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Smelly Homes

I’m just going to go ahead and tell you that everyone knows the trick about filling your home with the smell of fresh-baked cookies to make a buyer fall in love. I’m not saying don’t do it. I’m saying your potential buyers will look at each other knowingly and salivate a little bit. They’re on to you. And, hey, it’s a whole lot better than smelling other, less appealing odors upon entering your home.

Pet odors are the most common offenders we encounter when viewing a home. Yes, everyone loves their pets. They just don’t love your pets. If potential buyers smell your dog or cat while touring your home, they will be on high alert, looking for chewed woodwork or clawed carpeting.  Whether it’s a wet dog smell or a dirty litterbox, buyers will wonder if that smell is going to leave when your sofa or cat box moves out, or if the odor will linger in the carpet and drywall, an unwelcome reminder of your family for years to come.

Less common these days but more offensive to buyers is the smell of smoke, whether it be from cigarettes, cigars, or increasingly popular marijuana. Smoking is a polarizing habit, and non-smokers often associate smoking with dirty air, bad breath, and addiction, not good impressions when it’s time to sell your home. Given the declining rates of traditional smokers in the U.S., it’s best to eliminate these odors well in advance of listing.

Another cue that something’s amiss is the smell of mildew. That damp, sour smell that often lingers in basements not only can indicate contaminated air that some buyers may be medically sensitive to, but also can suggest disrepair. Smelling mildew will cause buyers to look for the source—a roof leak? A plumbing leak? Or, if they can’t isolate a source, they may let their imaginations run and wonder what kind of deadly black mold is lurking behind the walls. If you recognize this odor in your home, it’s best to locate it and make the correction prior to listing your home so you can eliminate the increased scrutiny during the home inspection period.

Cooking odors are another trigger for buyers. Just as wafting aromas of freshly baked cookies trigger emotions, so do strong smells of garlic, spices, and old cooking oil. While they might be excited to join you for dinner sometime, buyers will wonder if the house is truly clean and if the odors will linger in stove hoods and drywall after you leave.

Attempting to mask odors using artificial fragrances is a dead giveaway to real estate agents, if not buyers. While a buyer who uses those plug-in or cone shaped deodorizers in their own home may enjoy the “tropical breeze” for a bit, an agent who smells one of these off-the-shelf solutions will immediately try to find what you’re covering up. It’s best to get rid of the odors and their sources instead. And if you don’t have anything to hide but just enjoy those products, know that you may be sending a message you didn’t intend by using them.

To eradicate odors fully may mean making repairs, hiring professional cleaners, replacing carpet, steaming hard surfaces, and calling in heavy duty remediation services if the smells are powerful. But just remember that any money invested up front to solve odor problems is well worth it.