportunity to turn the typical open house on its head and sell the ultimate experience - owning a home. It's a deeply emotional decision for a buyer and they're looking to envision a lifestyle, not just a house. Why not create an experience where a home buyer can immerse themselves in the lifestyle first?

Tell us about the kinds of workshops and pop-ups you'll be offering.
We decided to only recruit hyper-local vendors and partners for each of our models as we wanted home buyers to not only experience the home itself but the local neighborhood and community as well. We chose these particular workshops and seminars based on what truly appeals to our target our home buyers. For example, we recruited locals chefs to demo their favorite family recipes since food is such an emotional connector at home. In several of our models in Loudoun County, Va., we recruited several high-end boutiques to present a first look at spring fashion and offer personal styling sessions so buyers in these communities could see what the nearby retail was like.

How do you expect this to impact sales?
The spring is usually our busiest season as many buyers, especially families with children, want to be able to move into their new homes in the summertime. We expect our FIRST LOOK workshops and showcases to attract potential home buyers who really want to experience what living in that neighborhood would be like before purchasing. They want to know who their local retailers are and what types of services are available for their families. We’re really giving them the opportunity to experience a “day in the life” in one of our communities. We anticipate this unique program to increase our traffic by at least 25-35% on the showcase weekend.

What are buyers looking for in their next home?
Buyers are hungry for flexibility in floorplans for all life and family stages. Multigenerational spaces are still very important to about 20% of our buyers and we expect this trend to keep growing in the next few years. Whether you’re a baby boomer or a millennial, open floor plans in models still reign supreme with less formal home spaces giving way to comfort being king. Especially in the mid-Atlantic markets, we provide styles and options to accommodate the consumer preferences including three-season, outdoor entertainment spaces on the main level to include screened-in porches and decks.

This story was originally published in Builder.