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Why You Need to Have a Working Understanding of the Olfactory Sense as a Home Seller

I remember doing a paper in college about the olfactory sense, which is the technical name for our sense of smell.  The olfactory sense is generally believed to be the most closely linked to your memory, and it is some 10,000 times stronger than your sense of taste.  Also, certain scents will produce a highly emotional reaction.  You can probably think of at least one perfume or cologne that reminds you of someone in your past.

Why is this important to real estate?

Well, allow me to explain, if you will (and I guess even if you won't).  I have probably shown several thousand homes to home buyers over the course of my real estate career.  Patterns emerge, and trends occur with buyers.  When buyers are looking at a good number of homes, I have found it helpful and natural to designate each home with a shorthand of some sort:

  • "The house with the skyline view"
  • "The one with the tile roof"
  • "The place with the incredible landscaping"

Of course, all of these are positive attributes, right?  On the flip side of the coin, think about how it would make you feel if your home received one of these descriptions (all of these are real, from buyers I have worked with):

  • "The dog pee house"
  • "The house with the weird smell"
  • "The stinky house" 
  • "The spice house" - This was from ethnic cooking of some sort, as I recall

Not as appealing, is it?  It probably won't surprise you to learn that the dog pee house didn't make the top three for my buyers. 

All homes have some sort of scent/odor, so it's hard to make it completely neutral.  Sometimes, frankly, the scent is too strong in the other direction (i.e. it smells heavily perfumed, which is equally distracting).  I think the worst possible combination is when there is a bad smell that is clearly (though not completely) covered with an air freshener:

 

"Is that rotten laundry smell with a hint of lavender?  Ahhhhh....nice."

"WOW!  Is that damp mustiness and lemon freshness combined?  I like it!"

No one says these things.  You must eliminate the source, not just spray Febreze and call it a day.  For the record, I like Febreze for the most part, in case you were wondering.

The best solution is to allow someone else (such as your real estate agent) to give you the lowdown on this.  We tend to get used to the smell of our own home, which is why it is sometimes jarring to sleep in another house when visiting relatives.  If you are wondering if your home has a distinct smell, I would recommend going outside for a few minutes and then coming back in.  The results may surprise you.  This method sort of cleanses your nasal palate, so to speak, and you may discover a problem that you didn't realize existed. 

Essentially, you are just going for a clean scent or something that may evoke a positive memory.  Real estate trainers the world round recommend baking something or at least using a few drops of vanilla on a cookie sheet when doing an open house.  There are tons of other techniques, but this post is really just to teach you the importance of this (often overlooked) angle when selling.

Take it from me: when you are trying to sell your home, smells do matter!  You want them to focus on your granite counters, or your high-end flooring upgrades, or your designer paint colors, not the cat boxes.

 

If you are considering selling your home anywhere in the general Austin area, please feel free to give me a call.  I would love the opportunity to help you get it sold quickly.  You can visit my primary Austin Texas real estate website at www.austintexashomes.com.  You can also reach me anytime on my cell phone at 512-796-7653 or via email at jason@austintexashomes.com.  I hope to hear from you soon!

 

If you're looking for a home in the Austin area, you can also visit my primary website at www.austintexashomes.com.  Thanks!

Comment balloon 37 commentsJason Crouch • September 29 2008 10:30AM

Comments

This is very true, Jason.  I sold a house that had a golden retriever.  His name was Nicolas.  We referred to it as Nick's house.  Truth be told, he sold it for me.

I hadn't thought of that song in a long time.

Posted by Melody Botting, You Deserve The Best (Broker Associate PenFed Realty) about 9 years ago

This is such a huge issue.  I think a smoker's house will sell for 10% less than market value.  sometimes people with pets have the carpet cleaned and that makes the smell worse for a week or two.

Posted by Jean Groesbeck, Broker, CRS, e-PRO, ABR, ASP, CNE, IMS (Coldwell Banker Bain) about 9 years ago

I know what you mean.  We use scented candles and popcorn to fill the air with homey scents.

