Smell is considered to be one of our most acute senses. Though our olfactory systems are certainly not as refined as many other animals that still heavily rely on it to predict danger and trigger fight or flight responses, the fact remains that smell greatly influences psychological triggers and response mechanisms for people.
 

When you are trying to sell your home the very smell of the home, therefore, can be pretty important. Most of our initial time and attention gets spent on the look of the home--freshening up the paint, cleaning and organizing, working on curb appeal, etc. We want to make sure it photographs well, and gets the buyers off their couches and through the door. But when they cross that threshold (and sometimes, while they are still at the door waiting to get that lockbox open) the smell of a home can become an extremely powerful ally--or enemy--in the quest to get the best possible net gain out of your investment. 

Face Reality: Smell Definitely Matters. 
If you are trying to sell a home that has an overwhelming smell, you might find it can block a buyer's nesting vision and therefore block a sale. Though we can try to overlook our animal instincts, those flight urges just might kick in if the smell signals danger (...in this case, a very real barrier to future enjoyment, and possible remediation expenses). I have had countless clients walk into an otherwise good-looking home, smell something objectionable, find the source (or not), and begin to refer to that house as "the <insert gag reflex trigger smell of your choice here> house." They cross it off the list. Even vacant homes start to smell after some time has passed without adequate airflow. Vacant homes in the summer tend to smell worse. Vacant homes, in the summer, with the electricity off, and obvious former furry occupants are the kiss of death.

Be Honest: Give your House a Whiff!
Grab a bag of coffee beans, step outside your home, take a deep whiff of the beans to reset your smell (similar to what a perfume counter might use), and now step back inside. What do you really smell? Many times is it very difficult to smell your own surroundings objectively, so you should also consider asking a trusted friend or two to do the same. Just be sure it is a friend who can be HONEST with you about their opinion without making you a sad panda, or put you in ultra-defensive mode. Room-by-room, take notes:

  • Do you smell any wetness/dampness, or mildew?

  • Do you smell any current (or old lingering) pet odors?

  • Do you smell smoke? (Cigar/cigarette/other smokables, or smoke from a wood-burning fireplace or wood stove)

  • Do you smell VOCs? (From new carpet or paint - these take time to fade)

  • Are there latent, potentially objectionable cooking odors? (For example: My father used to smoke deer jerky in the house for several weekends each year - gahhhh... Nothing like being 15 and going to class smelling like a pouch of Jack-Links...!) 

  • Does it just smell... dirty? (Or as a fellow real estate pro might call it, "lived in")

Admit it, then Fix it!
The one "simple" piece of guidance would be to find the source of your smell problem, and do what you can to fix it BEFORE you open up your home to the public. Trying to remove odors is not always an easy task, and the temptation to cover the existing smell with another smell is strong. Just be sure your scent-ouflage tactics are not covering up any latent defects you are aware of such as active leaks, wet basements, or previous fire damage (among countless others) - Things of this nature should be disclosed to a potential buyer to protect you from possible future legal risk. 

What is a "Good" Smell, Anyway?
Though obviously subjective, some smells are widely considered to be "safer" bets than others when trying to please an unknown audience, in this case, potential buyers. Some ideas:

  • Fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies - A new construction selling standard, there is nothing wrong with firing up a batch of delish cookies when you know showings are happening. Who can hate the smell of cookies, right?

  • Cinnamon and vanilla - A pot of gently boiling water on the stove (or a teakettle) with a few cinnamon sticks thrown in (or apple pie spice) and a teaspoon of vanilla extract will create a very homey aroma, especially in the cooler and Winter months. Some folks also opt for the cinnamon-scented brooms and pine cones strategically placed about the home. 

  • Fresh laundry scents - These always get my vote. Probably because I secretly hope to come home one day and find that someone did mine for me (wishful thinking indeed!).

  • Lavender - You can certainly try to promote Zen calmness in your prospective callers by using lavender. Just don't overdo it as lavender is one of those love or hate smells. 

  • Plug-ins or electric scent-pots - These are ok to use as long as there is not one in every outlet in the home and the resulting smell is not in any way overwhelming (not everyone appreciates these smells and many are sensitive to them). I also suggest you stick with ONE scent throughout the home if you go this way, not giving buyers an undesired symphony of the Glade family of home freshener products.  

  • Citrus-based sprays and fresheners - You might want to think this one through carefully... Citrus is notoriously known as "the-smell-that-tries-to-cover-up-the-worst-of-smells" and the family of cleaners and smells people are forced to turn to when nothing else works. A bit risky. One big "yes" = Throwing a lemon wedge or two into the garbage disposal--a great way to legitimately freshen. 

  • Incense - I suggest skipping this one. Perhaps a throwback for some to the college days, it might send the wrong signal, and some incense types are known for making people sneeze. 

  • Bacon? A delightful smell that gets my vote, but might not bode well with someone not fond of the swine. Probably not the best choice, but I just had to include it because personally I do happen to like walking into a house that smells like Sunday brunch. 

Whatever you choose, use good judgement. If you make it smell "too good" (or heavily artificially scented) people automatically think you are trying to hide something - period. Remember: Smells should please, not make people sneeze!

What are your favorite smells when you walk into a home? 
What lasting scenting solutions (or remedies to correct current smells) have you come up with?