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home odors

The Nose Knows: 4 Things You Can’t Smell in a Virtual Tour That Could Cost You Later

May 21, 2020

Bad home odors

Enes Evren/Getty Images

Odors—pleasant or unpleasant—are strongly tied to our emotions and can leave a lasting impression when it comes to buying a house. Especially bad ones. Because some odious smells can be indicative of larger (and costlier!) problems.

“When we come across even moderately strong odors, the showing is basically over,” says John Gluch, a Realtor® and founder of the Gluch Group in Scottsdale, AZ. “Reasoning with someone that the odors can be remediated is rarely fruitful. People just move on in search of a better-smelling home.”

But what’s a potential buyer to do when you can’t actually be there to smell all the smells? As the COVID-19 pandemic increasingly turns open houses and home tours into virtual events, it’s more important than ever to ask your real estate agent to be your (very sensitive) nose.

These are the odors your agent should sniff out for you to save you money—and big-time disappointment when you move in.

1. Pet odors

“While doing in-person tours, the most common odor complaint we get is pet odors—by a wide margin,” Gluch says. Lingering odors from pet “accidents”—especially dry cat pee (because ammonium salts form in residue)—are particularly pungent. And nasty!

Unfortunately, a typical bottle of carpet cleaner isn’t likely to remove the odor. You’ll have to call in the pros.

Jack White, vice president of technical services at Rainbow International Restoration, says urine removal costs depend on several factors, including the type of flooring, the degree of saturation, and the materials used in installing the floor. Even so, new carpet and flooring might be the only route for a fresh start and peace of mind.

2. Cigarette odors

Coming in a close second is cigarette odor, Gluch says. Tobacco odors seep into porous surfaces like carpeting, drapes, rugs, walls, and especially ceilings.

“Ceilings can be the biggest culprit in a persisting smoke smell in a home, as cigarette smoke tends to travel upward and latch onto the first surface it comes in contact with,” White explains.

Professional cleaning is prudent, White says, since carpets have different fibers that can be damaged with a DIY approach. And tobacco-stained walls (including wallpaper and paneling) not properly cleaned and treated with a nicotine stain–blocking primer will come back to haunt you and bleed rusty stains through any newly painted walls.

A smoker’s house doesn’t have to be a deal breaker, but there will be added costs and elbow grease to remove the odors.

3. Mold, mildew, and musty odors

These three odors not only smell bad, they also leave a seriously negative impression, regardless of how attractive the house is. The odors suggest uncleanliness and a damp, cold feeling—plus the scary possibility of mold growing beneath the surface.

“When we have mold, there is always a moisture concern somewhere. This needs to be addressed first, so the challenge does not reappear in the future,” White says.

An indoor environmental professional should be called in to capture air and surface samples to see what types of molds are present and determine the type of mold remediation necessary. At the very least, call a pro to check for leaks and professional cleaning of porous services, and then run a dehumidifier.

4. Rotten eggs or a sulfur smell

First things first. If your agent is overwhelmed by a rotten egg smell, he/she should hightail it out of the house for safety, since the odor might be a sign of a gas leak.

However, if your agent smells a milder version of rotten eggs or sulfur, it could point to plumbing issues. If the house has been vacant for a while, the drainpipe water trap might be dried up, leaving the pipe without a water barrier to stop offensive odors from farther down the pipe wafting up.

The real budget buster? If your agent notices the stench coming from multiple drains.

“This could be a problem with the plumbing equipment or with the local sewer authority,” says Mark Dawson, COO at Benjamin Franklin Plumbing.

If the problem lies with the sewer, a sewer inspection—possibly digging in the yard or basement—might be needed to resolve the issue.

Ask about visual evidence of possible odors

You put a lot of trust in your agent during your home-buying journey, but even more so when it comes to video tours. Expect full transparency, but also keep your eyes open for visual indicators of lingering odors.

