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.