What If Your Listing Stinks?
Sellers may be in denial about home odors. Here’s how you can help them address smells that are driving buyers away.
March 18, 2015
Week after week, buyers turned up their noses during showings of the tidy single-story home in the hot San Jose, Calif., market. Their resistance was easy to pinpoint, but harder to address: the aroma from years of heavy cooking with curry was turning off buyers, and the sellers didn’t care.
Kathleen Daniels, broker-owner with KD Realty, tried delicately to explain to the sellers that buyers found the scent—which permeated the walls, floors, and furnishings—overwhelming. Still, the sellers refused to undertake a deep cleaning or change their cooking habits.
Their resistance cost the sellers time and money at the bargaining table. In an area where time on market was typically just 10 days and bidding wars were the norm, the $629,000 home sat on the market for 35 days. The sellers dropped their listing price several times until it eventually sold for $575,000 in a short sale.
It’s not just food odors that turn buyers off. A 2013 study of Canadian home owners sponsored by Pfizer Canada found that smoking in a home could reduce the resale value by up to 29 percent. Daniels views it as a fiduciary duty to talk with sellers about the effect odors can have on a home sale. In many cases, sellers simply don’t realize the impact, and most will be open to your suggestions about how to address the stench. Stager Tori Toth, owner of Stylish Stagers Inc. in New York, offers ideas about how to discuss this sensitive subject with clients as part of the overall strategy for prepping a home for sale. “Scent can be the strongest of our senses,” Toth says. “It can make you form an instant impression.”
Here are ideas for countering offensive smells in your listings.
Don’t Mask. Treat
Odor is caused by bacteria that attaches to ceilings, walls, carpets, and draperies. Common household offenders include pets, food, dirty laundry, mold, smoking residue, and air vents. Identify the source of the smell and eliminate it. The remedy is likely a professional deep cleaning or do-it-yourself nontoxic fogger like DynoFresh that neutralizes odors. “If you temporarily treat the air with sprays or plug-ins, the odor will resurface by your next showing,” Toth says.
Add New Smells Sparingly
While air fresheners in large doses may send a red flag that the seller is trying to mask something, they may be useful in moderation. After eliminating the source of smells, Toth will sometimes advise clients to introduce subtle, simple scents. This may include laying fabric softener sheets between clothes stacked on closet shelves, placing lemon peels in the kitchen garbage disposal, or adding plug-ins near bathroom doors.
Chocolate chip cookies, potpourri, gourmet foods, and other baked goods actually may be the worst scents for real estate open houses. Researchers studied 402 people in a home décor store in Switzerland to find the most pleasing scents for customers, and researchers say their findings, published in the Journal of Retailing in 2013, also can be applied to real estate.
The most pleasing smells that study found were lemon, green tea, cedar, pine, basil, and vanilla.
Researchers say complex scents, like baked goods, can be a distraction to buyers. They’ll subconsciously be trying to figure out what the scent is rather than staying focused on the house. In contrast, researchers found that simple scents are easier to identify and so less distracting, which promotes buying.
Tell Sellers to Live Meticulously
Let clients know of steps they can take to keep smells at bay. Toth recommends:
- Take out the trash after every meal.
- Clean refrigerators often.
- Change air filters regularly.
- Do laundry regularly to avoid dirty clothing pileups.
- Use the fan over the stove when cooking.
- Avoid cooking strong-smelling foods like fish, broccoli, and garlic before showings.
- Bathe pets regularly and clean bedding, toys, and litter boxes often.