While your agent is showing you video of the house, don’t hesitate to ask about odors—say, if you see a litter box in the laundry room, a dog bed in the living room, or an ashtray on the coffee table. When your agent shows you the basement, ask if there is an overwhelming musty odor.

You can handle the truth!

“I encourage clients to ask their agents to give them the pure, unvarnished truth when doing a video tour,” Gluch advises. “That way, everyone can avoid wasting lots of time and energy on a house that the client will end up hating when they finally visit in person.”

The post The Nose Knows: 4 Things You Can’t Smell in a Virtual Tour That Could Cost You Later appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights |®.

I Fell in Love With a Fixer-Upper: A Tale of Romance Gone Horribly Wrong

June 7, 2019
Sally Herigstad

The real estate listing read like a warning sign: “Pardon big mess. TLC required.”

Still, I could see in the pictures that there was something special about this house—a massive brick Georgian lounging on 11 acres with an in-ground swimming pool to boot. How could I resist?

As a real estate agent in Enumclaw, WA, I always tell people the first rule is never to fall in love with a house before it’s yours—especially if it’s a fixer-upper. But I broke my own rule. In fact, I was head over heels before I’d even seen this rundown house in person—so much so that I made an offer on it that same day, based on the photos alone.

Big fixer house
It’s overgrown and neglected, but oh my!

Sally Herigstad

What it’s really like to buy a fixer-upper

Since I was on vacation in Hawaii at the time, I called my friends Buzz and Suzie and asked them to go take a look. Buzz thought it had potential, despite a long crack in the travertine tiles in the kitchen. Suzie was decidedly less impressed. She said the house was cold, dark, and “smelled funny.”

After requesting more photos of the property, I could understand Suzie’s concerns. There was trash piled in every room. The house had been empty for at least three years, and the owners had left a lot behind. Thieves had taken anything loose of value and tossed the rest around. Someone had tried to make off with the six-burner Dacor oven, but it was so big they only made it as far as the dining room, where they left it up on end. Mice and other varmints had had the run of the place, and left evidence of their habitation everywhere.

House that needs work
It will take more than landscaping to get this house in shape.

Sally Herigstad

Outside, weeds had grown so high they reached the second-story windows. In the backyard, construction leftovers and equipment had been left in piles so big, you could see them in satellite images I pulled up on Google Maps.

The price: $560,000. Which seems like a whole lot for a rundown house, but it was a huge piece of property, within commuting distance of Seattle. Plus, the price had just dropped by a hundred grand. Some house-flipper was bound to snap this place up.

Maybe it’s because I couldn’t smell the house from Hawaii, or maybe I was already too much in love. Whatever the reason, my husband and I made a full-priced offer on the house that day—and not a moment too soon. The sellers received multiple offers, including one for the same price. They said we could have it if we agreed to remove all trash ourselves and pay the $800 overdue water bill.

We wholeheartedly agreed to the terms.

The risks of a fixer-upper, revealed

Even after our offer was accepted, closing the deal wasn’t easy. The house was a short sale, which left no room to negotiate for repairs. At one point during negotiations, the high-end washer and dryer within the house disappeared. With a normal sale, we could have insisted on replacements, because the appliances were listed in the purchase agreement. But we were out of luck.

Fixer laundry room as is
Who took the fancy washer and dryer?

Sally Herigstad

We had the house inspected, and thankfully, that report came back without any major flaws, so we sallied forth and finally got our hands on the keys to our castle.

That’s when we got a better look at what we’d gotten ourselves into.

As we walked through the house as new owners, we made a mental list of all the repairs and replacements that needed to be done to make the place habitable, let alone bring it back to its prior glory. The list kept growing as we went from room to room. For instance, here was a nice bathroom, but who took the mirror and linen cupboard?

As-is fixer missing items
Someone even took the mirror and cabinet.

Sally Herigstad

Right about now, you might think that my husband, who works in construction and was responsible for doing all the major repairs, would be asking me what I’d gotten him into. On the contrary, he was busy admiring what was good about it. The house wasn’t old—it was built in 2001. The windows and walls were in good shape, and the trim and wainscoting were beautiful. For every missing or ruined appliance (who steals the inside of a range hood?) we found something else that was in good shape, or even a bonus, like the steam shower.

