Common Scents

Home Stager

Home sellers can create spaces that appeal to prospective buyers by employing a little psychology and by engaging the 5 senses......You see, our brain takes all the sensory data it receives and transforms it into feelings and those feelings can be either overwhelmingly positive or overwhelmingly negative.  

The clever use of design elements in a home for sale can help sellers engage the senses of their prospects and thus trigger the desired positive emotional response.  Last week in, Love at First Sight, I discussed ways sellers can engage the sense of SIGHT to elicit desirable feelings in home buyers.  Today I'll cover the sense of smell.

the nose knowsBuyers react very emotionally to what they smell and this fact is often overlooked and minimized by home sellers.   The scent of a home can trigger strong emotional reactions - either creating uplifting, harmonious feelings or causing prospects to walk away (and not tell you why). Engaging the sense of smell is a powerful yet misunderstood and often misused tool.

The first and most important thing sellers can do is to identify and eliminate the odors in their home that buyers might find offensive.  This is often hard for home sellers to do because we tend to grow so accustomed to the way our home smells, that we don't even notice it.  Enlist the help of a friend who you trust will be honest and ask your friend to tell you what he/she smells the moment they walk into your home.   

Common pet odors can be a huge turn off to buyers. Since no one will find your pet as charming as you do,  consider relocating your pet while your home is on the market.  If that's not possible, thoroughly clean litter boxes, crates and other areas where your pet(s) spend the most time.  Odors can get trapped in carpets, upholstery and draperies, so consider getting these professionally cleaned.  

Musty odors can cause buyers to assume a moisture or mold problem exists. Other strong odors could indicate a plumbing issue or a pest infestation.  Identifying the root cause of these kinds of issues can be quite difficult so consider getting a pre-sale home inspection. The odor will not go away until the problem is addressed.  Avoid the use of artificial air fresheners, scented candles and incense - your prospects could be allergic and they might be very suspicious of what you're trying to cover up.   

Avoid cooking smelly and unusually spicy foods while your home is on the market as these offensive odors can often linger for days.  Enlist the help of Mother Nature - open windows as often as you possibly can to allow plenty of fresh air to circulate through your house.  Use aromatherapy as an effective tool to eliciting a positive response to your home by spraying essential oils mixed with water (these work much better than chemical deodorizers).   

Remember: the scent of sage can cause the feeling of euphoria while chamomile and lavender can have a calming effect. Marine scents (think salty sea air) can refresh us while spice and wood scents bring warm thoughts. The scent of something baking in the oven can also create a warm and nurturing feeling.  If you're going to bake cookies to make your house smell good while it is being shown - leaving a plate out to share with your prospects will surely make them feel welcome!  

Stay my next post I will share how sellers can best engage the sense of hearing.


Posted by




Karen Bernetti is a Real Estate Stager, Former Realtor®, Author, Speaker, and Owner of Staging4Smooth Transitions - specializing in assisting seniors with their downsize moves and offering Home2Home Transitions seminars. Karen is also the Social Media Manager and Administrative Coordinator for Prudential CT Realty, in Madison, CT and Co-creator of the Ready2Sellin30Days System - an interactive multi-media program teaching do-it-yourself homeowners EVERYHTING they need to know about preparing a home for sale. Stay up to date on the latest staging and home decor trends by visiting Karen & Ann's Home Sale Success Blog.  


Comments (62)

Sylvie Stuart
Realty One Group Mountain Desert 928-600-2765 - Flagstaff, AZ
Home Buying, Home Selling and Investment - Flagsta

Smells, scents and odors can really have an impact on a sale of a home. I previewed a home a few weeks back in Flagstaff that had an OVERWHELMING odor of I think it was cat urine, but it was so thick, I couldn't identify it for sure and couldn't even walk in the house. That's obviously an extreme example, but buyers do make note of smells in a home.

Feb 25, 2012 01:08 AM
Holly Weatherwax
Associate Broker, Momentum Realty - Reston, VA
A Great Real Estate Experience

This is a great point. I have had buyers who have immediate allergic reactions to overly scented homes (think plug-ins).  Too many scents can be confusing and a red flag for buyers who are suspicious of what they might be covering up. 

This can be an area where we need to counsel sellers, too; some sellers really enjoy strong and varied scents. If they are used to living that way, they might not realize that these scents can be a big negative to a potential buyer.

Feb 25, 2012 01:13 AM
Kimo Jarrett
Cyber Properties - Huntington Beach, CA
Pro Lifestyle Solutions

Very informative and timely information, yet I'll wager most RE agents are reluctant to address this topic with their clients prior to taking a listing, don't you agree?

Feb 25, 2012 01:18 AM
Evelyn Kennedy
Alain Pinel Realtors - Alameda, CA
Alameda, Real Estate, Alameda, CA


Wonderful post.  The sense of smell is so important and it is easy to turn off a prospective buyer with a stinky smell.  I like what Lenn says about home baked cookies.  They are definitely a turn on.

Feb 25, 2012 02:44 AM
John DL Arendsen
CREST "BACKYARD' HOMES, ON THE LEVEL General & Manufactured Home Contractor, TAG Real Estate Sales & Investments - Leucadia, CA
Crest Backyard Homes "ADU" dealer & RE Developer

Open the doors and windows on a beautiful sunny Spring morning and let the world become your Oyster. Great way to conduct an open house.

Feb 25, 2012 03:35 AM
Barbara Todaro
RE/MAX Executive Realty - Happily Retired - Franklin, MA
Previously Affiliated with The Todaro Team

Hi Karen....the best aroma anyone can have throughout a home is the smell of a fresh baked apple pie.... it makes you want to stay there and have a warm slice topped with vanilla ice cream....

