3 tips for selling a home that smells

by Tara on February 28, 2013

REThink Real Estate

Tara-Nicholle Nelson
Inman News®

Q: I’m trying to prep my home to put it on the market and hold open houses. Do you have a recommendation on how to hide a cigarette smell other than quitting?

A: I am highly sensitive to smells, and so appreciate the plight of the many buyers who write and comment to me on how many of the open houses and properties for sale they view that are, to put it as bluntly as possible, malodorous.

Accordingly, I also appreciate your asking the question, as too many sellers focus on the visual aspect of staging their home, underappreciating the multisensory aspect of a buyer’s home tours.

That said, I suggest that you shift your way of thinking about the issue, as follows:

1. You can’t hide smells — you need to eliminate them. Buyers who don’t smoke and never have will be able to detect the smell of cigarettes, pets and their messes, and even intense home cooking smells, often from their first step into the home. So it’s essential to approach your challenge as it really is: to remove or eliminate the odors, versus simply spraying something on top of them.

Take it from me: To someone who is sensitive or allergic to cigarette smoke, the only thing worse than the smell of smoke is the saccharine-sweet, fake floral scents someone has sprayed right on top of cigarette smoke odors.

2. Take odor-specific steps to vanquishing smells. What you must do to truly eliminate an odor depends on the odor itself. With pets, often a thorough vacuum, carpet cleaning and washing any upholstery, curtains, blankets or other textiles in the home can go a long way, as well as making sure litter boxes or other potty areas are outside or in the garage. If a pet has repeatedly had accidents on a particular spot of floor or carpet, it might require replacing or refinishing.

Cooking odors are similar, and can often be vanquished with a good scrubbing down of kitchen walls and floors, ceilings, and even range hoods and vent fans/filters; painting the kitchen walls and ceilings is not overkill. Once this is done, it’s essential not to simply keep cooking with the same pungent ingredients unless you are willing to go back and reclean the property.

But smoking is the big daddy of all odors, because (a) it is typically done chronically, for years, and (b) by its nature, smoke can get into every crack and crevice. I’ve had contractors who pulled the hardwood floor boards in a place because they were damaged and reported the overwhelming smell of cigarette smoke in the floor joists under the floor!

To get rid of smoking stains, you can try starting off with a good, professional wash of all the walls, windows and floors, but the most successful smoke smell eradications I’ve ever been involved with encompassed wholesale interior repainting, and either recarpeting or refinishing the wood floors; this is yet another reason why so many smart landlords are putting smoking bans on the interiors of their rental properties.

3. Bring another nose to bear on the matter. If you happen to be both the resident of a home and the person responsible for odor eradication, here’s a critical tip: Don’t go it alone. Through a phenomenon called olfactory accommodation, our noses simply become used to smelling (and stop detecting) smells once we have smelled them for even a relatively short period of time.

Add to that the medical reality that smoking dulls the sense of smell, and you see why so many buyers are surprised at how overwhelming the smoke smell is in properties where the seller was 100 percent convinced the smell was entirely gone.

Make sure, as you proceed through the process of preparing your home for sale, that you check in with your agent and even friends and relatives, asking them to do a nose check on your home. And one more thing: If they do say your home still smells, don’t shoot the messenger. Their honesty might be a linchpin in your success at getting your home sold.

Tara-Nicholle Nelson is a real estate broker, attorney and the author of two critically acclaimed books on real estate. Tara also speaks and writes on the art and science of life transformation at RETHINK7.com.

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Copyright 2013 Tara-Nicholle Nelson

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REThink Real Estate

Tara-Nicholle Nelson
Inman News®

Q: I loved your article on powerful words to use when selling a home. How about an article on words not to use? –Tonya

A: Thanks for reading, Tonya. I have loads of thoughts on words not to use in a home’s marketing and listing description. As a general rule, the word bombs I suggested were driven by my belief that you should get as much descriptive power out of every single character space available to you, as online listings in particular put a tight lid on how many words you can use. The goal is to be using words that go a very long way in terms of describing the home in a way that entices buyers to go see it.

So, when understanding the words not to use, one approach is to do the opposite: Eliminate the fluffery. Buyers see textual fluff and ignore it, in the best-case scenario, or become suspicious of it, in the worst case.

In a market like today’s, where buyers’ standards have been boosted by the lovely homes they see on television and in magazines, and where many listing agents have gotten the art of listing a home down to a science, having your home’s description or listing ignored is a surefire way to end up with it lagging on the market far longer than it has to.

1. Don’t use: fluffery. Remember, in recommending what to say, I urged you to get specific, listing off brand names of upscale appliances and decor brands that describe the aesthetic style of the home, as well as the details of desirable finishes like polished cement, granite and stainless steel.

So it’s no surprise that when Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner looked into it for their 2009 book "Freakonomics" they found that the five home listing terms that correlated to a lower sales price were very general terms, i.e., terms that just express a pleasantry but are devoid of any significantly useful information to a buyer:

Five terms correlated to a lower sales price:

  • Fantastic
  • Spacious
  • !
  • Charming
  • Great neighborhood

You see, buyers don’t just skim over these terms. They wonder what’s wrong with the place that the agent would have nothing more substantial to say about it, and they compare it to the hundreds of other competitive homes whose agents do say more substantial and compelling things in their descriptions. Guess which ones they go see.

2. Don’t use: obfuscation. Here’s another thing about buyers: In this day and age, they have finely tuned B.S. detectors. So don’t even waste your time or your character counts on words that are classic cover-ups for property weaknesses.

Describing your home as "cozy" or in an "up-and-coming" neighborhood has virtually the same impact as describing it as really small or as being located in a rough part of town. I suggest you get specific about describing the strong suits of your property, rather than wasting time trying to trick buyers into believing some strained characterization of its weaknesses.

And, in fact, the same goes for listing photos, neighborhood names and others: Don’t lie and don’t stretch the truth — or the pictures.

Though it seems obvious, one of the most frequent sources of buyer outrage is photos that have clearly been manipulated and stretched beyond all reason, and homes where the desirable neighborhood named in the listing turns out to be 10 blocks over and a mile to the left. The fact is, buyers will see the truth when they see the property. And some buyers who have been just as interested in the property without the embellishment will be turned off by what they see as fraud or fiction in the listing.

3. Don’t use: descriptors that run counter to the listing photos. If half of your home’s listing description is a rhapsodic depiction of your backyard, in which you have painstakingly replicated every specimen contained in the U.S. Botanic Garden, make sure you have images of the backyard in your listing. If you describe a gourmet chef’s kitchen with custom pot rack and a Viking range, show pictures of it, too.

Buyers and their brokers get extremely suspicious when listings don’t show any pictures to back up the claims made therein, or when the images that are included don’t look anything like the home described. Don’t trigger their B.S. detectors in this way, either; make sure your marketing copy lines right up with the pictures that your listing agent includes in your home’s online listing.

Tara-Nicholle Nelson is a real estate broker, attorney and the author of two critically acclaimed books on real estate. Tara also speaks and writes on the art and science of life transformation at RETHINK7.com.

Contact Tara-Nicholle Nelson:
Facebook Facebook Facebook Twitter Facebook Email Facebook Letter to the Editor

Copyright 2013 Tara-Nicholle Nelson

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