Posted by Randall Schrader (Competitive Insurance of Dundee) about 9 years ago
Jason, You are so right about smells. Often I will bake cookies or light candles when doing an open house, to help make it smell homey and inviting.
Posted by Betina Foreman, Realtor, C.N.E., with WJK REALTY (WJK Realty) about 9 years ago
I'm really glad I am not selling my personal home. We have 5 dogs that are indoor/outdoor. Thankfully, I have no carpeting but it still smells like doggy. I have a house on the market right now that has several teenage boys living in it. The odor of musty athletic socks and generally sweaty boys makes my stomach roll when I walk through the front door. The seller admits she smells it also and has tried several things to rid the house of the odor, but it is not gone.
Posted by Michelle DeRepentigny, Broker Athens, GA (Success Realty) about 9 years ago

My mother-in-law just died and we had to list her home.  She was the 'cat lady' the kids talked about at the soda shop, God rest her soul.  I loved her very much...and shew as a wonderful woman.  But, her home WREAKS of cat...cat urine...cat crap...cat dander...  We had to pour 200lbs of LIME into the basement to try to absorb the smell.  It didnt work.  And, it isnt selling.   Shock-o-rama

Posted by Clint Miller (Real Estate Pipeline, Inc.) about 9 years ago

What are some other solutions to get rid of bad smells?  I had a vacant home that did sell but since it was vacant, it smelled a little mildewy.  I did cover up the smell with ruby red punch spray through out the home.  People were walking in saying how it smelled nice.

Posted by Angelia Garcia (Pure Realtors) about 9 years ago
Jason, I'm chuckling right now. This brought back the memory of my youngest daughter's friend walking into our house the other day and exclaimed, "Oh Mrs. Schrader, your house always smells so GOOOOOOD!" I then wondered how DID IT SMELL? So I asked her. And she replied, "It always smells like you just mopped your floors with lemon soap, and like you're cooking a big yummy meal!" I DO cook all the time...and I DO clean my floors and anything else with Lemony Liquid Lysol! I had never really noticed...but this young girl certainly DID! lol
Posted by Rebecca Schrader (Competitive Insurance of Dundee) about 9 years ago

Oh, I just read Clint Miller's comment...Clint, AFTER you disenfect everything, mopping, cleaning and vacuuming...open up a few bags of charcoal and leave out "trays full of them" THEY ACTUALLY ABSORB THE HOUSE'S ODORS! When we get houses ready to rent or sell, I even fill a spray bottle of Lemon Liquid Lysol and water and spray EVERYTHING down with it...just let it absorb. We "flipped" a house that had the biggest dog and feces everywhere...AFTER we cleaned (and i DO mean cleaned) I sprayed this mixture EVERYWHERE (on the walls, corners, inside the cabinets...saturated the concrete floors even! and let me tell you...I closed it up after I was done and upon returning the following week...IT WAS AMAZING! the odors were literally GONE!) Try it...you'll approve.

Posted by Rebecca Schrader (Competitive Insurance of Dundee) about 9 years ago
Jason... This is so obvious, that I should have read a thousand posts about it, but not so. Maybe just a handful. This is more important than staging. One bad whiff and it's game over, so I don't understand why this is not a top priority with sellers. Another automatic feature for you, my friend!
Posted by Richard Weisser, Richard Weisser Retired Real Estate Professional (Richard Weisser Realty) about 9 years ago

I love vacant houses that have about 20 air fresheners in them. My clients are trying to figure out what the underlying odor is.

Posted by Richard Mielke, REALTOR, Gettysburg Pennsylvania Real Estate (RE/MAX Results) about 9 years ago

Jason - I agree.  Even if it's a great house, the "strange" smell will be all they will remember...  :)

Posted by Debi Ernst, GRI, e-PRO, Broker/Sales Associate (St. Charles County, Missouri - Prudential Alliance Realtors) about 9 years ago

Odors are one of many issues that sellers have difficulty being objective about when preparing their house to sell. They get used to the way it smells and truly don't notice how offensive it may be to a potential buyer. It is critical to be honest with sellers about odors that could deter a buyer. 

Posted by Linda Sticklin (Home Staging & Organizing) about 9 years ago

I remember the animal house we couldn't sell. I kept telling them they needed to get the smell out and they kept asking "what smell?" They were living there and ended up taking about $40,000 less then they could have received. So sad. I like the charcoal and Lysol ideas....I've got a vacant home on the market that I will try that with. Another great post with informative comments as always Jason. Thank You!!