While my husband set to work getting utilities hooked up and the heater going, my mom and daughter-in-law spent four days tossing trash and scrubbing rodent droppings out of every sink, tub, and cupboard. We filled the pickup with loads for the dump and the local thrift shop, which accepted piles of clothes, toys, and knickknacks that had been strewn throughout the house. We convinced the sellers to send someone for the two dead cars buried in blackberry bushes in the front yard.

One month after closing, the house was clean enough, and smelling good enough, for us to move in.

But still, there were surprises.

After I cleaned the guest room tub, my husband wondered why there was water in the crawl space underneath. It turns out the drain for the tub was never hooked up, so when I rinsed the tub, the water went everywhere. After I mowed the backyard, I kept feeling strange lumps and hearing crackling noises as I walked. Pulling back matted grass, I found plastic milk cartons, basketballs, and an unopened jar of pickles. Every time I thought I had all the trash out of the backyard, I found another trove.

I paid someone to clean the flowerbeds. I’d check on him and say, “What did you find today?” He’d say, “Not much. Just a cellphone, some plastic bags, and one slipper, this time.”

Fixer upper backyard
We can’t even see what’s going on in most of the backyard.

Sally Herigstad

Would I ever buy a fixer-upper again?

Six years later, I can’t say we’ve completely restored the house to its former glory. No house is ever “done,” in my experience. Still, I’m glad we bought it. Not only was it a great investment, but we’ve had room here for many memorable family reunions, pool parties, and barbecues. We’ve raised sheep and chickens, and delighted in living in the country. And when we do sell the house, as we expect to later this year, we’ll walk away with a profit.

If we’d been turned off by a dirty house that smelled funny, we’d have never bought the house we now love.

Back porch before and after
Now that we’ve removed the tree on top of it, the porch is looking better!

Sally Herigstad

That doesn’t mean you should ignore all warning signs when you look at a house, however. Here are a few problems you might find—and when you should and shouldn’t overlook them:


Cooking smells, musty odors, cigarette smoke—what a turnoff! Should you walk?

When to overlook: You can fix most smells that don’t lead anywhere, although it might take time. I know a buyer who got a great deal because the house smelled like an ashtray. That smell didn’t leave right away. After professional carpet cleaning, freshly painted walls, and a lot of time with the windows open, however, the smell is gone.

When to worry: Some smells are a sign of a bigger problem. Does it smell wet? Better have the house inspected thoroughly for mold and mildew, or even water damage. Other smells may be more than you’re willing to bear. As a real estate agent, I’ve shown a house with a strong pet smell that sent my buyers retching and running for the exits.

Garbage and clutter

Distress sales, in particular, often have personal effects and junk strewn all around.

When to overlook: Depending on your capabilities and how badly you want the house, you may not care if you take a few loads of garbage to the dump yourself.

When to worry: Make sure the trash isn’t covering up bigger issues, and don’t forget to factor the cost of cleaning and dump fees. Avoid houses that may be contaminated and require cleanup of toxic materials.

Bad decorating

One person’s dream house could be your nightmare.

When to overlook: If the house is more than a few years old, you’ll probably want to change the decor anyway. What difference does it make if the walls are tangerine or purple now? Ugly carpet shouldn’t stop you from buying a house, especially if you can fit new flooring into your budget fairly soon.

When to worry: Some decorating mistakes are harder to fix than others. If all the floors and counters are covered with tile you hate, this might not be the house for you. The same goes for awkward floor plans, or strange features like a fish pond inset in the entry floor. You might also be leery of strange projects that look as if they were the handiwork of someone who had no idea what they were doing.

Fixer home in snowfall
It’s worth it to come home to this.

Sally Herigstad

The post I Fell in Love With a Fixer-Upper: A Tale of Romance Gone Horribly Wrong appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights |®.