Why You Need to Have a Working Understanding of the Olfactory Sense as a Home Seller

I remember doing a paper in college about the olfactory sense, which is the technical name for our sense of smell.  The olfactory sense is generally believed to be the most closely linked to your memory, and it is some 10,000 times stronger than your sense of taste.  Also, certain scents will produce a highly emotional reaction.  You can probably think of at least one perfume or cologne that reminds you of someone in your past.

Why is this important to real estate?

Well, allow me to explain, if you will (and I guess even if you won’t).  I have probably shown several thousand homes to home buyers over the course of my real estate career.  Patterns emerge, and trends occur with buyers.  When buyers are looking at a good number of homes, I have found it helpful and natural to designate each home with a shorthand of some sort:

  • “The house with the skyline view”
  • “The one with the tile roof”
  • “The place with the incredible landscaping”

Of course, all of these are positive attributes, right?  On the flip side of the coin, think about how it would make you feel if your home received one of these descriptions (all of these are real, from buyers I have worked with):

  • “The dog pee house”
  • “The house with the weird smell”
  • “The stinky house” 
  • “The spice house” – This was from ethnic cooking of some sort, as I recall

Not as appealing, is it?  It probably won’t surprise you to learn that the dog pee house didn’t make the top three for my buyers. 

All homes have some sort of scent/odor, so it’s hard to make it completely neutral.  Sometimes, frankly, the scent is too strong in the other direction (i.e. it smells heavily perfumed, which is equally distracting).  I think the worst possible combination is when there is a bad smell that is clearly (though not completely) covered with an air freshener:


“Is that rotten laundry smell with a hint of lavender?  Ahhhhh….nice.”

“WOW!  Is that damp mustiness and lemon freshness combined?  I like it!”

No one says these things.  You must eliminate the source, not just spray Febreze and call it a day.  For the record, I like Febreze for the most part, in case you were wondering.

The best solution is to allow someone else (such as your real estate agent) to give you the lowdown on this.  We tend to get used to the smell of our own home, which is why it is sometimes jarring to sleep in another house when visiting relatives.  If you are wondering if your home has a distinct smell, I would recommend going outside for a few minutes and then coming back in.  The results may surprise you.  This method sort of cleanses your nasal palate, so to speak, and you may discover a problem that you didn’t realize existed. 

Essentially, you are just going for a clean scent or something that may evoke a positive memory.  Real estate trainers the world round recommend baking something or at least using a few drops of vanilla on a cookie sheet when doing an open house.  There are tons of other techniques, but this post is really just to teach you the importance of this (often overlooked) angle when selling.

Take it from me: when you are trying to sell your home, smells do matter!  You want them to focus on your granite counters, or your high-end flooring upgrades, or your designer paint colors, not the cat boxes.


If you are considering selling your home anywhere in the general Austin area, please feel free to give me a call.  I would love the opportunity to help you get it sold quickly.  You can visit my primary Austin Texas real estate website at www.austintexashomes.com.  You can also reach me anytime on my cell phone at 512-796-7653 or via email at jason@austintexashomes.com.  I hope to hear from you soon!

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