There are ways to combat the smells of real estate.
The expression “I can’t stand…” indicates an extreme dislike. “I can’t stand the smell of this house” is just about the most negative remark a buyer can make. The equivalent German saying is “Ich kann ihn nicht riechen” which translates literally into “I can’t smell him.”
More than the other four senses, smell creates memories and brings them back, good and bad. Thanks to olfactory sensory neurons we recognize patterns of previous smells which we associate with the smell of the moment. Thus, the open house smell of warm apple cider or baked cookies is meant to evoke those memories of Thanksgiving dinners and the presents of Christmas past.
How to Deal with Pet Smell
The problem is that while many people like cookies they like their pets even more. However, pets are the major cause of house odors ranging from lingering to repugnant. Cats are worse than dogs because they have no wagging tails demanding an outdoor experience. Dogs, however, can exude a musky odor. Both are major contributors to smells of real estate.
While many home buyers are also pet owners – the ratio of pets to humans in the US is about four to ten – they like their own dog or cat more than yours. My first advice to home sellers is not to trust their own noses for noticing any smell. Leave that up to your real estate agent. Hide that litter box where only your cat can find it. The same goes for those pet food and drink bowls while buyers are touring your home. In severe cases, replace all carpets where Fluffy has indicated territorial dominance. Give your cats and dogs a vacation – at a friend’s house or a boarding place.
Think of Budweiser’s Clydesdales, Aflac’s Duck, and Geico’s Gecko. As much as pets should be neither smelled nor seen around a home that’s for sale, pets can be used to sell even a home. Such was the case with Hank, a pit bull. While he was never in the home when buyers where present many came because they remembered Hank. He had become a local star on social media where I used his picture to announce the sale and open house.
Cigarette and Cooking Smells
Pets are not the only culprits. Two other sources of smell are the inhabitants and the home itself. While cigarette smoke is becoming rarer it is still the worst smell caused by home owners. Cooking odors, especially grease, can also leave an olfactory residue. Often we smell something but we don’t know exactly what it is, especially in bathrooms. Could that be mold – the worst kind of smells of real estate.
That Empty House Smell
Then there is that empty or old house smell. While the sellers lived in the home there was no noticeable odor but after they left the home began to smell. This could be slightly unpleasant and harmless but it could also indicate something more serious. The cures can range from airing out the home to installing new heating duct filters to using air fresheners. The worst case scenario may call for an indoor environmental air test. Hard to identify smells are the worst because buyers may not even mention them. They just wonder and never come back.
Air Quality – Beyond the Smells
Even if you are not in the market to sell your home you should pay attention to the air quality in your home. Improving air quality is big business and as a home owner you should know all your options. At a minimum, exchange your air duct intake filters regularly. There is an abundance of information about air quality on the Web, from government agencies and private enterprise.
The Best Smell of my Life
It happened in early December, 1975. I had come home to my ground floor apartment of an old brownstone building in downtown Montreal. I noticed the pleasant smell of perfume in the hallway. Knowing that Mary, my neighbor, was a perfume eschewing “nature girl,” I had to check this out. The young women I saw that day and who wore that perfume is now my wife of 38 years.
I do understand the importance of smells.
This was first published as the 47th edition of The View from the Street newsletter.