How to tell sellers their home has an unpleasant smell

By Kelly Leighton | Feb. 25, 2019 | 4 min. read

While a home on the market can be beautifully staged with a gorgeous lawn, what if it just doesn’t… smell great?

How do you tell your clients that their home has an odor that is probably going to turn off buyers without offending them?

“My approach would be to stress the importance of first impressions to buyers walking in,” said District 3 Vice President Eric Rehling. “Many times, I bring up the idea that the buyer starts to make an emotional connection to the home within the first five minutes or so of visiting a home. The further past the 5-7 minute mark you get, the less impact what they see and smell has on their decision. It is the very reason why curb appeal is talked about so often. With that advice, I would suggest we do everything we can to clean, deodorize and shine those areas. I have suggested that sellers park in front of their home with a stop watch and causally walk up and through their home. When the stop watch hits seven minutes, however far they have gotten should be where they focus their attention prior to listing.”

Rehling said to aim for neutral with smells, in addition to colors and style. “We don’t know the buyers’ taste. By going neutral with everything, you are actually just trying to give them a blank slate to picture their style. I think sometimes it gets constructed that neutral attracts. I think it is more that neutral doesn’t repel someone, which is important to marketing.”

District 1 Vice President Heather Petrone-Shook said to make sure the odor isn’t temporary. “First of all, make sure that odor isn’t lingering food preparations from the night before. That’s something that will go away in a short time. If they have pets tread lightly, pets are family,” said Petrone-Shook. “Ask what they think would be a good game plan for the litter box or the pet pen during showings. Most homeowners who have pets know that they can smell like corn chips at times and if brought to their attention they will take steps necessary to adjust for buyers who are viewing their home. Remind your seller that using excessive amounts of plug-in air fresheners or candles is not the way to go. Honesty is the best policy.”

“If the owners are home, I ask them to put a spice mix in water and let it boil prior to me coming to the house,” said District 7 Vice President Sandy Stevens. “If they are not there, and I get there before them, I have some spritz bottles I use that smell like the ocean. I have also told people houses sell faster if the smells are pleasant and a lot of light are in the house. I also suggest that they de-clutter the property. I believe they hire me for my professionalism and want me to sell the property as quickly as possible for the highest price and best terms possible. I am open and up front with them. I have suggested they do not cook cabbage, sauerkraut and other smelly foods prior to my having a showing. If it is during a time of year when bugs are prevalent and the sellers are not going to be there, I ask them where their vacuum cleaner is and I vacuum the floors and clean window sills and surfaces from any bugs I can find.”

Stevens said for absentee owners, she recommends putting bounce sheets on furniture because they have worked to prohibit mice from coming in and setting up housekeeping in one of her cabins. “In the winter, it is too cold in the vacant cabins for any smells to be prevalent and the mice have vacated the space for the most part,” she said.

“Most people appreciate me helping them.  I haven’t ever had a seller complain or be offended by what I do,” added Stevens.

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