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  • Writer's pictureZiggurat Realestatecorp

Smells Homebuyers Hate...and Love

Ahhh, time to sell your house. You want to get the best price for your house – and you want it to happen fast! But the competition out there can be stiff…especially if there are lots of great properties for sale in your area. So how do you give your home the edge?

When it comes to selling your home, you’ve got to think beyond how pretty it looks, how nice the shrubs are outside, and whether the paint color on the front door is a turn on, or a turn off.

It’s no secret that you’ve got to appeal to their sense of sight – after all, we perceive up to 80% of our information through vision.

If you want to sell your home fast (and at the best possible price, of course), you also need to pay attention to is smell.

It’s true… stinky homes sell slowly. Sweet-smelling homes are much more desirable!

Even though it may seem like common sense, many sellers can overlook it because it’s not just the obvious smells that make potential buyers run away holding their noses.

So read on to learn about 12 scents that potential home buyers hate as well as how to fix them. Then read further about what smells home buyers love.

Smells homebuyers hate

1. Smoke

Back in the day, it was pretty normal for some homes to have a smoky smell. Restaurants had smoking sections, cigarettes were sold in vending machines, and many people smoked inside their house.

Nowadays, however, smoking is practically forbidden, so this smell is a big no-no. Whether yours is from a small fire, a smoking habit, or overzealous fireplace usage, you can get rid of it by wiping down surfaces with vinegar, steam-cleaning your carpets, and washing the draperies.

2. Pet odors

Plenty of people have pets and love them. Your potential homebuyers may even have pets of their own. Does that mean they’ll love the smell of your pets? No.

Whether you have dogs, cats, hamsters, birds, or hedgehogs, you’ve got to address the odors they leave behind before a single potential buyer walks in.

Depending on what kind of pet you have, there are many options to try. Use cleaning products such as those on your flooring and upholstery, and if you’re about to have a showing, consider removing cages and food dishes entirely.

If you have it in you, finding a temporary place for your pet to live while your house is on the market will help you keep the odors from coming back.

3. Cat urine

Yes, pet odors were just mentioned, but cat urine gets a listing of its very own because it is so universally hated. It gets into carpets and pads and even into the subflooring, so it’s really hard to completely remove. Even if Fluffy is out of the house, her leftover wee-spots can still trigger a reaction if your potential buyer is allergic.

If cat urine is the aroma you’re trying to abolish, you’ve got your work cut out for you. Start with the flooring by using cleaning products like the ones mentioned above.

Next, you’ll have to move on to the walls – yes, the walls. Cats can mark vertically, so wipe down the walls with diluted vinegar solution. Beyond that, there’s always repainting! Keep at it until the cat stink is gone – it’s worth any time, effort, or money you put into it.

4. Cooking smells

If you’ve ever worked in an office, you can probably relate to a coworker microwaving leftover FISH for lunch. You can practically feel the stinky fish particles sticking to your clothes and hair and the inside of your nose! Guess what – your home has those same particles after you cook. If your cooking method of choice is deep-frying, they’ll stick around even longer!

The good news is this isn’t too hard to fix. The best way to get rid of cooking smells is to wipe down your appliances and surfaces, and then set a pot of vinegar, water, and lemon rinds on to boil. If you still have a lingering odor after that, you can leave bowls of baking soda out – baking soda will absorb the smells in the air just like it does in your fridge. OR, you can just get take-out for the duration of the selling period. How about that for a good excuse to order a pizza?

5. Dirty laundry

Let’s be honest – laundry is the most exhausting chore. You’ve got to sort, wash, dry, sort, fold and put away… and even then, the clothes that you’re currently wearing will be in the dirty pile by tonight, so this chore is literally never done. You’ve got to take care of this, though, because dirty laundry is an icky smell – and it’s even worse when the clothes you’re smelling are not your own.

Get the laundry done ASAP, you don’t want the laundry room smelling like an old gym bag when Mr. and Mrs. Buyer come in, do you?!

6. Kid funk

If you’ve got kids, you’ve got smells. And the worst part is you’re with them so much, you might not even notice it! From old French fries stuffed into the couch cushions, to diaper pails, to less than perfect aim in the bathroom, kids really know how to bring the funk.

Unfortunately, there’s no easy fix for this because kids will keep making messes until the day they move out. Try to keep it down to a dull roar with regular cleanings – especially in the bathroom areas. While your house is on the market, keep wet wipes at the ready so you can do a quick wipe down everyday, and vacuum once a day. A sprinkle of baking soda on the carpet before vacuuming helps with any lingering odors, too.

7. Mothballs

You might think that mothballs were a thing of the past. Nope, the mothball market is alive and well. While keeping bugs away is always a good idea, the odor that mothballs leave behind is an undesirable side effect.

You can banish the smell with vinegar or activated charcoal, and when it’s back to smelling good again, hang sachets with natural alternatives. You’ll get the same bug-banishing effect and none of the “this smells like a gross old house” byproduct.

8. Incense

To some folks, incense smells relaxing and reminds them of getting a massage or going to yoga. To others, though, incense might not smell so sweet.

If you burn incense, when you put your house on the market, clear out all the ashes and burners, and open up the windows and air the place out. Even if you like the smell, you never know who’ll be looking at your home, so clean it up. Knowing your home will sell faster will bring back any Zen feeling that removing your incense takes away.

