10 stinky reasons your home won’t sell

Planning to sell your home? Does it pass the sniff test? Strong odors in a home can be a powerful deterrent to prospective buyers, often slowing down the sale of your home or resulting in less money to you.

We tour thousands of homes with hundreds of buyers each year, and the reactions we see to smells are pretty universal. While some buyers are more tolerant of odors, everyone has a reaction to them. Here are some of the biggest offenders that we see all the time.bad smell

  1. Cigarette smoke – Almost no one likes this smell, and it is costly to remove. Only by replacing carpeting and painting thoroughly (sometimes with a blocker) can you make it go away. Either fix it before you list or plan to offer a credit or lower price in return.
  2. Cat urine – Probably the worst of the pet odors. Cat urine in walls, trim or flooring is nearly impossible to remove without costly replacement of building materials.
  3. Dog odors/cat litter – Pet owners are generally tolerant of these, but non-pet owners can have a very strong negative reaction to the hint of wet dog or dirty litter boxes.
  4. Cooking odors – You should enjoy cooking tasty food in your home, but tone it down when you get ready to sell. Put away the curries, garlic and deep fryer, or plan on going out to eat. We tour homes with a wide variety of cultures, and somewhat surprisingly, even folks who come from a culture of pungent foods still dislike strong cooking odors.
  5. People smells – An unflushed toilet, dirty bathroom or pile of dirty clothes or diapers can really gross out buyers.
  6. Incense – Maybe it helps you relax, but be enlightened and lose the incense when you try to sell.
  7. Air fresheners – Sometimes an air freshener can help your cause, but one in every room is nauseating. The heavy perfume smell screams that something is being covered up.
  8. Moth balls – Nothing says outdated like the smell of moth balls. Get them out of the house before listing.
  9. Rotting food – Keeping a little bin of food scraps in the kitchen is eco-friendly and encouraged, but take your food scraps outside immediately when done with them when you are trying to sell your house. Same goes for old food in your fridge. (Some buyers are going to open your fridge.)
  10. Mold and mildew – A musty basement can imply unwanted moisture. Circulate the air, install a dehumidifier and do a thorough cleaning to minimize this smell.

Many real estate agents or even friends might feel awkward about broaching the subject of your home odors, but you should encourage it. Ask for an honest assessment of how the home smells before you list it for sale. Don’t be offended by the response and be willing to clean things up before you go on the market.

Introducing positive smells can also be a strategy. Often fresh-baked bread or cookies leaves a pleasant aroma, as does a bouquet of flowers or freshly done laundry.

  • Hi Kevin: Great post. I have lived in Seattle since 1994 and have toured many homes during my several buying quests and occasionally, there will be one of those Seattle Craftsman’s that have that “smell.” I think it’s the old fir used in old kitchen cabinets and basements and it starts to emit some weird odor. The only way to rid it is to replace the old cabinets, which we did in a Craftsman on Queen Anne.

    • I know that smell well. It is like a musty old wood smell. My own house was built in 1900, but is totally remodeled inside. I have two closets with some of the old plaster & trim exposed, and I can still smell it in there.

      •  Exactly! Do you think it’s a certain kind of wood? I think fir, but maybe it’s just old, dried wood.

  • So very very true. The nasal appraisal is very important part of making sure the home is properly staged and cannot be performed by the people that live in the home.

  • Our investor group purchases foreclosure homes; most have
    sat empty for a year or more, stale air, smoking and pet odors can get pretty
    bad. Selling a house with odor problems takes longer and affects the resale
    value. Painting the interior does not remove all odors as the odors are
    embedded in the carpets, carpet pads and drapes.  A painting contractor mentioned a product called air-renu. And,
    if did work we would save money by not having to replace the carpet and carpet
    pads. We now use it for very house that we have to repaint. If you are having
    an odor problem, consider. http://www.air-renu.com