The Oliver sales center, which opened last year, is a remodeled home on a prominent corner lot. People can stop in during open houses and learn about Come Home Baltimore's plan for the community. It's a system that the company is planning to re-create in other parts of the city, said managing member David Borinsky.

"We don't just build houses and move on to a new project," Borinsky said. "The model home was a way to signal that commitment."

Karim Harried, a real estate agent who sells Come Home Baltimore's properties, said that buyers are more comfortable dealing with the builder who invests in a model. "It's night and day," Harried said when he compared selling the Oliver properties before and after the model's construction.

City Life Builders, which started rehabbing homes in Baltimore in the 1980s, plans to open its first rehab model home in a few weeks, said owner and developer Anne Riggle. The model is on North Collington Avenue, just north of East Madison Street, an area of East Baltimore where City Life is refurbishing many properties.

"Basically, [buyers are] picking a location and a size" of home from City Life's inventory, Riggle said, and then looking through the model to gather ideas and plan a layout. From property selection to completion should take about six months, she said.

City Life plans to have the model open on weekends for drop-in visitors and weekdays for appointments, Riggle said.

Kaine and Banks discussed pre-selling rehabs before seeing Come Home Baltimore's model, Banks said, but getting potential buyers into finished homes to see what they'd be getting often proved difficult. A model would solve the problem of finished home accessibility, he said.

"Once we turn the keys over [to a buyer], it's tough to schedule" times for prospective pre-sale buyers to view a property, Banks said. "It becomes difficult coordinating."

So soon after Kaine and Banks saw Come Home Baltimore's sales center, they made an offer on the Eastern Avenue property that they're in the process of renovating.

They're going to invest "$400,000 easy" into the model, Kaine said. The return on that money will largely come from increased sales velocity, he said. The model will work as advertising and show potential buyers they're not a fly-by-night rehab operation — both factors should bring in more business, he said.

"People will know we're investing a lot of money into our product," Banks said. "We're not going anywhere."

The model will also ease the home personalization process, they said. Instead of running from a carpet store to a kitchen design studio, a buyer will be able to make all of the choices from the comfort of the design center.

The model is going to have an open floor plan and have several "memory points" to entice buyers, Kaine said. They're thinking of installing polished concrete countertops and a no-vent, real-flame fireplace.

There will also be product samples on display, so buyers can easily make comparisons. For example, they expect to install both hollow-core and solid interior doors inside the model.

"Our process will be smoother," Banks said. "More one-stop shopping," Kaine agreed.