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

May 21, 2020

Bad home odors

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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 | realtor.com®.

The One Thing That Can Make or Break How People Feel About Your House

July 31, 2019

GMVozd/iStock

Considering the time and energy homeowners put toward making their house look great (particularly if they’re trying to sell), many make the critical mistake of neglecting another one of our senses that can be far more powerful: smell.

Even if you’ve decorated or staged your home perfectly, if potential buyers walk in and detect an unpleasant odor, they could skedaddle fast. Good scents, on the other hand, entice them to linger.

“One of the easiest ways to evoke pleasant feelings about a space is to enhance the way it smells,” says Ben Creamer, a managing broker in Chicago. “It’s often the first thing a person will notice upon entering a space—and it’s one of the things that, when done poorly, can kill a sale, no matter how beautiful the home.”

Before considering what options you have for making your home smell amazing, you want to be sure you’re starting fresh.

“The first step to a good-smelling home is to get rid of any odor,” says Barb Boehler, a real estate agent in Madison, WI. “Make sure to scrub all surfaces, wash all rugs, and have the carpets cleaned. Until this is done, you’ll only be masking smells.”

In addition, be mindful in creating a home scent that will be as universally appealing as possible.

“The definition of ‘pleasant’ when it comes to the olfactory senses can vary widely from person to person, so it’s best to keep the scent subtle and clean throughout, with a special emphasis on the kitchen and bath,” says Creamer.

With that in mind, here are 11 tips for making your home smell amazing before guests or home buyers arrive.

Scrub down the bathroom

It goes without saying that scummy showers and grubby toilets are major buyer turnoffs. Use Fabuloso liquid cleaner for bathroom surfaces, including tubs and showers, for a lovely lavender scent, recommends Lisa Jacobs, an organizing professional and founder of Imagine It Done.

Freshen the fridge

Yes, there’s a good chance people will open your refrigerator and take a peek inside. Toss any smelly leftovers or expired condiments, then leave a fresh box of baking soda on a shelf to take care of any lingering odors, says Jacobs.

Take out the trash

Obviously, get rid of any and all garbage before you welcome guests. If your trash cans still carry an odor, sprinkle baking soda in the bottom to absorb it, advises Lisa Molinari, a real estate agent in Morristown, NJ.

Get underfoot

Carpets and rugs can trap a ton of bad smells, especially if you wear shoes in your home or have pets—and warm weather can make them even worse.

An easy fix: Get them shampooed or steam-cleaned regularly, and especially before an open house, says Jennifer Snyder, owner of Neat as a Pin Organizing & Cleaning.

Don an apron

You know all of those hours you’ve spent watching bake-offs on reality TV? Put them to good use by whipping up something sweet that will do double duty making your home smell enticing and providing a snack for potential buyers.

Cedric Stewart, a residential sales consultant in Washington, DC, loves pulling a batch of pumpkin bread or banana bread out of the oven right before the open house begins.

“This provides a great smell, and treats seem to stick in the buyers’ mind after they leave,” he says. (It’s also not a bad idea to brew a fresh pot of coffee to go with the baked treat.)

Just add soap

Round up all of those unused bars of fancy soap you’ve been gifted over the years, and place them in a pretty bowl on a bathroom counter. Dove brand soap also works great for this.

“It can fill a room with a remarkably clean, fresh scent for weeks,” says Creamer. “You can even hide a bar or two in a walk-in closet to freshen the space.”

Play with matches

Tried-and-true candles can make a room feel peaceful, as well as fill it with a pleasant scent—provided the scent isn’t overpowering.

Jacobs loves Apotheke’s bamboo three-wick candle, while Los Angeles–based real estate agent Melissa Okabe always turns to Diptyque’s baies candle, which smells fresh and fruity.

Light the candle 10 to 15 minutes before the open house begins and, of course, keep it in a well-ventilated area away from anything flammable.

Focus on essentials

Oils, that is. If you’d rather stay away from open flames, you can opt for essential oil diffusers for a similar effect.

Okabe recommends fresh, neutral scents such as lemon or lavender, to add to a high-quality diffuser such as this one from West Elm. (It will be a gadget you use long after you sell your home, too.)

If you don’t want to invest in a diffuser, you can use essential oils in a few other ways.

Tangela Walker-Craft, a home and family blogger, recommends dabbing a drop of oil on cold lightbulbs before turning them on—it’ll give off a subtle fragrance as the bulb warms up. You can also add a few drops to cotton balls and hide them strategically around your home, then simply toss them after the open house concludes.

Raid your laundry room

Face it: Potential buyers are likely going to be peeping through your drawers and cabinets, so you’ll need to consider how they smell, as well. An easy way to freshen up confined spaces like these is to add dryer sheets a few days before the open house, says Ben Mizes, a real estate agent in St. Louis.

“These places don’t see a lot of light, so they can have some funky smells—but dryer sheets make them smell like fresh laundry,” he adds.

Simmer down

If you don’t have time to bake, you can create a similarly appealing sweet scent by simmering vanilla extract diluted in water on the stove.

Molinari makes a natural potpourri by adding five cinnamon sticks, 1 teaspoon vanilla, 2 tablespoons cloves, three bay leaves, and an orange rind to a pot of simmering water.

Catch air

High-efficiency particulate air, or HEPA, purifiers can be a little expensive, but they’re extremely effective in removing any lingering strong, strange odors from the air, says Mizes. Combining an air purifier with another method, such as baking cookies, can make a big difference in how your home smells.

At the end of the day, remember to not overdo it. Avoid having multiple scents competing with one another in various rooms.

