A Damp and Musty Smell in the House Cost This Owner a Sale

Real Estate Broker/Owner with Madeline Island Realty 50317-90

A Damp and Musty Smell in the House Cost This Owner a Sale


This happened just a couple of weeks ago.  Prospective buyers (clients of mine) were viewing a waterfront vacation home listing in our area and they appeared to be close to making an offer.  


Following a third showing of the property, the buyers immediately informed their agent that they noticed a "damp, musty odor" inside the house. When this happens, alarm bells go off inside a buyer's head.  Mildew?  Mold?  To a buyer, there is an immediate presumption that something is wrong.


Upon follow-up, the buyers admitted that they were not sure what exactly they were noticing, but the words "there's a bad smell somewhere in here" and "the place smells musty and old" kept coming forth in their comments.


Buyers can be brutally honest about noticing odors in a home, especially when it's been closed up during winter months.  Excuses won't help. Sellers need to tackle these problems and come up with constructive solutions.  I call this "The Great Odor Search".


Sellers, have you looked into the following sources of odors in your vacation home?


  • A dead mouse somewhere, maybe inside a kitchen cabinet or even inside a wall


  • Old mattresses and old upholstered furniture


  • Carpet odors and pet odors


  • A lack of proper air circulation/ventilation


  • Bathroom or kitchen odors


Check these out and search with your eyes, as well as with your nose Some refrigerators have a condensation tray or pan underneath them, just above the floor. Old furniture can be a culprit, especially if it's stuffed with old-style "ticking" or cloth-wrapped stuffing.  Old innerspring mattresses and box springs are favorite hiding places for mice. Look under sinks and in cabinets that you seldom open.


Where do you store your trash in the kitchen?  Has liquid from trash storage leaked into the bottom of a wood cabinet?


If you can find them, open the plumbing access panel(s) behind the shower diverter in a bathtub or shower enclosure and look for leakage. Go into the crawl space beneath bathrooms and check under toilets and sinks, searching for plumbing leaks and stains.


Throw out (or reupholster) old stuffed furniture which may be contributing to odors. The stuffing inside your dad's favorite recliner could be full of mouse droppings and urine. I know it sounds gross, but have you looked inside household items for mouse nests and what mice leave behind?


You may need to add one or more dehumidifiers in summer months. And you may need to hire a contractor to create a source of fresh air.  Check kitchen and bathroom vent fans to see if they exhaust outside or just channel fan exhaust back into the home's interior.


Above all, make it part of your seasonal routine to do a "top-to-bottom" cleaning in autumn of each year, not merely a "spring cleaning".  Sources of odor that remain undiscovered over six months of winter tend to become more permanent and harder to remove in the future.


Getting a family cabin or vacation home "buttoned up" for winter is much like preparing a large sailboat or power boat for being shrinkwrapped and put into dry storage mode at the end of the season.  You have to clean the interior thorougly, not just in a cursory manner.  Think of it as protecting your vacation home investment and you'll do better at resale time.


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Wisconsin Ashland County La Pointe
WaterFront Homes
Vacation and Second homes
Resort and Second Properties (RSPS)
Wisconsin Active Rainers
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bayfield wisconsin
odor search

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Belinda Spillman
Aspen Lane Real Estate Colorful Colorado - Aurora, CO
Colorado Living!

This is such a hot button with buyers.  Sellers need to make sure the air is clean and fresh when listing their home for sale.

Apr 09, 2016 02:09 AM #1
Eric Kodner
Madeline Island Realty - La Pointe, WI
CRS, Madeline Island Realty, LaPointe, WI 54850 -

Belinda Spillman - I've read many posts about odors in homes, but I wanted to dig deeper into the causes that many homeowners (and agents) may not think about. It's a complex issue and it's a particularly important issue in second homes, especially those in the northern United States which are not always occupied twelve months a year and which are often shut in during winter.

Apr 09, 2016 02:50 AM #2
Rosemarie Heindel
Harry Norman Realtors - Big Canoe, GA
Rosemarie Heindel

Wow, you make some great points and offer some wonderful ideas on how to search for odors. Thank so much for all the work that went into this post and for sharing it with us.

Apr 09, 2016 12:12 PM #3
Barbara Altieri
RealtyQuest/Kinard Realty Group, Fairfield and New Haven County CT Real Estate - Shelton, CT
REALTOR-Fairfield County CT Homes/Condos For Sale

Eric -- Yes, odors can be deal killers. I have had experience with waterfronts having their share.  Best to get this addressed prior to listing. There's no hiding it and it will lead buyers right out the door. 

Apr 11, 2016 04:50 AM #4
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Eric Kodner

CRS, Madeline Island Realty, LaPointe, WI 54850 -
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