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Robert Zahn

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What does your house smell like?

April 6th, 2019



Originally published April 2, 2019 Galveston Daily News.

Recently I have become aware of smells more than ever. I know much of my life I was living without being able to smell things well. Although the scent of baking bread, the miraculous scent of lilac (I grew up in the Midwest. Here I'd exclaim over citrus blossom or mountain laurel.) and the smell of old books were all things I loved and could identify. After being tobacco-free for quite a while, I am puzzled by scent. Or to sound more judgmental: smells.

I really want to take the time to talk about smells and perceptions. I have lived in the house I'm in for over a decade. Recently, with my heightened perception of odors I keep smelling a sharp scent and cannot find the source. It is making me absolutely nutso.

For this reason I'm changing my approach to this column today and bringing up a major issue in selling your house: How does it smell?

More than the other four senses, smell creates memories and recalls them as well. Thanks to our olfactory sensory neurons we recognize patterns of previous smells which we associate with the smell of the moment. The waft of Joy perfume or the aroma of apple pie can create warm feelings from the associated memories.

Unfortunately, many people prefer their pets to the smell of apple pie. Pets are the top source of house odors ranging from lingering faintly to off-putting entirely. Cats and cat boxes are likely worse than dogs, but dogs do often have a musky odor as well, especially if they aren't quite house-trained. Both contribute to the smell of real estate. Ferrets and owls can contribute as well.

Even though many home buyers are also pet lovers-- in Galveston as many as 9,000 households have two dogs--but they like their pets better than yours. So the first advice is take the word of others. Your agent may be nose blind to some extent as well, so getting other opinions isn't out of line.

Our companion animals are not the only culprits for smells. The other two most obvious are the human inhabitants and the house itself. While it seems far fewer people smoke tobacco, and fewer inside the house, it is still the worst smell caused by homeowners. Cooking odors, especially from frying grease and cabbage can also leave a strong olfactory impression.

And then there is that empty house or old house smell. Often a closed-up house can begin to have a slight smell. It could be entire the stale air and old wood and plaster, but it could also indicate something more serious such as water or gas leaks.

Now that I have completely shamed you, what can be done to improve the smell of your house? I know you clean the litter box assiduously but be sure to hide it where only the cats will know it's there. The same can go for pet food and drink bowls while you are having showings. I know the stench of salmon dog food goes a long way through my house! If you've had accident prone or territorial animals, wash or remove the rugs or carpets they favor. It can make a huge difference. Sometimes just opening a window slightly or turning on a fan can be the answer, especially with humid coastal weather. Even a bowl of white vinegar seems to absorb the lingering scent from tobacco smoke. And sometimes just changing your air conditioner filters and taking out the garbage can cure the problem smells. You do have a friend you can ask about the smell of your house, don't you? Surely someone will gleefully tell you the truth. Please don't count on plug-in air fresheners. The smell of cinnamon apple overlaying old dog pee is one of the worst smells ever.

Or ask your Galveston Realtor to tell you. We see and smell many houses every week.


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Disclaimer : The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Houston Association of REALTORS®

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