Sell Your Home -- Fast

Here are five proven strategies to help you sell your home quickly -- and profitably.

If you're looking to sell your home in a matter of days rather than months, you might want to take some tips from 32-year-old Mona Ross Berman.

To get her Washington, D.C., townhouse ready for sale in early 2004, the interior designer went through every room, sweating the details. She rearranged furniture, added sophisticated coffee-table books and strategically placed vases and throw pillows to create a cozy environment. She then organized every closet to showcase her ample storage space. Finally, she removed all personal items, including her wedding photos, so potential buyers wouldn't associate the house with someone else. "I think that if you can get a home to show well, it can get you (better results) than it really should," Berman says. Her strategy worked. Within four days of placing her property on the market, she had five offers in hand.

Long gone are the days when you can simply throw some cookie dough into the oven and get an offer for your house. Thanks to the Internet, home buyers are more sophisticated and demanding than ever before. At a bare minimum, would-be sellers need to dispose of clutter and make any necessary repairs. But to really make a property stand out from the crowd and sell quickly, sellers might need to do the following.

1. Hire an Interior Designer
A well-decorated home will sell faster and for more money than one that looks frumpy. That's why more and more sellers are hiring interior designers to do everything from rearrange furniture and paint walls a neutral color to rent artwork. This service, known as "staging," can cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars for a small job to several thousand dollars for high-end properties, says Patricia Dugan, a realtor with The Corcoran Group.

Experts across the country agree that the investment is worthwhile for most properties. According to 2002 data from Coldwell Banker, staged homes in the San Francisco Bay area spent just 25.3 days on the market and sold at the asking price, while "non-staged" homes languished on the market for 48.2 days and sold for 2% below the asking price. This information is based on more than 3,000 homes sold between Jan. 1, 2002 and Oct. 31, 2002.

2. Hire an Organizer
A lovely décor will get you only so far. To really get the buyers chomping at the bit, you need to highlight your home's storage space as well. That means everything should be clean and organized -- closets, bathroom vanities, the garage and basement. It might sound trivial, but your home's sale really could rest on whether your linen closets can comfortably store your towels.

If you identify more with Oscar Madison of "The Odd Couple" than with Felix Ungar, it might make sense to hire a professional organizer for $75 to $100 an hour. This is especially helpful for those who've lived in their homes for many years and don't know how to dig themselves out of the mess. Some organizers will even help run a yard sale that could end up paying for their services. If you're not sure how to find this type of service, ask your realtor. Most have a list of pros at their fingertips.

3. Hire a Photographer
Up to 74% of home buyers start their search online, according to the National Association of Realtors. Indeed, the Web has become such an important marketing tool that all the realtors we spoke with encourage their clients to hire a professional photographer, which can cost as little as $100, for their online snapshots. Think of it this way: If someone doesn't like how your home looks on the Web, he or she won't bother to make an appointment to see the property in person. Is that a risk you're willing to take?

While putting photographs online isn't exactly new, there are some emerging trends. Six years ago it was OK to have one outside shot of the house, says Tara Rogers, director of marketing for Real Living, a Columbus, Ohio-based real-estate firm. Now, some potential buyers want to see up to a 10-picture slideshow detailing multiple rooms before they commit to a walk-through, she says. Dare to post small, grainy pictures, and risk little foot traffic in your home.

4. Try Marketing Gimmicks
Despite impressive national home-sale figures, some local markets are starting to soften. For example, homes in the western suburbs of Boston are starting to languish on the market for up to 90 days after previously selling in just 15 to 30, says Nelson Zide, co-owner of ERA Key Realty Services, a Framingham, Mass.-based real-estate brokerage. Zide recently started implementing marketing gimmicks to increase the number of potential buyers to walk through his clients' homes. "I haven't done this in 12 or 13 years," he says.

What strategies does he use? Rather than slash the asking price, he might encourage condo owners, for example, to pay the maintenance fees for a full year, or ask home owners to provide buyers with a cash rebate that's marketed as a decorating allowance. Nine times out of 10, such gimmicks cost less than it would to drop the asking price enough to attract a buyer with a smaller budget, says Zide. It's just one more way to get a potential buyer excited about your home.

5. Hold Open Houses
The benefits of an open house are debatable. Industry experts agree that they tend to benefit realtors more than home owners. (After all, it's a great way for realtors to get new clients.) But that doesn't mean that they can't work. The key is to hold them at various times of the day and week so that folks with busy schedules can squeeze in a viewing. Real Living's Rogers says her company's agents make sure to schedule open houses on Saturdays, as well as in the evenings so people can stop by after work.

Another technique more people are implementing is to hold open houses at the time of day when their house shows the best. If you have a beautiful garden, show it off during the morning before the flowers start to wilt. If you have a stunning view of the sunset, make sure people get to see the late-afternoon light. In other words, if there's one thing that you love most about your home, be sure to share it with potential buyers.