When selling your home, you only get one shot to make a good first impression with potential buyers. Believe it or not, most houses have some detectable odor. But because of olfactory adaptation, you may not smell your own breath, body odor, or perfume after a few minutes. It’s science!
Over a short time, you become more oblivious to some odors left in your home from pets, cooking, soccer practice, garbage cans, sink drains, laundry bins, and even dirty diapers. But in real estate, that first whiff makes all the difference to potential buyers… because if you can smell it, you can’t sell it.
Your usual guests may be too polite to tell you that your house smells like the litter box, football practice, or last night’s fish dinner. That’s why you need an honest sniff test by someone who will tell it like it is, and isn’t used to it already.
Occasionally, tough odors like an animal carcass or mold may be creating problems. It can come from inside the walls, basements and crawl spaces, and even attics. Don’t try to mask the problem with air fresheners, because it won’t work.
In some cases, you may need to call in an expert to remedy mold or rodent infestations, especially because removal can be hazardous. But you may also find a simple fix is in order, such as clearing a clogged and stinky bathtub drain. Once you identify the source, be sure to address the issue once and for all.
Deep cleaning your home is the best way to remove odors at the source. Pay special attention to the kitchen and pet areas, which are common problem zones. If you come across old books and papers that smell like mildew, or furniture and fabrics from consignment shops, be aware that some odors can’t be cured; be willing to part with items, or store them somewhere else for a while.
In addition to making great science experiments (exploding volcano anyone?!), these basic ingredients will do wonders for cleaning and deodorizing your home. Don’t worry, the smell of vinegar will dissipate quickly! Either of these ingredients can be put into a bowl and left in a room to absorb recent odors, like sweaty clothing or cooking smells.
Continue through the rest of the home, scrubbing or dusting each surface clean of any grime or residue, and let some fresh air in.
Studies show that that smoking in a home can lower its resale value by as much as 29%. Smoke absorbs into the walls as well as any fibers, leaves a harmful residue on most surfaces, and requires intense professional cleaning.
Strong cigarette odor requires more effort. Your best bet is to remove everything in preparation for home staging, including window blinds, and wash every surface (including the walls, ceiling, and even light bulbs) with a 3:1 vinegar-water mixture.
HVAC systems require thorough cleaning of the coils and ducts, in addition to frequent filter changes, after exposure to smoke. Every nook and cranny of the home should be dusted and wiped clean. An air purifier with a HEPA filter and charcoal odor prefilter will help to eliminate the strong odors.
You may need to replace the carpets to truly eliminate smoke. And finally, apply an odor-neutralizing primer, such as Kilz, in preparation for a new coat of interior paint. While these improvements can be costly or time-consuming, they will help you avoid taking a bigger financial loss on the sale due to strong cigarette odors.
After a thorough deep cleaning, it’s time to prepare for buyer showings. In addition to de-cluttering and staging, don’t forget to address odors. And a fragrance can work against you just as much as a stench.
Take pets with you, if possible, to get them out of the home during buyer showings, and hide all their stuff in the garage. If that won’t work for your pet, be sure to clean pet areas thoroughly.
Eric Spangenberg and the researchers at Washington State University studied the impact of scents on sales and marketing. They found that complex aromas distracted test subjects, and required more cognitive processing. Instead, a simple hint of orange or lemon was easier to process, and people spent more time and money shopping, as a result.
While baked cookies may smell nice, the complexity of vanilla, chocolate, and butter is potentially distracting. Baking fresh cookies is one of those old-school real estate sales ploys that just won’t die, despite the research and evidence against it. You want buyers to focus on the home, not the smell.
Candles, air fresheners, sprays, essential oils, perfume, plug-in deodorizers, and potpourri are definitely out. Many people are increasingly allergic or sensitive to fragrances. The synthetic chemicals can cause headaches, nausea, watery eyes, and sneezing attacks, even from natural ingredients. Flowers are risky, too, as they are covered in pollen. Why put potential buyers through that misery, if your hope is to sell them your home?
Your sense of smell is subjective, and it’s difficult to find aromas that appeal to everyone. Just the other day, I showed a home that smelled truly awful, thanks to a combination of pets and lemon diffuser oil. Stick with deep cleaning and avoid the scents.
You only get one chance to make a good impression. Based on the smell alone, a buyer may disqualify your house out of fear or concern that it’s permanent. If there is a trace of scent, it should be simple, such as citrus or pine. And less is more.
A good cleaning and lots of fresh air will do wonders for the smell—and the sale—of your home.