Scratch and Sniff

It’s funny, over the years I have had several buyers say, jokingly, I wish there was a scratch and sniff box on the MLS listing sheet that you gave us. Referring to the smell of the house as part of the criteria.  When a home smells when they enter, things are not off to a good start. Even if the home is attractive and priced competitively, it’s likely that the buyers sense of smell will rule out this home. Fortunately, there are a few things that can be done to make the smell a non-issue for future showings.


To address the smell problem, you need to first determine the source. What is in or around the home that could possibly be causing the offensive odor? Let’s take a look at some common causes of bad smells.

One of the hardest smells to eliminate is cigarette smoke. If someone who has been living in the house is a smoker, there is almost certainly a strong stale cigarette smell in the air. Unfortunately, this can be difficult to remedy. The actions needed to eliminate the smell of cigarette smoke are likely more significant and costlier than with some of the other smell possibilities. Most likely, you will need to replace the carpet, curtains, furniture (if the home is sold furnished), and the walls and ceilings may need to be repainted. 

Dirty laundry. When dirty laundry is left to sit in a hamper too long, the smell can start to filter through the house. Fortunately, this smell is typically not as bad as cigarette smoke and much easier to rectify. The first thing to do is to have the dirty clothes cleaned and put away. From there, even a simple air freshener, candles, and some open windows (if the weather allows) may be all that is needed to eliminate the bad smell.

Pet odor.  One of the tricky things with pet odor is that many people who have pets get so used to the smell that they don’t even notice that there is a smell.  It is often carpeting and rugs which hold onto the pet smell, so treat those areas appropriately. Have the home professionally cleaned and carpets shampooed.   For cats, be sure the litter box is cleaned frequently and stored in an inconspicuous area away from the eye of the potential buyer.

Trash and food left in the refrigerator/freezer.  This seems like an obvious one; but make sure the trash is emptied from the house and anything that can spoil is also removed (preferably before it goes bad).  Also, if there is a disposal in the sink, grind up a lemon in there and even leave a few lemon slices in there if the home will be vacant for a period of time.

A Breath of Fresh Air

Opening some windows can really help a home smell better and reduce the effects of bad smells in the home. If you are lucky enough to be selling the home when the weather is offering moderate temperatures and a nice breeze, opening some windows and allowing the house to “breathe” for a few hours during the day could really help minimize any smells. Of course, you’ll still want to do what you can to correct the underlying problem, so the bad odor doesn’t return when the windows are closed.

In our market, many of the homes are a vacation/rental property so the owner has little control over how the home may smell.  So, in this situation, it is critical for the management firm and/or the Realtor that is listing the home for sale, to be proactive and alert the owner and management staff of any issue and rectify it as soon as possible.

It would be a shame to have an otherwise great home sit on the market simply because of a bad smell. From my experience, this is not something you can expect buyers to just ‘get over’. Buyers affectionately name the homes they see to help them recall the property later.  Recently, a buyer coined the name, “Sweaty Dog Mothball house”.  You don’t want to be that house, so you’ll need to come up with a plan to remedy the situation as quickly as possible.