Stinky smells in a home for sale & my quotes in The Tennessean yesterday . . .

Home Stager with a fresh space :: home staging & thoughtful organizing

I had a nice call last month from a local reporter doing a story about smells in a home for sale.  It's a major concern in a lot of houses.  Smells are one of the biggest turn offs for so many buyers and one of the things that home owners rarely address primarily because, well, they don't notice them.

Some obvious ones are cat boxes, baby diapers or stinky food.  But some not so obvious (to the home owner, anyway) include air fresheners, especially those awful plug in kinds; mold or mildew smells; cigarette odors that are embedded in the walls or carpets; or that "old" smell that is really hard to pinpoint but must be addressed.

I was quoted several times, as were a few other local experts, and the general consensus is that clean wins over fake smells, and spending that time can help sell your getting bath

Here's a link to the article if you'd like to read it:  That funky stink can sink home sale.  Not sure how long the link will be active but it's from the November 13th Williamson A.M. portion of The Tennessean newspaper.


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Sandra Scott
DPR Realty - Payson, AZ
REALTOR of Choice! Payson, Pine & Strawberry, AZ

I agree about stinkey houses.  Every home has it's on "smell".  Some are worse than others. I'd love to know how to get cigarette smell out of a home.  Anyone out there know how?

Nov 15, 2009 09:30 AM #1
Craig Richardson
National Realty - McLean, VA

Great post, Liz.  I agree, smell is one of the most important but often overlooked senses when considering a home to buy.  Musty smells due to water is always the biggest red flag for me.

Nov 15, 2009 09:35 AM #2
Roy Giordano - Top Real Estate Expert
RE/MAX Central, Marlboro, Manalapan, Freehold, Old Bridge NJ - Marlboro, NJ
Top Agent Marlboro NJ, Marlboro/Manalapan Homes

The smell that I find most often is that of pets, this smell is offensive to a lot of people - even cat and dog lovers. What do you do to keep these odors to a minimum?

Thanks for the post.


Nov 15, 2009 09:46 AM #3
Liz Jenkins
a fresh space :: home staging & thoughtful organizing - Franklin, TN

Sandra - Ionizers or Ozone Generators - those big machines you can rent - can really help.  The cigarette smell is tough - if it's bad - you usually have to replace carpet & pad.  Now, I've heard that there are some paint primers out there that are supposed to block the smell - I haven't used them but it's an option.  The problem with the cigarette smell is that it actually embeds in the drywall and pad and is very difficult to remove.  Washing the walls with TSP can be effective if it hasn't been super long term, and then using a sealer/primer can sometimes do the trick.

Musty water smells are tough but usually once you find the water issue and clear that up - you can eliminate the odor - but it can take some time.  Craig - you are right on target with that musty smell - it's a big issue because unlike a pet odor - it often signifies a bigger issue such as plumbing or structural which can send buyers running.  Sometimes, though, you have those odors in old houses like my own - seriously cleaning crawl spaces and making sure they are very dry and sealed can make the difference - but often - it's just the passing of time that has made those smells sink in.  Usually if you get someone who likes old houses they can overlook the "old" smell as long as it isn't an active problem (you hope, anyway!).

Thanks for the comments!

Nov 15, 2009 09:48 AM #4
Liz Jenkins
a fresh space :: home staging & thoughtful organizing - Franklin, TN

Roy - for pets, I recommend the following:

  • clean everything professionally including carpets, drapes & upholstery using pet odor reducing products
  • clean the cat box at least twice a day - and cats have a trick of using the box right after you clean it so I always tell my cat people to clean it, wait, and then go back a half hour later and clean again
  • use a high quality litter that clumps and conceals odors - the cheaper kinds don't work as well and if a cat uses a box even once - you will know
  • use a litter box with a lid that has a filter
  • place a room air ionizer near the area where the cat box is
  • if possible, place the cat box in a garage or area where it won't be seen 
  • if pet urine is in carpet pad - it needs to be replaced - and sometimes it can get in the baseboards as well - the only way to get rid of the odor is to replace the portions that are contaminated
  • you can usually get pet urine out of wood floors by refinishing but stains will often remain
  • wash dogs often, and their bedding & toys - and remember to wash a dog's collar - it can get really smelly

The big thing is keeping everything clean and fresh.  It's a lot of work but you are right - pet odors can be a real turn off for clients.  The biggest problem is that the home owners just don't smell it because it is just part of the "home smell".  This is where a stager or agent needs to make sure they are aware of it and offer suggestions to reduce or remove it.  I've been in homes where an open litter box was in the dining room - during showings! 

Keep in mind that once a cat gets used to where it's litter box is - it can be tough to move it - especially during a stressful time like selling a house.  Concealing it with a screen or a piece of furniture can be helpful - if a cat can squeeze into a space - they'll find their box.

Hope that's helpful!

Nov 15, 2009 09:59 AM #5
Dan Tabit
Keller Williams Bellevue - Sammamish, WA

Smells are a turn off because buyers can't be certain they can get them out.  I went into a vacant listing last year that had new paint and carpet but stunk of cigarettes.  The last occupants smoked in the home for 2 weeks after "freshening" everything up. 

Nov 15, 2009 10:19 AM #6
Gary Swanson
Century 21 Harris & Taylor - Grants Pass, OR

Great post Liz.  I think many of my clients are most turned off by cooking smells.

Nov 15, 2009 05:04 PM #7
Tom Boos
Sine & Monaghan Realtors, Real Living - Grosse Pointe Farms, MI
Providing the very best of service to Sellers and

Pet odors and stale smoke seem to be the hardest to eradicate from a property.  Sellers try their hardest to eliminate offensive odors but usually resort to those nasty, plug-in air fresheners which do nothing more than add another offensive odor.

Dec 08, 2009 04:35 AM #8
Liz Jenkins
a fresh space :: home staging & thoughtful organizing - Franklin, TN

Dan - cigarettes are probably the worst except for pet urine that seeps into baseboards or flooring.  Short of ripping everything out, there's not much to be done except sometimes those big ionizer things.

Gary - cooking odors are easily preventable - but the sellers have to be informed about it and follow through.  When I sold my own home, we ate out and grilled outside A LOT!

Tom - I agree - those air fresheners are the worst - plus I'm allergic to them so my eyes swell up and my nose starts to run.  If a buyer is allergic - there goes your sale!

Dec 08, 2009 09:24 AM #9
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