How Do You Politely Say: “Your House Stinks!”?

Many homeowners are oblivious to the funky smells that are sabotaging their house’s value.


When it comes to turn-offs for home prospective buyers, the nose definitely knows.  In fact, Moneywiseranks odors as one of the “biggest buyer turnoffs” for prospective home buyers, right up there with wall to wall shag carpeting and avocado appliances.


Why do buyers judge home odors so harshly, rather than issues that can simply be fixed or improved? Furthermore, why do people have such visceral reactions to certain smells?


An evolutionary instinct, it seems, is at work here. Special cells in the tip of the nose act as air quality control sensors that protect the body from harmful toxins. It’s an ancient trait that helped our prehistoric ancestors adapt and survive in their world; to sense impending danger or decide whether or not meat was safe to eat. In modern humans, these olfactory sensors are useful in signaling if something will trigger an allergic reaction or make us sick.


So what odors trigger these “fight or flight” emotions in prospective buyers? Below are a few of the leading smelly culprits.


Pets. Nothing sends prospective buyers scrambling like the bad smell of pets. Carpets and furnishings in our homes act like a sponge for the sources of these odors. Dogs produce a wide range of bad smells—everything from the oils in their skin and hair, to urine and feces. While it’s true that cats are a bit neater, they can and will urinate outside of their litter boxes. Not surprisingly, the unhealthy effects of feline urine signal to our brains to tell us to avoid the area.


Musty Air.  Even a little bit of water or short period of high humidity can produce a powerfully musty smell. While running a dehumidifier helps, the hidden sources of these odors can be difficult to access and remediate.


Smoke. The percentage of adults who smoke is declining, meaning fewer home buyers will tolerate the smell of smoke in a home. Even if the occupants cease smoking or try to smoke outdoors, odors can linger. A malfunctioning fireplace has the same effect. Only thorough remediation can rid a dwelling of smoky smells.


Hidden Mold. Older homes, particularly in humid regions, have witnessed thousands of precipitation events. Many water leaks are never noticed—and therefore never repaired—leading to invisible mold. In addition to producing an unmistakable odor, hidden mold can pose serious health issues for current and future residents alike.


Sounds bad enough, but the realtor says: “I can’t convince the owners that their house smells and that it will affect buyer interest!”


It is true—as a recent air freshener ad suggests—we humans can go “noseblind” to certain smells we live with every day. When we first encounter different smells, odorant molecules trigger signals to our olfactory bulb in the emotion and behavior part of the brain. Over time, the brain pays less attention to these signals as they are perceived as less of a threat. That’s why homeowners are often insensible to their home’s smell.


A house that smells will typically take longer to sell, and realtors know full well the detriment of a house staying on the market longer than necessary.  A Zillow study found that homes that sell quickly realize sale prices a mere one percent below list price. Conversely, homes that spend two months on the market suffer a five percent markdown. A stale listing of six months sell at an even steeper discount—a a twelve percent hit on average. Consider the average home sale in the U.S. is just shy of $235,000, the investment in odor remediation pales in comparison to a $28,000 discount in sales price.


Although a professional, persuasive realtor may be able to persuade the home seller to take steps to remediate some of the issues, the surest course of action is to engage a restoration company. These professionals definitely have the noses that know—able to identify the sources of odors and how to best resolve the root causes of any home air quality issue.


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