As a child growing up in Canada, Christmas included a three-hour trip across frozen, snow-laden prairies to get to grandma’s house. Even with subzero temperatures outside, we didn’t mind the drive because we knew what awaited us at journey’s end — her incredible anise seed bread.

No matter how cold we were, the moment we walked into her kitchen, the delicious aroma of her freshly baked bread warmed us right up, wrapping itself around us like a cozy blanket of love. 

While grandma is now only a memory, and even though we live a country apart, we carry her tradition forward. Our kids — who know the sweet anise aroma wafting from the oven signals the official beginning of the holidays — always ask about the bread long before the topic of gifts even comes up. And every year, as the incredible fragrance permeates our house, I’m instantly transformed back to grandma’s kitchen.

Smell is amazing. Studies show that smell triggers memories. I certainly find this to be true; I am frequently pulled into the past when I catch a whiff of a specific aroma. Smells also affect emotions, which is why a scent can often be a better trigger of memory than your other senses, including sight.

This is couldn’t be more true when viewing prospective homes for sale. Like it or not, every home has its own, distinctive fragrance. Some have aromas that evoke a sense of peace and comfort. Others, well, not so much. While some smell of fresh paint and new carpet, signaling recent renovations, others have musty dank undertones suggesting mold and other issues lurking in dark, hidden corners.

Those of us who showed countless foreclosed homes a decade ago remember having our noses assaulted as we opened front doors to homes that had toilets full of effluent and the water turned off, preventing flushing.

We labeled the odor, “Eau de REO” and, in some cases, the stench prevented buyers from entering. We also learned to never open refrigerators in a home with the power turned off — the stink could linger in your nose for hours.

Managing odors is critical when selling a home, and, with the current COVID-19 limitations on showings, it’s even more important than ever. Here are our top eight smells to avoid when marketing a home.

1. Cigarettes

With so many reacting negatively to the smell of cigarette smoke, this is typically the worst offending odor. Many smokers assume that if they only smoke outside, they will not have interior cigarette odors.

What they fail to realize, however, is that the smell of smoke permeates the clothes they’re wearing when smoking, and as soon as they reenter the home, the smell does, too. Additionally, if the butts are in a container close to a door, the smell will waft its way inward every time the door is opened.

2. Pets

While not all dogs produce odors, some have a distinct canine smell that’s noticeable the second you enter a home. Cats do, too. Animal urine in carpets and uncleaned litter boxes can be nasty.

Pet rats can often stink up a room, especially if their cages are not well cleaned. Other more exotic pets such as ferrets can also produce smells that can be intolerable to visitors.

Pet odors can be difficult to deal with for two reasons. First, they are companions, and the thought of moving them out of the home during the marketing period does not sit well with many owners. Second, because they all live together in the home, most pet owners become nose blind to their critter’s odors and can actually be offended when you bring up the topic.

3. Cooking smells

The worst, in my experience, are curry and fried fish. Much like cigarette smoke, the smell of curry permeates all the soft surfaces in a home. While some are OK with the smell of food, others cannot stand it, which might result in an immediate turnoff.

The smell accompanying fried fish is equally offensive, but it can be a bit easier to deal with because the smell is often confined to the grease that builds up in the kitchen when frying. A comprehensive cleaning including the interior of the vent hood can help eliminate this odor.

4. Mold, must and mildew

These smells usually emanate from moist locations such as bathrooms, basements, washing machines and so on. Most of the time, the cure is to find where the moisture is coming from and deal with it at the source.

A common instigator is showers or baths taken in bathrooms with no exhaust fans. The resulting moisture can permeate the home and produce mold or mildew in closets, behind furniture and other areas where moisture can be trapped. Uncleaned laundry can also be an issue, so make sure there are no stacks of dirty laundry lurking inside a closet or laundry room.

5. Garbage

Take out the trash! Additionally, clean the entire area where trash is accumulated. For example, if the kitchen trash container is under the kitchen sink, then clean the entire area inside the cabinet. Do not allow any trash in any location to be inside a home you’re trying to market.

6. Dead things

While attempting to deal with a rodent issue, some sellers will put out traps or bait prior to putting their home on the market. While this may be a good idea in and of itself, I have walked through many homes that had the distinct odor of dead critters lingering in specific locations.

The best solution is to set out traps and then immediately remove any that contain victims. If you use bait, the animal in question can crawl into a space you can’t access, die there and then produce odors you can’t get rid of quickly. This can also happen if a large animal (think: cat, racoon, possum, etc.) crawls into a crawl space and dies.

7. Sewer gas

Occasionally, if a plumbing fixture has been sitting unused for a while, water in the trap can evaporate, allowing sewer gas to enter the home. The easy fix is to pour water down the drain so the trap fills up and blocks the odor.

8. Candles and incense

Some people have fragrance sensitivities and can have a reaction to strong perfume smells from candles or incense. This can include headaches and difficulty breathing. That’s why it’s best to avoid any perfumed device that produces a strong scent.

Truth is, smell can affect a property’s value. While some odors welcome buyers in, others can push them back out the front door in short order. If buyers leave in a hurry, any thoughts of an offer leave with them.

When preparing to sell a home, if the home comes with offending odors, it’s best to have a frank and honest conversation with the seller to make sure the smells are mitigated before the home goes on the market. With only one chance to make a positive impression, you do not want a buyer leaving with a bad smell lingering in their nostrils.

Carl Medford is the CEO of The Medford Team.

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