One of the most hurtful kinds of feedback sellers can get is that their home "doesn't smell very good."
Buyers aren't always referring to the obvious offenders, such as cat urine or dirty laundry or rotting garbage; they may just be reacting to an indescribable "something in the air" that puts them off. It can happen in even the cleanest of houses.
In a fascinating recent New York Magazine article entitled, "Why Can't You Smell Your Own Home?," writer Melissa Dahl explores the notion of "nose blindness," whereby we tend to get used to the way our own homes smell. In fact, we don't think they have a perceptible odor, at all, until perhaps we've been away for a while and then suddenly notice an unpleasantness the moment we walk back in the door.
Ms. Dahl probed the reasons why this happens with cognitive psychologist Pamela Dalton, an olfactory scientist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center. "It's actually a very robust phenomenon," she explained. "It's why people go on vacation and come back and say, 'Oh, it's so musty in here--I'd better open some windows!'"
Dr. Dalton notes that over time, we all tend to become inured to smells, and that even "new" aromas, such as air fresheners or scented candles, can seemingly fade into the background so that we don't perceive them anymore.
Knowing about "sensory adaptation" can help sellers to be scrupulous about neutralizing potentially offensive odors that could kill a sale. Instead of resorting to Febreeze, it's best to use non-toxic natural products that won't perfume the air as much as clean and freshen it.
You'll find a useful list of "Six Things in Your Kitchen that Get Rid of Bad Smells Naturally," that writer Meg Favreau compiled for the WiseBread website. Her suggestions include: baking soda, for refrigerators, trash cans, litter boxes, carpets, and hampers; white vinegar, for noxious, hard-to-get-rid-of smells such as smoke from cigarettes or fireplaces; oats, for their absorbent qualities; coffee grounds (if you like the smell of brewed coffee); lemon juice, especially to negate leftover cooking aromas from fish or garlic; and spices, whether simmering on a stove or in a freshly baked apple pie.
And simplest of all: open some windows and bring in some fresh air before a showing, even when it's cold. There's no substitute for that.