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.

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