Bad Odors Are The Best Deal Killer

Real Estate Broker/Owner with New Paradigm Partners LLC EB #1326335

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.

Ewwww!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.

Posted by
Mary & Dick

Mary & Dick Greenberg
New Paradigm Partners LLC
2601 S. Lemay Ave. #41
Fort Collins, CO 80525


Data Source: IRES MLS


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Chris Ann Cleland
Long and Foster REALTORS®, Gainesville, VA - Bristow, VA
Associate Broker, Bristow, VA

Showed a home last fall with so much cigarette smoke odor that the buyer only made it five steps inside before they turned around.

Jan 16, 2014 09:19 AM #29
Joan Whitebook
BHG The Masiello Group - Nashua, NH
Consumer Focused Real Estate Services

I have had buyers leave a house because it had the smell of Aunt Sue's house.

Jan 16, 2014 10:08 AM #30
Cheryl Ritchie
RE/MAX Leading Edge - Huntingtown, MD
Southern Maryland 301-980-7566

Throw in allergies or asthma and the problem gets magnified several times.

Jan 16, 2014 10:11 AM #31
David Shamansky
US Mortgages - David Shamansky - Highlands Ranch, CO
Creative, Aggressive & 560 FICO - OK, Colorado Mtg

Love the twist and isnt that what Febreeze is made for??? To wipe out those nasty smells

Jan 16, 2014 10:53 AM #32
Jack O'Neal
HomeSmart Elite Group - Gilbert, AZ

Dick, I enjoyed reading your post about bad odors.  I learned a few new things about the history of our sense of smell.  Very interesting!  It is so true that odors can make or break many deals, not just in home buying or selling but also in cars and clothes as well.  Who would not mind the smell of skunk or cat urine?  That seems pretty far fetched but there are some very unique people in this crazy world that we live in.

Jan 16, 2014 11:18 AM #33
Jack O'Neal
HomeSmart Elite Group - Gilbert, AZ

While Febreeze is a good option for masking odors, it is only that.  A masking agent and temporary at that.  When the potential home buyers take a second or third look at the house and someone forgets to spray Febreeze (because life happens and they smell the bad odors, the deal could fall through and that means time down the drain.  But hey, you could get lucky and have clients who pay no mind and could be willing to just change whatever it is that reeks. 

Jan 16, 2014 11:24 AM #34
Jeff Dowler, CRS
eXp Realty of California, Inc. - Carlsbad, CA
The Southern California Relocation Dude

I have certainly had my share of smelly homes to show, but thankfully nothing on the listing side. Buyers ALWAYS comment about smells, even sometime when I am not aware. But I have not had my own buyer not buy a house on the basis of smell, unless they didn't make it clear that was the reason for not buying.

That said, we all know this is a huge issue, when it be pets, smoking or food smells. And the smelly candles and fragrances people use drive most buyers nuts. Why bother. It immediately raises suspicions.

Jan 16, 2014 01:11 PM #35
Evelyn Kennedy
Alain Pinel Realtors - Alameda, CA
Alameda, Real Estate, Alameda, CA


Your analysis of our sense of smell is very interesting.  It is a science based reason for our sellers to rid their homes of bad smells.

Jan 16, 2014 01:19 PM #36
Kerry Lucasse
eXp Realty - Urban Nest Real Estate Group - Atlanta, GA
Your Urban Nest Atlanta Real Estate Consultant

So interesting, Dick!  I truly believe that there is a strong connection between smell and memory, because I can still remember three of the stinkiest homes I've ever toured -- even though it was years ago!

Jan 16, 2014 03:42 PM #37
Nina Hollander
Coldwell Banker Realty - Charlotte, NC
Your Charlotte/Ballantyne/Waxhaw/Fort Mill Realtor

Smell and sight--no wonder we need to have our homes staged in such a way as to appeal to prospective buyers' senses. It's a subtle balance, but can't be overlooked.

Jan 16, 2014 07:46 PM #38
Richie Alan Naggar
people first...then business Ran Right Realty - Riverside, CA
agent & author

I was in a home the other day where you would think people hibernate instead of live...The smell of a den permeated the whole house.

Jan 16, 2014 10:12 PM #39
Scott Godzyk
Godzyk Real Estate Services - Manchester, NH
One of the Manchester NH's area Leading Agents

Dick well said, I read Rogers post and agree, nothing can scare a buyer away faster than a bad smell. Working REO and short sales i see it every day. Investors love homes that smell, you know why? because they know they will get them cheaper which is bad for sellers who will end up with less. 

Jan 16, 2014 10:58 PM #40
Mike Sibbald
Elevations Real Estate, LLC - Fort Collins, CO
Broker/Owner Elevations Real Estate, LLC

Great Post Dick.  You are correct we have all been in homes that smell and have had listings that have needed tons of work to correct it.  Thank you for the scientific side instead of "it just smells".  Have a good day, Mike.

Jan 17, 2014 12:10 AM #41
Beth Atalay
Cam Realty and Property Management - Clermont, FL
Cam Realty of Clermont FL

Dick, some smells are easier to correct than others, it's something Realtors are probably reluctant to tackle with the sellers but costs them a sale. It's a huge turnoff for many.

Jan 17, 2014 02:14 AM #42
Marshall Enterprises
Marshall Enterprises - Saint Michael, MN
Antiques, Lawn Care, and Trashouts

Our house reeked of something when we moved in...we didn't notice it on our walk-throughs, but after the owners left....they left something behind.  It took weeks to figure it out.  I won't go into to it here, but since they were unhappy that we wouldn't let them live in our basement after closing, they figured they were "getting even!"

Jan 17, 2014 05:03 AM #43
Endre Barath, Jr.
Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices - Beverly Hills, CA
Realtor - Los Angeles Home Sales 310.486.1002

Dick I am in a position what I call a blessing & a nose is so bad I can not it has to be really bad for me to smell it:)) Clearly you are spot on, often I have seen my clients go "..Endre let's get out of here it is bad..." and we laughed how lucky I was that I could not smell it:)). On a side note what contest did you write this for??< Endre

Jan 17, 2014 03:46 PM #44
Andre R. Aragon
Greater Tampa Real Estate Photographer - Tampa, FL
Real Estate Photographer

Hi Dick - too funny I was just thinking about our smelling ablilities. I photographed a home this week were the seller was pregnant she was complaining about here enhanced sense of smell during pregnancy...made me a little self conscious :)

Jan 17, 2014 09:22 PM #45
Jon Zolsky, Daytona Beach, FL
Daytona Condo Realty, 386-405-4408 - Daytona Beach, FL
Buy Daytona condos for heavenly good prices

Dick- many homes (and condos) smell, and rarely owners know that. We get used to "our" odors and are not hearing them

Jan 20, 2014 10:56 AM #46
Jeremy Wrenn
Winslow Homes - Youngsville, NC
C.O.O., Winslow Homes

Dick, that really stinks that smells can be expensive to get rid of.  :)

Jan 23, 2014 01:33 AM #47
Catherine Varner

I've just discovered new products - DynoFRESH and Smoke Away - that treat odor problems and the bacteria that cause them at the source, rather than simply mask the smell. I encourage you to check them out at They are simple to use and cost-effective. Give it a try. It will most certainly address the issue and help you make the sale or rental of otherwise problem properties!

Sep 25, 2014 12:53 PM #48
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Dick Greenberg

Northern Colorado Residential Real Estate
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