When Sellers Are "Nose Blind"

Real Estate Agent with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage 9025089

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.

Posted by

Maureen Harmonay

Specialist in Massachusetts Country Homes,

Antique Homes, and Horse Properties




Comments (14)

David Shamansky
US Mortgages - David Shamansky - Highlands Ranch, CO
Creative, Aggressive & 560 FICO - OK, Colorado Mtg

Noseblind! ha ha thats a flippin riot but OH SO TRUE!

I cant tell you how many times I walk in a home and am like "DAMN" what is that (in my head) and the owners / friends can be oblivious

Sep 06, 2014 05:55 AM
Maureen Harmonay
Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage - Bolton, MA
Your Country Property Specialist, Bolton MA

David, I'd never heard of the term, "nose blind," either, until I read that New York Magazine piece, but I knew it would ring true to most of us!  It's such a sensitive topic.

Sep 06, 2014 05:58 AM
Ronald DiLalla
Century 21 Discovery DRE 01813824 - Anaheim, CA
No. Orange Cty Real Estate

HiMaureen,   I have some friends homes that have this particular  odor and its been over years and never changes..very annoying.

Sep 06, 2014 06:36 AM
Maureen Harmonay
Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage - Bolton, MA
Your Country Property Specialist, Bolton MA

I think we can all relate to that, Ronald!

Sep 06, 2014 06:43 AM
Pete Xavier
Investments to Luxury - Pacific Palisades, CA
Outstanding Agent Referrals-Nationwide

New phrase of the day "Nose Blind", that's me in any place.

One of the few who cannot smell with some exceptions.

Sep 06, 2014 08:03 AM
Maureen Harmonay
Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage - Bolton, MA
Your Country Property Specialist, Bolton MA

You might be one of the lucky ones, Pete!

Sep 06, 2014 08:05 AM
Toni Weidman
Sailwinds Realty - Trinity, FL
20+ Years Selling Homes in New Port Richey, FL

Good explanation, Maureen.  Odors in our own environments do disappear to us even though others are aware of them. 

Sep 06, 2014 10:35 AM
Lawrence "Larry" & Sheila Agranoff. Cell: 631-805-4400
The Top Team @ Charles Rutenberg Realty 255 Executive Dr, Plainview NY 11803 - Plainview, NY
Long Island Condo and Home Specialists

We went on a showing appt where the homeowner was cooking something very spicy. Our buyer walked in and walked O U T as fast as he could without looking at the rest of the condo

Sep 06, 2014 08:59 PM
Maureen Harmonay
Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage - Bolton, MA
Your Country Property Specialist, Bolton MA

Larry and Sheila, I've had the same experience in condo buildings; it's often the neighbor's cooking that drives the buyer away, in spite of the unit seller's best efforts to maintain neutrality!

Sep 06, 2014 10:38 PM
Maureen Bray Portland OR Home Stager ~ Room Solutions Staging
Room Solutions Staging, Portland OR - Portland, OR
"Staging Consultations that Sell Portland Homes"

The best smell in a home that's on the market is "clean."  If there's a strong odor, I bring over my ozone machine overnight and that usually takes care of any unpleasant smells.  (Warning:  never use an ozone machine if anyone is in the house ... they can cause health issues)

Sep 07, 2014 04:43 AM
Maureen Harmonay
Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage - Bolton, MA
Your Country Property Specialist, Bolton MA

I agree with you, Maureen Bray Portland OR Home Stager ~ Room Solutions Staging !  Nice tip about the ozone machine, as well.

Sep 07, 2014 06:40 AM
Barbara Todaro
RE/MAX Executive Realty - Happily Retired - Franklin, MA
Previously Affiliated with The Todaro Team

Good morning, Maureen Harmonay I'll have to remember that term "nose blind" and borrow it in the future....

Sep 19, 2014 12:12 AM
Margaret Rome Baltimore 410-530-2400
HomeRome Realty 410-530-2400 - Pikesville, MD
Sell Your Home With Margaret Rome

Maureen Harmonay Like others have stated...great use of words..nose blind.

I would love to hear more about Maureen Bray Portland OR Home Stager ~ Room Solutions Staging  ozone machine.

Sep 30, 2014 11:28 AM
Claude Labbe
RLAH / @properties - Washington, DC
Realty for Your Busy Life

I have so many smart aleck comments I'd like to make.

But...yes, sellers often need an impartial 3rd party here.

Dec 07, 2014 12:12 PM