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5 outside-the-box secrets to help sell your home

Everyone who's trying to sell a home in today's real estate market has probably heard the same advice many times: Clean everything, declutter and depersonalize to appeal to buyers. But beyond following the usual rules, what other ways can you make your home stand out from the rest?

"Sellers need out-of-the-box ideas to have a better chance of selling," says Michelle Lohr, a designer in Austin, Texas who soon will be putting her own house on the market. Though the real estate industry is depressed, she believes that with today's low mortgage rates, she'll find a buyer for her home if she uses good, unique home-selling tips.

If you're also trying to sell your home in this highly-competitive market, here are five outside-the-box secrets from agents and design pros on ways you can make your house irresistible to buyers.

1. Create photos of hotspots

You've probably heard that you should depersonalize your home by removing photos of family and friends before showing your property. But instead of leaving the walls and tabletops bare, one secret is to replace them with artwork that showcases nearby hotspots, says Kara Russelo, owner of Little Virgo Organizing & Home Staging in Holly Springs, N.C.

Put up black and white photos of local landmarks, and colored photos of great views or landscaping, she says. By doing so, you help buyers envision themselves in your home, which needs to happen before a sale, she says. "You can even include menus from nearby restaurants. Place these items throughout the home to give it a sense of local flair," Russelo says.

2. Sweeten your home's scent

In the past, home sellers have attempted to make their homes smell like freshly baked chocolate chip cookies to charm buyers. But according to Russelo, a better tip is to put a warm loaf of bread in the oven. "The cookie smell does work, especially when buyers get to eat some on your home tour, but I've found the warm bread smell often works better for sales," she says.

Regardless of whether you have cookies, bread or nothing at all, make sure your home has a soft, pleasant smell. "If you don't have the opportunity to pop something in the oven right before a showing, then the home should smell like clean laundry, lavender, or no scent at all," Russelo says.

If your home has a strong odor--from pets or heavy cooking spices, for example--use an odor neutralizer so that the smell isn't too harsh for buyers' senses, she says.

3. Go to other sellers' open houses

Check out the competition to help you understand what you need to do to get your own home ready to sell, says Maria O'Dell, a real estate agent with Realty Executives of Kansas City in Leawood, Kan. "The homes that are selling are the ones that are in the best condition. Going to an open house lets the homeowner see what they're up against," she says.

Lohr, who also owns GnM Lohr Homes, an Austin-based design company, says that she gets staging and design ideas from open houses. "After touring other homes, I can analyze other properties and think about what makes my house different. Then, I can make sure that difference is mentioned in the listing remarks," she says.

4. Upgrade online pics

Many buyers will look at a home's photos on the Internet before deciding if it's worth driving by to make a visit, so good photography is critical in marketing a home," says O'Dell.

If your listing photos aren't taken in bright sunlight and show clean, uncluttered rooms, you may need to hire a professional photographer to re-take them, she says. (Many Realtors offer professional photography as a part of their services. Otherwise, the homeowner could expect to pay around $150 for such services, says O'Dell).

Another tip for homeowners is to create a video walkthrough of their property, but it would have to be done professionally, too, often at a cost of more than $250, O'Dell says. "If your budget requires choosing between a video or high-quality pictures, get the pictures," she says.

5. Write a letter to buyers

Another rarely used secret is to write a note to the people coming to view your property, says Russelo. "In the letter, mention all the reasons you bought the home in the first place, like a family-friendly kitchen, great storage or good schools nearby," she says.

"A letter lets you make the connection between the features in your house and the memories that can be made from them," adds O'Dell.

It's important to be sincere, however. Be sure to not make the note unrealistically positive. For example, don't mention that no appliances have broken down if it's not true, O'Dell says.

Instead, create a letter that helps buyers understand how you've created wonderful memories in your home, and now they'll have an opportunity to do the same.

Especially in today's competitive real estate market, sellers need all the help they can get to set their homes apart. Sometimes all it takes is for you to think outside the box.

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