Instead, “find one neutral, mild scent and let it breathe,” says Molinari. “A scent throughout helps give your home flow and connectivity—so allow it to become the background of the experience.”

The post The One Thing That Can Make or Break How People Feel About Your House appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

Should You Buy a Smoker’s House? How to Get Rid of Cigarette Smells

August 3, 2018

Ashtray in Smokers House

artisteer/ istock

Should you buy a smoker’s house? This question may confront you once you feel you’ve found the perfect place … except for that ashtray smell permeating every single room. Is this a deal breaker?

If the smell of cigarette smoke makes you recoil, you’re not alone: One study found that smoking in a home can reduce its resale value by up to 29%.

Still, once a smoker moves out, will the pall of cigarette odor lift, or will it linger? Is there a way to get rid of that stench for good? Answers ahead.

Health impacts of thirdhand smoke in a home

That smell of cigarettes long past isn’t, in fact, just a smell—it’s a residue called thirdhand smoke (THS).

“The lingering odor isn’t just unpleasant; studies have also linked it to cancer,” says Joshua Miller, director of technical training at Rainbow International, a home restoration company.

Tobacco-specific nitrosamines and nitrous acid are two of the biggest threats that cling to walls, dust, and other surfaces within a house. THS residue exposure can be especially dangerous for pets and small children, who often pick up dust and particulate matter on their hands or paws, and then put them in their mouth.

Worst of all, the effects just don’t pass.

“You could breathe in several hundred nanograms of these carcinogens long after the last cigarette burned out,” says Miller.

Just how long afterward? In one study, researchers at San Diego State University measured thirdhand smoke pollutant levels in smokers’ homes after they’d moved out. These pollutants remained even after the homes had been cleaned and vacant for two months. True, THS levels had diminished in that time, but they were still present at higher levels than in nonsmokers’ homes.

Signs of a smoker’s house

Sellers are not required to disclose that a home has housed a smoker, so if you’re worried about it, be sure to keep an eye—and nose—out for it. A smoky smell is an obvious sign, of course, but a strong smell of Febreze, air fresheners, or other fragrances could mean that the seller is trying to mask an odor. A fresh coat of paint can also mask cigarette odors, but they will eventually return.

Ask your home inspector to give you his opinion about whether someone has smoked in a house you are interested in. You are totally within your rights to ask the seller’s listing agent directly; a reputable professional should not lie about the condition of the home.

Should you buy a smoker’s house?

When you’re deciding whether to buy a smoker’s home, you should weigh not only the health risks, but what’s involved in getting rid of cigarette smells. Even if you’re getting a good deal on the price of the home, it’ll take some concerted work to eliminate the odor.

How to get rid of cigarette smell in a house

Getting rid of cigarette odor isn’t easy, since it seeps into everything. Cleaning can help, but replacing entire systems may be in order. Here’s what you can do to eliminate thirdhand smoke.

HVAC system

In a smoker’s house, every part of the central air system has come into contact with smoke over the years, explains Richard Ciresi, owner of Aire Serv in Louisville, KY. Here are some steps you can take to rectify this:

  • “Clean the air ducts,” says Ciresi. “Professional air duct cleaning is an effective way to eliminate odors that manifest when you turn on the furnace or AC.”
  • Change the filter on your HVAC unit. Normally, you would do this every few months. If you’re trying to fight the smell of thirdhand smoke, step that up to every 30 to 45 days.
  • Clean the evaporator coil. “Fumes can be pulled into the evaporator coil of an HVAC unit. The odor permeates the coil, and blasts the smell of cigarettes every time you run the air conditioner,” says Ciresi.
  • If nothing else fixes the problem, you may need to replace the system entirely. Of course, replacing your HVAC isn’t cheap. Expect to spend anywhere from $6,000 to $18,000, depending on your home’s size and the climate where you live.

Wash walls and ceilings

Miller recommends cleaning the walls and ceiling with a 3:1 vinegar-water mixture.

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

Trisodium phosphate (TSP), a strong, general-purpose cleaning product, is also great for removing smoke smell and stains.

Change lightbulbs

Smelly dust can fuse onto lightbulbs as they get hot, so change them out. Windows can also retain a smoky film that emits odor when they’re warmed by sun, so be sure to give them a thorough washing. Blinds can also be washed with vinegar or TSP—or, better yet, throw them out.

Paint

If washing doesn’t eliminate the smell from walls and ceilings, then your next best bet is to repaint them all, first sealing in the smell with an odor-neutralizing primer like Kilz. Without the layer of primer, the smell will eventually seep back through the paint.

Clean floors and carpets

“You can sprinkle a deodorizing powder like baking soda on carpets,” says Miller. If that doesn’t work, try a professional steam clean. In the worst-case scenario, the carpets will have to be replaced.

For wood or tile, a normal cleaning with the recommended cleaner should do the trick. Be sure to vacuum up all the dust from every nook and cranny, as the dust contains the harmful (and stinky) chemicals.

Wash curtains and drapes

Fabric tends to hold onto the smoke smell, so you’ll probably need to clean all the window treatments. Depending on the fabric, some can be washed in the washing machine, while others have to be steam cleaned. You can rent a steamer, or hire a professional to take care of this for you. If cleaning doesn’t completely get the smell out, they’ll have to be replaced.

Get an air filter

Ciresi also recommends getting an indoor air filter, preferably with a HEPA filter and charcoal odor prefilter. A dehumidifier can reduce smoke smell in humid weather.

The post Should You Buy a Smoker’s House? How to Get Rid of Cigarette Smells appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.