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Your House Smells

I help busy Maryland professionals maximize their returns on real estate sales with ease.
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Here is the simple truth – Houses that smell good, sell faster than those that smell bad. Nothing shocking there! The best smell is one where you can’t really smell anything. Even strong “pleasing” odors can be bad. And there is nothing like cat urine and cigarette smoke smells in a home to turn off prospective buyers!


When I walk into a house with prospective buyers and there is a strong odor, regardless of whether you can identify the smell, it’s the first thing buyers comment upon. I’ll never forget the time I took a family to see a gorgeous single family Colonial house in one of the most desirable neighborhoods in Bethesda. The house was fantastic and they loved it. But the entire house smelled of cigarette smoke. The previous owners had smoked in there for years. The owner started smoking outside once the house was on the market, but it was too late. The buyers’ impression of the house and all of the work needed to remove the smell had already been made. At that point, the house was immediately worth less, by tens of thousands to the clients. In case you don’t know, or are not aware, the steps to restore a house in this condition include (1) removing all fabrics in the house (carpets, carpet pads, window coverings, rugs, furniture, etc.), (2) repainting the entire house using a product like Kilz which can cover the odor, and (3) bringing in a company to filter all of the air through ozone or other “green” solutions. As you can imagine, this is very expensive and the cost scales with the size of the house. In order to get top dollar for this house, the owners should have undertaken this remediation before putting it on the market, in order to eliminate negative connotations that prospective buyers would have of the house and make it competitive with other homes on the market.

The worst smells to have in your home are: Garbage, pet smells, mold, body odor, and tobacco. Similar to this “cigarette smell story,” I have analogous stories related to pet urine or mold, both of which have similar restoration approaches especially with mold which may point to an underlying water leakage or structural issues.

What can you do to prevent smell issues in your house?

1. Take your trash out more regularly when your house is on the market. Clean your trash cans regularly. And certainly take smelly trash out before any scheduled showings.

2. Is your teenager on the football team? Make sure that dirty, sweaty laundry doesn’t hang out in a room. Do your dirtiest laundry often.

3. Professionally clean your carpets to remove pet and other odors from your carpets. Maintain this clean state by vacuuming with baking soda.

4. Mold can be a big problem. If your house smells like mold, you have to find the origin of the water leak and fix it. This may require you to hire a mold remediation company.

5. If you have pets, you should wash them more often so they don’t spread their smell on your furniture and floors. People who don’t have pets are particularly sensitive to them.

6. Clean your cat’s litter box regularly.

7. Do you have a pet that pees or used to pee on your carpet? It is possible that carpet cleaning won’t be enough. Urine can go through the carpet into the pad and into the subfloor of your home. Sometimes the only solution is replacing the damaged materials. Cat urine is especially hard on hardwood floors. Since hardwood floors are a major selling feature, you may need to refinish or even replace damaged floor boards.

8. Don’t smoke in your house. If you have smoked in your house, bring in professionals to held you remediate the smell.

9. Repainting a house does wonders to freshen the look of your house and it covers “life smells.” Buyers love freshly painted homes.

These steps will help you sell your house for top dollar.