Written by Melissa Arndt, Principal Broker for Simplicity Real Estate Solutions.
One common piece of advice you receive when you are selling your house is to have the house smelling homey for showings. Bake something, cook your dinner in the crock pot, light a candle, and use a wax warmer or essential oil diffuser are some of the most common suggestions. This is true, as long as you choose the correct scents and don’t overdo it.
When showing houses to potential buyers, I have noticed the most universally appealing scents come from meals cooking in a crockpot, soups simmering on the stove, or a roast in the oven. Buyers take a big whiff as we come in the door, and universally they make their way to the kitchen first to see what’s cooking. A tasty meal cooking turns that house into a home, and the buyers can see themselves having a meal with their family in that kitchen. This is what you want! However, care must be taken when cooking for scent. Strong herbs and spices that may cause buyers to turn up their noses should be avoided. It’s best to stick to classic comfort foods.
Baking can have the same appeal, but may not be feasible for some since the baking must be done immediately prior to the showing. Also, it can be very easy to make a mistake and burn the baked goods if you are busy tidying the house and hurrying to leave in time for the showing.
You need to be cautious if you are choosing to use candles, wax warmers, essential oil diffuser, plug-ins, etc. to ensure you aren’t turning buyers away with your scent choice or by making it too overpowering. What smells nice when coming from one candle/warmer/diffuser can be suffocating when you have multiple. I typically advise one candle or wax warmer in the main living area and leave it at that. One time, I showed a house that had 9 wax warmers turned on! It was overpowering to the point it was hard to breathe in the house and we were not able to even finish the showing. If you choose to use an essential oil diffuser, please put a note by the front door stating which oil you are difussing. Since the oils are dispersed through the air with the diffuser, if a potential buyer or agent has an allergy to the oil it can cause a reaction. For this reason, I typically advise against using a diffuser while your house is on the market. I also do not advise using the commercially available plug in air fresheners since they have chemicals in them that could trigger allergy or asthma symptoms in potential buyers with sensitivities.
You will never be able to get a scent that everyone will like. I love sweet scents like sugar cookie and vanilla and the “clean” scents like linen make me gag. However, my admin is the exact opposite, she finds the sweet scents to be nauseating and loves the clean scents. There are some scents that are more widely thought of as not appealing in a house, such as frankincense or musky scents, so avoiding those types of scents would be recommended even if they are among your favorites. If in doubt about a scent, ask some friends to pick between a few choices and go with the most popular.
What about if you have a bad smell in your house? Pet odors, smoke, musty/wet smells all are turn offs for potential buyers. So it would seem the best thing to do is to cover up bad odors with smells that trigger a sense of home or nostalgia and you’ll sell your home quicker and for top dollar, right? Except in reality, it likely won’t work.
It is hard to cover up bad smells, and in an effort to do so you will likely make one of 2 errors: making the cover up scent so strong buyers will wonder what you’re hiding, or the combination of the bad odor and your attempt to cover it will create a “super odor” that has buyers running from your house with dripping noses and leaking eyes.
Trying to hide the odor will likely not work in your favor. They may not discover the odor at the initial showing, but it may come up during the inspection or at a later walk thru with the buyer deciding the odor is too bad and is a deal breaker. Addressing the issue honestly and up front typically results in better outcomes.
My advice when your house has a bad smell is to either remove (not cover) the odor or address it up front by explaining it or making a concession. An example of removing the odor could be: if your house smells like urine due to pet accidents on the carpet, replace the carpet before putting your house on the market (please note this will not work if the pet continues to mess on the carpet after it is replaced). An example of explaining could be: if you have a cat with an intestinal disorder that makes the litter box smells worse than normal, have your listing agent call any agents who are going to show the house and explain the litter box will smell worse than normal due to the issue. That lets the potential buyers know the odor is an out of the ordinary situation that will not remain with the house. An example of a concession would be: if your house smells like smoke offer a credit to potential buyers to be able to replace the flooring, paint, and have the duct work cleaned after closing.
Finally, remember you can and likely will be “nose blind” to the smells in your house. Before putting your house on the market get some honest opinions from family, friends, and your agent on how your house smells so you can address any issues and make a plan for once your house is on the market.