I was going to write about something different for this challenge, but two excellent posts this morning about the power of bad smells to kill a deal - by Roger Mucci and Kathleen Daniels - got me thinking. Most of us probably have at least one of these stories, but instead of adding mine to the mix, I got curious and did a little reading about the sense of smell itself. I want to share a bit of what I learned.
Smell is our oldest sense, one that even bacteria have, and originated as a way to respond to chemical presence in the environment. It has evolved in humans as a very complex sense, and utilizes over 1,000 different types of receptors in modern humans.
Our sense of smell never sleeps - we're always breathing and our minds are always aware of the smells surrounding us.
There is a very strong connection between smell and memory. Smells are excellent at triggering emotional reactions related to past events, even at very low levels of perception, and these reactions are hardwired in the most primitive part of our brains - our limbic system. So by the time we are consciously aware of a smell, our bodies have already started to react to it. Our sense of smell was a critical factor in survival adaptation, and is excellent at warning us of danger.
Our reaction to specific smells is learned behavior, and there's good evidence that we begin learning while still in the womb. Thus, "bad" odors are not necessarily the same for everyone. There are people who don't mind the smell of skunk, and maybe even people who find cat urine pleasant. But within a culture, we generally tend to share our categories.
So when we take ourselves and our clients into a home that has "bad" odors, we're going to react at a very basic level. We'll get uneasy or even physically distressed, and our flight response may be triggered.
Homes with bad odors don't sell because buyers are having intense and complex negative reactions that are beyond working around. While we may not like a color or an architectural style, our reaction isn't usually physical, and we can deal with it rationally. But odors don't always give us that ability - our bodies are already beyond that.
The fix for bad odors is expensive and difficult. But leaving it untreated is going to be even more expensive and difficult.