Posted by Mandi Perkins (Pioneer Title Agency) about 9 years ago
Hi Jason. I have written about this as well. Smell is the hardest thing to overcome. Period. Thanks for the reminder. Ken
Posted by Ken Tracy, Helping clients buy and sell since 2005 (Keller Williams Realty Infinity) about 9 years ago

Love the musical accompaniment!  As soon as I saw the cover, I knew ....

Posted by Marie Meyer, Orange County New York Realtor (Keller Williams Realty) about 9 years ago

Smells can definitely kill a potential clients interest in a heartbeat.  The dog pee house just doesn't sound (or smell) like somewhere most folks want to call home.

Posted by Jesse & Kathy Clifton, Retired (Jesse Clifton & Associates, REALTORS®) about 9 years ago

Hi Jason-As someone who just started reading your blogs I can see why you have such a large following of readers. You tell it like it is. I like that and anybody that doesn't read all the way thru this blog is missing out. I do have to agree with you wholeheartedly people just get so used to the smell of your homes they don't even notice. Nothing wrong with my nose and if something stinks I have to get rid of it. Adults are different than kids though. If something stinks the kids say it, most adults think it, they just don't say it anymore. I don't think that's something we should outgrow. I had a incident recently where I stayed at a friends house that I've known for 40 yrs.  Let's just say I'll won't ever do that again. Just can't live like that. Look forward to more of your tell it like it is blogs.

Posted by Pat Whitehouse, Broker/Owner (RE/MAX 1st Olympic Lynchburg Va) about 9 years ago

Jason,

Thanks for the post,  I have a client who wanted to see a house for the second time, and we had an appointment in the evening, and the homeowner was cooking something with curry, and this was a total turnoff.  She did not put in an offer that night as planned.  So, smell does matter big time!

Posted by Sharon Richards (Kirsten Realty Tampa Florida) about 9 years ago

Jason, you are right on the mark - again.   Smell plays a HUGE factor in selling a home. 

Posted by David Matney, Omaha, NE Real Estate | Omaha, NE Homes For Sale (BHHS - Ambassador Real Estate) about 9 years ago

HI JASON!

I see what the big to-do was all about over you...this is an excellent post.  You made them get the point and with such good musc too.  I hadn't heard that song before, but I was jamming along anyway!!

MAGNIFIQ!

Posted by Yvette Smith, Realtor In Williamsburg VA, Homes for Sale (LONG & FOSTER) about 9 years ago
Jason - I have certainly inspected some "unpleasant " smelling homes. Sometimes I wish I could do an about face and head for the front door. I can just imagine what a potential buyer thinks. I like the music goes well with your blog.
Posted by Carl Winters about 9 years ago

Jason ... this is sooo true!  I have had clients turn around within 1 step into the house (even though they loved the pictures and the outside) because of the smell!  pippa

Posted by Pippa Mac, The Woodlands TX Real Estate (Chevaux Group Realtor, The Woodlands and Spring) about 9 years ago

My husband seriously considered  buying an investment property that smelled like the proverbial DB (dead body).  This place was too freaky for me to set foot in.  I sat on the front porch until I could convince him to leave...

And we let someone else buy it....

Guess he didn't relish the idea of rehabbing the place alone! :-)

Nice post, Jason!

Posted by Paula Ryan (Coldwell Banker Tomlinson Group) about 9 years ago

I think the best smell in a home is NO smell. Nothing. Not even baking cookies or vanilla candles or Lysol. Lynyrd Skynyrd named themselves after one of the band members high school teacher. ;-)

Posted by Sharon Young (Ivy League Mortgage Philadelphia, Pa) about 9 years ago

I had a listing and the gentleman smoked cigars. The home would never sell at any price.

Posted by James Wexler (wexzilla.com) about 9 years ago

Here's one for you.  I actually have no sense of smell, never have.  I often "sense" that a house has it's own personality but can't really know for sure.  What's a girl like me to do?  As has already been said, the owner often has no clue.

Posted by Terri Visser, CRS - 12 Years Selling Central Oregon Real Estate (Desert Sky Real Estate, LLC) about 9 years ago

If you think about it we as agents to really sell houses as much as we smell them.