9. Sewer gas

If you’ve got the occasional rotten egg smell in the house, you may have decided you can live with it, but when you put your home up for sale, you’ve GOT to deal with it. No one wants to buy a house that smells like sewage sometimes. And, Murphy’s Law dictates that the day people come to see the property is also the day that the shower or floor drain will smell like rotten eggs.

If you can pinpoint which drain is the culprit, you can try DIY solutions to flush out the offending drain, or you can make life simple and call a plumber. Either way, get that stinky drain cleared up and enjoy a much more desirable home!

10. Bleach

When it comes to showing your home, clean is good, but bleachy clean is bad. Too much bleach makes buyers wonder, “Are they trying to cover something up?”

Use cleansers with less of an odor profile, or if you must use heavy-duty stuff, open your windows and turn the fans on for awhile afterward so that the bleach odor has a chance to clear out.

11. Mold & mildew

Nothing says, “Scary, potential water damage – avoid this house!” like the smell of mold and mildew. Dreams of saggy ceilings and black mold will dance in your would-be buyers’ heads when they get a whiff of this stuff, so take care of it before you even hit the market.

First, make sure there are no current leaks which may be causing mold or mildew. Also consider whether you have adequate ventilation in the area. Because even if you are able to get rid of the odor, if you don’t find and stop the cause, it will just come back.

Then, if it seems to be minor mildew, you can try and clean it yourself with some cleansers and a little time and effort. But, if the mold or mildew is bad enough, it is a good idea to hire a professional to come in and clean or remediate the affected area.

12. Too much of a good thing

If you’ve ever been around a preteen boy who’s just been introduced to cologne or body sprays, you already know that too much of even a decent scent can be a very, very bad thing. No matter what fragrance you add to your house, do it judiciously. Many people are turned off by strong smells, and some may even get sick from it.

If you’ve got a ton of candles in every room, dial it back a notch. If you’re hard of smell and can’t tell if it’s still too much, just go by this rule of thumb – one candle for a small room, two for a large. Any more and you’re heading into vanilla-spice-overkill.

While we’re on the topic of candles and air fresheners, let’s talk about the scents that homebuyers love. It’s true – with scent, you can subtly influence your home viewers to feel happy, nostalgic, and relaxed – these all good feelings you want them to associate with your house! Here are a few…

Smells homebuyers love


When it comes to cozy, comfy, “smells like home!” goodness, cinnamon tops the list. This scent practically screams, “Grandma! Apple pie!” so having it wafting through your home is sure to inspire good memories. A diffuser with cinnamon scented oil in the kitchen will give off the perfect vibe.


Unlike bleach, citrus is a GOOD clean smell. You don’t have to stick with orange or lemon, either – with all the products on the market, you can pick from grapefruit, clementine, lime, citron… the list goes on and on. Citrus scent is basically sunshine in a bottle, so apply liberally and give your home happy vibes in just about every room.

Clean laundry

Fresh linens smell awesome, but you know what smells even more awesome? Clean laundry YOU didn’t have to wash! Give buyers a sparkling fresh scent and they’ll feel good and relaxed without even realizing it. Keep your linens clean and then give your rooms a boost with a spray or an essential oil diffuser. Smells like a high-end hotel!


If your home is at all rustic or woodsy, a cedar scent is a natural complement to the decor and architecture. Many people have a fantasy about living in the woods – help them indulge in it with this homey, natural scent. You can use oils, sachets, or even cedar wood furnishings – any of the above will give a warm, woodland aroma.

Fresh baked cookies

When all else fails, you can always rely on fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies to bring happiness to your buyers’ noses. If you don’t want to bust out the mixing bowls every time there’s a showing, even slice and bake cookies do the trick, so preheat that oven and make people fall in love with your home!

One last bit of advice…

No matter which of these good smells you pick, it’s important to stick with one – or maybe two, if they’re complementary and the house is fairly large. No one wants to breathe in cinnamon-citrus-cedar cookies, and as we talked about above, there is such a thing as too much.

Now this brings us to an important question.

How do you know if your home kinda…stinks?

Well, there are a few ways to tell.

Trust your own nose.

As you walk through your house inhale deeply. If there’s ever a place where you think, “Huh, that’s a little funky…I wonder if anyone else can tell?” the answer is YES, they can. So find that odoriferous offender and do what it takes to neutralize it.

The only problem with this is that we tend to get nose-blind to our own surroundings, so if you think everything smells great, you at least want to double check with someone else. Which brings us to the next suggestion…

Ask a picky friend or family member.

Have a friend who can sniff out unappealing smells from a mile away? Ask him or her to come over and sniff out any trouble spots.

If you’re just not sure who to ask, or your close group of peeps is just as insensitive to smells as you are, you can always…

Ask your real estate agent!

Agents are in and out of enough houses to know what smells normal and what buyers will interpret as an aromatic punch in the face. Also, if you do have stinky spots or an all over stench, they probably have good suggestions on how to handle it yourself – or even a list of vendors who can do it for you. Your real estate agent is your trusted advisor for a reason, and in many more ways than you probably think, so trust them to help you out of a potentially stinky situation.

There you have it – smells that would-be buyers hate and scents that will make them fall in love.

If you want your potential home buyer to love the place as much as you do, clean it up, air it out, and add just a bit of a pleasant scent. These small touches will make a big difference in the end!

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