Community characteristics reflect past ecological and evolutionary dynamics. Here, we investigate whether it is possible to obtain realistically shaped modelled communities – i.e., with phylogenetic trees and species abundance distributions shaped similarly to typical empirical bird and mammal communities – from neutral community models. To test the effect of gene flow, we contrasted two spatially explicit individual-based neutral models: one with protracted speciation, delayed by gene flow, and one with point mutation speciation, unaffected by gene flow. The former produced more realistic communities (shape of phylogenetic tree and species-abundance distribution), consistent with gene flow being a key process in macro-evolutionary dynamics. Earlier models struggled to capture the empirically observed branching tempo in phylogenetic trees, as measured by the gamma statistic. We show that the low gamma values typical of empirical trees can be obtained in models with protracted speciation, in pre-equilibrium communities developing from an initially abundant and widespread species. This was even more so in communities sampled incompletely, particularly if the unknown species are the youngest. Overall, our results demonstrate that the characteristics of empirical communities that we have studied can, to a large extent, be explained through a purely neutral model under pre-equilibrium conditions.