Every home has a predominant odor (sometimes there are competing odors) and most homeowners are so used to the odor(s), that they cannot perceive it.
However, according to researchers at UC Berkeley, it takes less than 100 milliseconds for a person walking into a new environment to determine if an odor is pleasant or unpleasant.
But it then takes a few seconds for a person to determine the nature of the odor (i.e.: sour, sweet, musty) and typically, many people cannot correctly identify an odor. They just simply know if they like it or if they don’t.
In our opinion, these are the top ten odors that homebuyers hate:
- Cigarette smoke
- Cat urine
- Other pet odors – litter boxes, cages, terrariums
- Musty – mold and mildew (predominantly detected in basements)
- Pungent cooking odors – garlic, onions, curry
- Stale smoky downdrafts from the fireplace
- Decaying organic material from various potential sources – rotting potatoes in the kitchen, a dead mouse in the wall, trash that needs to go out
- Unwanted critters – skunks, stinkbugs
- “Human” odors – stinky shoes, body odor, dirty diapers, urine (predominantly detected in bedrooms and bathrooms)
Research has shown that the perception of a smell is universal. Regardless of their culture, most people can agree if an odor can be categorized as pleasant or unpleasant.
Rehan Khan, a research scientist in the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute at UC Berkeley, states, "… a significant part of what people find to be pleasant and unpleasant turns out to be the same anywhere on the planet and may reflect something about molecules themselves."
Effects of odors are universal too. Pleasant odors are believed to trigger an emotional response which will reduce tension and anxiety and improve mood. Unpleasant odors can have the opposite effect.
Where cultural differences come in is in the tolerance of a particularly strong odor. The intensity of an odor can fall on a scale of 0-6.
0 - no odor
1 - very weak (odor threshold)
2 - weak
3 - distinct
4 - strong
5 - very strong
6 – intolerable
Any odor (good or bad) when it hits an intensity of six, is too strong. But for some people, even a faint smell (1 or 2 on the scale) of something unpleasant (i.e. cooking odors) is a complete turnoff; whereas other people might find a strong odor (4 or 5 on the scale) of something pleasant (i.e. perfume) is also a turnoff.
Therefore, sellers only want subtle pleasant odors, nothing strong or overwhelming.
Odors also trigger a memory response from past exposure to similar odors. Therefore there are a few smells that will get mixed responses from homebuyers; they may love the smell or hate the smell:
- VOC’s from fresh paint or carpeting (irritating or “Wow, new carpets!”)
- Mothballs/Cedar closets (nostalgic or “an old person’s house”)
- Bleach (ultraclean or a locker room)
- Incense (nice or “What kind of weirdos live here?”)
Some of the most universally pleasing odors are: chocolate, baby powder, pine trees, cinnamon, citrus, and fresh flowers.
So the suggestions of putting out fresh flowers or baking chocolate chip cookies or apple pie just before a showing are not arbitrary. These aromas typically create good feelings and emotions and evoke warm memories.
Ask a friend or your Realtor for an honest evaluation of the predominant odor in your house. In many homes, it is the choice of laundry detergent and dryer sheets (which is often a very pleasant odor).
If you do have bad odors, don’t try to mask them with too many candles or perfume. Go for a very faint but pleasant odor instead. A seller’s best bet is to find the source and get rid of any unpleasant odors, because it can kill a buyer’s interest within a hundred milliseconds!
Every Wednesday at noon, the Scott Loper Team of Re/Max Realty Group in Harleysville offers some sage advice to potential and current homeowners in our area. The Scott Loper Team includes Scott Loper, Lisa Loper and Gina Wherry, Re/Max Realty Group, 439 Main Street, Harleysville, PA 19438, 215-256-1200.