The Simple Way to Make Your Home Smell Amazing, According to Real Estate Agents

published Dec 6, 2022
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Credit: Lauren Kolyn

I love some current brands of plant-based beef. They’re tasty, look like a burger, and eat like one too. But let me tell you — they kind of smell like cat food. When I cook one, my entire kitchen gets a scent to it. The cat doesn’t come running (at least not right away), but it smells an awful lot like her bowl. And it lingers, sometimes taking hours to dissipate depending on whether I can open the window for a bit or not.

Now imagine if I were selling my home. You (my hypothetical buyer) walk in and are smacked in the face with a strong aroma of warm cat food. Are you going to want to buy my house? Probably not.

That’s where real estate agents come in. Before a showing, they can often go into a home and spruce it up, including covering up weird smells that might turn buyers off. “When it comes to smells, some of the most common not-so-great scents I’ve encountered are stale or musty air, pet and body odor, residual cooking or food odor, cigarettes, and moth balls,” says Lesley Semmelhack, a broker with Corcoran in Brooklyn.

Luckily, it’s pretty easy to get rid of some of these smells, at least the more superficial ones. All you have to do is open the windows and let fresh air in. It will circulate through the house and take the bad scent right out the window. Another super quick fix, Semmelhack says, is to light a scented candle.

Credit: Kai Byrd

“If there’s more time, my team will steam clean or replace rugs and upholstered furnishings or change out bedding, which is very helpful as soft surfaces can trap odors,” she says, noting that most household odors are actually embedded in these soft surfaces — think things like curtains, furniture, and clothing. “It’s also effective to spray the air with neutralizing, but not overpowering, scents to offset any lingering smells.”

Some other techniques Semmelhack suggests for masking smells is to bake cookies, which “provides a comforting, homey feel for visitors,” she says. “And as an added bonus, it gives me something to offer open house attendees.” You can also boil mulling spice on the stove and give buyers (or guests) hot mulled cider. Not only does it give a warm feel to the space, it also makes everything smell delightful.

Ultimately, most unpleasant scents leave the home with the sellers. When they move out, they tend to take the stuff with them that’s holding the smell. And if there’s still a weird scent there, Semmelhack says to try giving everything a fresh coat of paint. It’s “a great way for the new buyers to neutralize any stubborn odors,” she says.