Posted by Scott Barr, Realtor (Hom Sotheby's international Realty) about 9 years ago

Unfortunately although some smells grab us the second we open the door, the poor sellers have adjusted to the smells and don't have a clue what we are talking about!  Strong air freshners are sometimes the worst, I have had buyers walk right out of dog houses and air fresher houses without ever viewing the property. I leave my card on an entrance table and call with feedback. 

Posted by Charlotte Koch, Realtor-Strongsville,Ohio (Keller Williams Greater Cleveland Southwest) about 9 years ago

This is absolutely the truth and valuable information for Sellers.  Bad smells or bad attempts to eliminate odors cause buyers to run in the other direction. Good post once again.

Posted by Paddy (Patricia) Pizappi, Real Estate Associate Broker Hudson Valley NY (Better Homes and Gardens Rand Realty) about 9 years ago

TERRI - You are probably the fourth or fifth person that I have met with no sense of smell.  Two of my other AR friends are in the same boat, believe it or not.  I would recommend getting someone to go along with you to check it out.  There's really no other way to know for sure.

Posted by Jason Crouch, Broker - Austin Texas Real Estate (512-796-7653) (Austin Texas Homes, LLC) about 9 years ago

Good one Jason.  Your post -- although it wasn't smelly -- brought vividly to mind some past real estate experiences that definitely were.  Have a great week!

Posted by Dave Hamill, Prescott, Arizona Real Estate (EXIT Realty Legacy) about 9 years ago
Jason- I work with a couple investors. For them smell is a good thing when buying a house, because it generally means that few (if any) others will be submitting offers. Obviously, this is not the scenario that the seller is wants.
Posted by Erik Hitzelberger, Louisville - Middletown Real Estate (RE/MAX Alliance - Louisville REALTOR-Luxury Homes) about 9 years ago

Smells are huge. I could not agree more. Sometimes my buyers and I have done a very quick 180 when the house smells badly.

Posted by Michael Sahlman, e-PRO - Miami Beach Florida Luxury Homes (www.HomesForVIPs.com - Keller Williams Realty) about 9 years ago

It is difficult telling a seller that their home has a strange smell, but you are so right, it's important to address this issue because potential buyers will definitely notice and it can be a deal breaker for them. I like the Febreeze Noticeables that you plug-in...you switch them from high to low depending on whether you want a stronge fragrance or not. And of course lighting a yummy smelling candle works well too without having to bake cookies.

--Anne Rains

LadyofRealty.blogspot.com

www.TheRainsTeam.com

Posted by The Rains Team, A higher standard in real estate (Keller Williams Realty Atlanta Partners) about 9 years ago

Hi, Jason:  nice post -I stumbled over here from the Home Staging forums looking to see what REALTORs were saying about Staging.  Like Anne says above, it is tough to tell your client any bad news about their home.  That's why smell falls under the Bad-guy responsibilities of a Stager.

My advice for removing smells:

  1. Change the furnace filters.  Buy a box of cheap blue ones, and swap them out every other week.
  2. Once the filters are changed, open all of the windows.  Do NOT adjust the thermostat.  Let the A/C or Heat run while you:
  3. Clean - Clean under every thing.  Clean on top of every thing.  
  4. Dust the ceiling fans - use canned or compressed air to blow out the motors a bit
  5. Wipe all of the blinds with a damp cloth using water and mild detergent.
  6. Wipe all of the air registers and returns with the same

An Irish woman I met at one of my first full time jobs told me about the opening the windows while you clean.  She says, (in brogue) "Mum used to tell me, 'Out with the old and in with the new'..." 

Some one on the Stage it Forward board posted a blog about the only thing that smells worse than dog is a dog coated in french vanilla.  You have to go to the source - coverups are detectable. I mean, who hasn't used a scented candle or plugin to try to cover up a scent in their own home? 

The Stage Coach Home Stager Austin Home Staging Round Rock Home Stager

Posted by Michael Fontana, @ The Stage Coach (Round Rock Home Stager Austin Home Staging) about 9 years ago
The You Tube tops this post off. I can't agree with you more. I often go to open houses to talk with the agent and nothing runs me off quicker than a smoker's house. Animal odors or mustiness are pretty bad as well. Nice post.
Posted by Patrick Randles (Nova Home Loans) about 9 years ago

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