Feb 25, 2012 03:49 AM
Dana Cottingame
Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage - Dallas, TX

Karen, great points. My personal favorite smell is clean. My least favorite smell is dryer sheets.  I find it is hard to explain odor removal to the seller, as several point out when you live with it you become immune.

Feb 25, 2012 05:02 AM
Marte Cliff
Marte Cliff Copywriting - Priest River, ID
Your real estate writer

I'm glad you mentioned avoiding chemical perfumes. I'm one of the many who gets an instant headache, so showing a house like that used to be a real problem. So was driving around with perfumed clients. I'm sure more than one wondered why I had the window open when it was 20 degrees outside!

Benadryl was my best friend back in those days.

Meanwhile... I used to list Fannie Mae homes and most of them had that "closed up" smell. One of my Fannie Mae contacts told me to set dishes of vinegar around the house to kill that odor - and it did work.

Feb 25, 2012 06:33 AM
Kathy Streib
Cypress, TX
Home Stager/Redesign

Karen- good post.  Certain scents can bring back memories to a potential buyer.. you just want to make sure the memory is that of a pleasant time and not a time when they were cleaning up after their puppy, for example!

Feb 25, 2012 10:20 AM
Monica Hill
RE/Max Associates - Wilmington, DE
the REALTOR to help you discover Delaware

Karen, Great post. I showed a house that had dueling air fresheners on either side of the entrance. By the time we crossed the foyer, both my client and I had headaches. You can bet we never really saw that house. 

Deactivated charcoal is also a great fix for musty basement smells.


Feb 25, 2012 11:00 AM
Gene Riemenschneider
Home Point Real Estate - Brentwood, CA
Turning Houses into Homes

Very Good post.  Thanks for the really different staging advise.  Most are focused on the visual.

Feb 25, 2012 11:28 AM
Cindy Billman, CDPE, SFR
SIlver Keys Realty - Grapevine, TX

Love the post! I am one of those that have a sensitive nose - anything that smells like vanilla or cedar will send me into a sneezing fit! I enjoy a house that smells "fresh & clean" with no flowering or spicy smells and pet odors are a very big turn off for most buyers.

Feb 25, 2012 11:56 PM
Kate Akerly
Kaminsky Group - Manhattan Beach, CA
Manhattan Beach Residential Sales

I've never tried the essential oils but like the idea.  I agree that commercial deodorizers are too strong for most people's taste.

Feb 26, 2012 12:10 AM
Dana Hollish Hill
Hollish Hill Group, JPAR Stellar Living - Bethesda, MD
REALTOR * Broker * Coach

When I was a new mom, I took my toddler to a few last minute showings. She was brutally honest about the smells of homes. Everything from, "where is the litter box, it stinks" to "this smells like grandpa's medicine."

There have been many times when the first smell of the home was enough for my clients to turn around and walk out. Sellers do not smell their homes the way others do and it is important for the listing agent to be honest and open about the type of impression the smell of the home is making.

Feb 26, 2012 12:23 AM
Bob Miller
Keller Williams Cornerstone Realty - Ocala, FL
The Ocala Dream Team

Hi Karen, great lesson on scents and how they affect our and our buyers emotions.

Feb 26, 2012 07:11 AM
Karen Bernetti
Southington, CT

I'm so glad you've found this article helpful!  It sure seems like household odors can be a BIG problem.  This sure is a touchy subject and it can be so difficult for agents to discuss with their sellers.  That's the great thing about home stagers.... we can do the "dirty work" of telling your sellers what they really need to hear - tactfully of course - so  listing agents don't have to have those difficult conversations.  Kimo is right, it's a lot better than avoiding the subject entirely and having the house not sell.  

Judging from the comments, people are even MORE sensitive/allergic to chemical sprays and perfumy deodorizers than I had fully realized before writing this.   Thank you for all the thoughtful comments and suggestions - amonia, vinegar and baking soda are all very simple and inexpensive fixes - and I forgot about charcoal, which is great for getting rid of stubborn refrigerator odors.....yes, buyers look there too!  

Feb 26, 2012 10:59 AM
Elite Home Sales Team
Elite Home Sales Team OC - Corona del Mar, CA
A Tenacious and Skilled Real Estate Team

It is true the emotions are triggered by our senses.

Feb 26, 2012 01:21 PM
Vanessa Saunders
Global Property Systems Real Estate - White Plains, NY
Real Estate | Done Differently

Eliminating unpleasant odors is crucial but only half the battle. Replacing them neutral or subtle scents is also important.

Over perfumed sprays or candles can be a detractor as well. 

Feb 26, 2012 04:31 PM
Pam Smits
Staging Fox Valley, LLC - Oshkosh, WI
Home Staging, Appleton, WI, Oshkosh, WI; Green Bay, WI

Great information!  I was once doing a consultation in a house that had scented candles burning in every room!  I told the homeowner that the different scents would be a distraction because not only would buyers wonder why so many candles, they might not like some of the scents, not to mention it would be a safety hazard for people bringing in small children!  Sellers need to focus on making a visit to their house a pleasant one!



Feb 27, 2012 12:27 AM
Mary Sheridan
Keller Willliams - 1033 Hamilton Place,Johnson City TN 37604 - Johnson City, TN
Creative Marketing, Buyer Agency 423-943-7655

Did anyone mention fresh-baked bread?   A recent seller did that for us frequently - partly because she just did a lot of baking.   She also left the scent of cinnamon and chocolate in the cookies that came out of the oven jsut as buyers were expected to arrive.   

I agree with the comments about commercial scent maskers - all they do is give sensitive people headaches and make everyone wonder what problem the seller is trying to hide.


Mar 18, 2012 04:31 AM