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Scaring Off Buyers: When Odors Haunt a House

Home Stager with Faulkner House Interior Redesign


I'll admit it, I have a keen sense of smell.  It doesn't take that to notice when a property is overly aromatic.


I love pets and realize that they are at the mercy of their owners to keep them clean and also clean up after them if there are accidents.  I've staged homes where the "evidence" is there as clear as if it needed to be roped off like a crime scene.  What's wrong with this picture?


I realize that as a stager, I am sometimes the one to explain to the homeowner, as gently as I can, that there is a problem, and that it needs to be handled immediately, before the house goes on the market.  I am often amazed that this is met with denials. 


What odor? Which room?  What stain? Oh, it's not that big, we'll just put something over it.  (What???????)


What's even worse is when the Realtor doesn't back me up for fear of insulting the seller.


It's not just pets, either.  Cooking odors like fried foods, cabbage, fish, and garlic can take up residence like the ghosts of dinners past.  Kid's rooms that have that distinct sneaker smell.  Basements reminescent of the Black Lagoon.  Bathrooms that remind you of a reverse of the shower scene in Psycho where you scream when you pull the shower curtain back to look into the shower.


Then there is the flip side when you feel as if you have walked into a florist shop.  Or an orange juice processing plant.  Being overwhelmed by carpet fresheners isn't a good thing, either.


Ok, so we know what we're up against.  How do we combat it?  What products do you recommend to the seller, what companies do you refer to when it's more than they can do themselves?  How do you convince the seller that there is a problem when they are in total denial? 

How do you tell them that their home smells too good?

Ryan Jennings
Keller Williams Realty-Wellington - Wellington, FL
"Buy With Confidence...Sell With Trust"

Very true...it's amazing how the smell of a house can turn off someone on a house so quickly.

Oct 20, 2011 04:08 PM
Pacita Dimacali
Alain Pinel - Oakland, CA
Alameda/Contra Costa Counties CA

I showed a house last weekend and as soon as I opened the door, WHAM!

Whatever they were using --- potpourri, oil, etc --- was so overpowering I nearly gagged. I lef the doors open to air it out. Then called the listing agent. Better that it come from me so that she can tell her sellers. I asked her to tell her clients that some people are highly allergic to strong fragrances. Maybe they'll listen coming from a prospective buyer's agent.

Oct 20, 2011 04:13 PM
Joanna Cohlan
Fresh Eyes For Your Home - Chappaqua, NY
Designing, Decorating & Staging Westchester Homes

Hi Pam, a definite issue for me is people covering up bad smells with even worse smells-that unnatural vanilla candle or some kind of potpourri is absolutely nauseating-the best thing to leave out to absorb bad odors are orange peels!

Oct 20, 2011 04:17 PM
Joan Congilose
New Jersey Properties - Manalapan, NJ
Helping Sellers & Buyers

Great points made here, I usually tell my clients that the best source for removing odors is fresh air , open windows and clean , clean , clean. Especially those kitty litter boxes!

Oct 20, 2011 04:49 PM
Ralph Gorgoglione
Metro Life Homes - Palm Springs, CA
California and Hawaii Real Estate (310) 497-9407

Great ideas.  I really do hate showing homes to my buyers and there is a bad odor in there.  Most agents should nicely tell their clients to air out the house before it goes on the market.

Oct 20, 2011 05:01 PM
Maureen Bray Portland OR Home Stager ~ Room Solutions Staging
Room Solutions Staging, Portland OR - Portland, OR
"Staging Consultations that Sell Portland Homes"

Hi Pam ~ most people are immune to the odors in their own home, since their noses have gotten used to them.  If a home has the smell of cigarette smoke it's easy to tell them that their entire home needs to be rid of the smell (carpets -- walls - curtains -- upholstery -- etc. It can be removed with professional help or with an ozone machine.  Fresh air is always helpful in removing odors, and for light odors I recommend two products:   Pure Citrus and Pure Ayre;  both are free of chemicals and are enzyme-based, so they're safe to use around people and pets.

Oct 20, 2011 05:03 PM
Fred Griffin Florida Real Estate
Fred Griffin Real Estate - Tallahassee, FL
Licensed Florida Real Estate Broker

Pam, I sold a townhouse recently - the Sellers cooked with a lot of curry powder, chiles, garlic, onions, etc. for YEARS.  

     The house was only 1000 square feet, they did not use a Vent Fan over the stove, so the place absolutely reeked.

     The only way to get rid of that smell would involve not only carpet removal, priming and painting top to bottom, re-staining cabinets inside and out - they would also need to replace all the duct work and have the HVAC System purged.

     They settled instead on cutting their asking price significantly - and we sold it!

