Lew Sichelman

Homebuyers are easily turned off for any number of reasons. Maybe the place looks like the home of a candidate for hoarder of the year. Or perhaps the windows are so dirty you can’t see outside.

But other than curb appeal, or the lack thereof, nothing turns up buyers’ noses faster than a smelly house. They walk in, stop, take a whiff and are ready to turn around and leave. Some won’t even go beyond the front door.

Your sellers might not notice the smell. After all, they live with the offending odors day in and day out, so they are used to them. So used to them that they don’t even register on their olfactory scale. But they sure do with visitors.

Buyers use all five senses when looking at houses, says Joe Jackson, an agent with Keller Williams Capital Partners Realty in Worthington, Ohio, who offers this advice: “A house must smell exceptionally clean and inviting for a buyer to fully appreciate the entire house.”

Odors can emanate from practically anywhere. Most frequently, they’re from pets or what pets leave behind. But it can be the smell that lingers when someone is smoking in the house.

Cooking emits odors, too, especially dishes heavy with herbs and spices.

Less frequent but sometimes just as repugnant are odors coming from a garbage disposal, dirty kitchen trash can, mold hidden beneath a carpet where a spill was not cleaned up properly or from a damp basement. Even a pair of old work boots stashed in the closet can be the culprit.

First Things First

Your first step is to locate the source. Then, eradicate it. You may be able to do the job all by your lonesome. A dehumidifier can help get rid of musty basement odors, and shampooing a carpeting can help remove a lot of smells. You may even have to toss the rug under the litter box or dog food bowl or perhaps even your buyer’s favorite work boots.

But if the “aroma” is too bad, you might have to ring up a pro. Professional cleaners can diagnose the problem and recommend how to fix it. They use specially formulated solutions to break down the cause and eradicate it.

Either way, though, just about the worst thing you can do is try to hide the stink, because cover-ups are often even more offending.

“Unless you eliminate the odor,” said Patricia Feager of DFW Fine Properties in Fort Worth, Texas, “it isn’t really ever going to fully go away.”

Fortunately, there are several ways to create pleasant olfactory experiences, both natural and artificial. Each has its proponents.

The tried-and-true method is to bake bread or cookies just before a prospect is set to show up for a look-see. Bringing in a bouquet of fresh flowers also is popular among real estate agents, as is burning scented candles or cooking a pot of potpourri.

Natural scents like these “are more subtle and realistic,” said Lew Corcoran of Better Living Real Estate in Foxborough, Massachusetts, and a member of the Real Estate Staging Association.

Some Steps Have Problems

Those steps could become expensive, though, especially if your home is on the market for more than a few days and visitors are scheduled at all different times. That’s why other agents suggest less costly air fresheners and air sanitizers, but ones with a light scent that are either fruity or floral.

Artificial scents can be overpowering, but ambient scenting is subtle, so subtle that you may not even notice it. An internet search found several firms which sell fragrances, including one, Prolitec, which claims to have installed its scent diffusion technology in thousands of multifamily properties.

In the single-family sector, the Milwaukee-based company sells a whole home-scenting system and says its Aera plug-in diffuser can do the work of five conventional plug-in air fresheners and last for 60 days. It sells more than 50 different fragrances, including a mix of crisp pine and fresh cut cedar, a combination of bitter orange, cypress and star anise, and a blend of bourbon, tonka and vanilla.

Whatever way you choose – natural or artificial – Corcoran, the Massachusetts agent, warns not to use too many scents at one time, or too many strong ones. Rather, he suggests just one or two complementary ones. He also advises not to use scents that are personal or specific, opting instead for those that are neutral and have a wider appeal.

Lew Sichelman has been covering real estate for more than 50 years. He is a regular contributor to numerous shelter magazines and housing and housing-finance industry publications. Readers can contact him at lsichelman@aol.com.