Oct 20, 2011 05:27 PM
Ginger Foust
Certified Staging Professional - Oakhurst, CA
Home Stager Oakhurst CA, Dream Interior Redesign & Staging

Pam, the eco-quest machines really work well at eliminating odors and you can usually find a dealer that will rent them, but then the odor maker has to relent or they will be back.  Plus I will use a black light to "show" sellers when I can smell urine or protein smells.  Yes, they are usually shocked but they have to know. 

Oct 21, 2011 05:54 AM
Pam Faulkner
Faulkner House Interior Redesign - Herndon, VA
Room Transformations Fairfax & Loudoun Counties VA

Ryan, Maureen, Fred, Joan and Ralph,

The worst odors are the ones that say, "unclean" to the prospective buyers.  How sellers can't smell/see/understand that is beyond me, but for a Realtor to be in denial too? 

Not long ago I walked into a house with my assistant and we couldn't get out of the house fast enough.  It was almost suffocating; the second worst case I had ever encountered.  I was warned by the relative who was putting the house on the market, but I was totally unprepared for the reality. We literally raced through the house opening windows as fast as we could.  The carpet had been professionally cleaned and deoderized but you would never have known it-that gives you an idea of how it must have been before it was cleaned.  As a temporary fix we used Oust and some Fabreeze that the owner had left behind. 

Pacita and Joanna, I know what you mean.  Nothing like a flowery smell mixed with fried onions, or vanilla and garlic or pumpkin spice and fish.  No one wants to have their lungs filled with air freshner the moment they walk into a house.  I like some scented candles, but if I were selling my home, the only scent would be "CLEAN".  Scents can be associated with memories and there's no telling what good or bad memory they may dredge up.  Besides that, if the scent is stong enough to detect, buyers are smart enough to wonder what it may be covering up.

Maureen, I'll have to look into Pure Citrus and Pure Ayre.  I have tried Ozium and Super Citrus in some rooms where there was a problem and they worked, though both were pretty strongly scented themselves.

Hi Ginger, good to hear from you.  I knew there were machines but couldn't remember the name.  Thanks for that.  You are so right about controlling the problem which is another thing altogether.  I do have a small black light that works as long as the problem is still on the surface.  If it is in the pad, which is what happens in many cases of lingering odors, it doesn't show up.  Wish there was a simple air quality/odor indicator gadjet that was inexpensive enough to prove to sellers, "Houston, we have a problem."

Thanks everyone for your comments.  If you hear of any other solutions, please let me know.


Oct 21, 2011 12:07 PM
Valerie Crowell
Keller Williams - Walnut Creek, CA
Broker Associate

I have a tough time with this one because I rescue dogs and I am certain that my home smells of dog, to the point that I can't smell it in any one else's house either.  

I sold one house where I had wall to wall carpet.  No mistakes, just carpet.  I shampooed the rugs twice, washed my poor dogs and their bedding every week and left windows open in the winter.  Nothing kills the scent of the dogs.  We went with a Hawaiian themed plug in.

Oct 22, 2011 12:05 PM
Pam Faulkner
Faulkner House Interior Redesign - Herndon, VA
Room Transformations Fairfax & Loudoun Counties VA

Valerie, I think you may be right about getting so used to a particular smell that you don't notice it.  You do what you can to keep them under control.  It's the people who are in denial about it that hurt themselves in putting off potential buyers. 

The house I mentioned was just so bad that I was shocked that anyone could live in it.  It couldn't have been healthy.  It was a nice house, too, and was in very good condition other than that.

Oct 22, 2011 03:02 PM
Charlottesville Solutions
Charlottesville Solutions - Charlottesville, VA

Pet odors can kill a deal

have a great weekend

your friend in Charlottesville

Oct 28, 2011 01:32 PM
Pam Faulkner
Faulkner House Interior Redesign - Herndon, VA
Room Transformations Fairfax & Loudoun Counties VA

Hi Charles, you bet it can kill a deal.  Many buyers won't even get that close to making a deal if the odor is bad.

A client just tried Zero Odor from Bed Bath and Beyond and says that it has helped in their rental property.  Will definitely keep that one in mind. 

Oct 28, 2011 02:55 PM
Wendy Tomm
Beyond the Walls - East St Paul, MB
CCSP, RESA-PRO, BBB - Wpg Realtors

Hi Pam great post and yes well all encounter those odors.  I try and mention that keep windows open as much as possible, remove pets at least 2 weeks prior to staging.  I also use Norwex products and there is an odor eliminator which I give to them to spray in their house before I stage and then I use when I'm staging as well.

Oct 29, 2011 10:37 AM
Pam Faulkner
Faulkner House Interior Redesign - Herndon, VA
Room Transformations Fairfax & Loudoun Counties VA

Wendy, Thanks for the information about Norwex.  I'll have to look it up.  I have had a coat on while staging sometimes because the house was being aired and that helps-until the house is closed up again.  I learned with one house that if there is a walk out,  to air the basement whenever possible.  Sometimes the heating system and ducts are harboring things or the sump pump is the culprit. 


Oct 30, 2011 10:28 AM