Give Your Listing the “Sniff” Test

By Melissa Dittmann Tracey

When you step into a home, one of the first things you often notice is the smell. Does it smell new or clean? Or does it reek of the family’s pets or yesterday’s dinner?

How have you handled these not-so-pleasant aromas in your listings? I’m working on an article for REALTOR® Magazine about the smell of homes, and I want to hear from you. What products have you found are best in covering up those foul smells in a home? What’s your best advice for getting a listing smell-ready?

Send an e-mail with your tips to and please include your name, company, and city/state to have your suggestions considered for the article.

Melissa Tracey

Melissa Dittmann Tracey is a contributing editor for REALTOR® Magazine, writing about home & design trends, technology, and sales and marketing. She manages the magazine's award-winning Styled, Staged & Sold blog.

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  1. Gee, how ironic, I just wrote a post on this very topic. I found that using things like Freebreze is not a good idea as it makes potential buyers think you are hiding something. I’ve listed some suggestions on my post:

  2. I am not much of a product user for covering odors. Open windows seem to combat any offensive fragrants I have had to deal with. Often windows are not open in homes so the air just kind of stagnates but fresh air heals all fowl. You have to be careful though with elderly clients or those that just get downright cold with an open window. Tinture of peppermint or spearment works well as does a little vanilla extract (a drop or 2 in a heated oven). These give a candy or cookie scent that is sure to be pleasing.

  3. Covering up the smells is not the answer. Sometimes it takes a thorough cleaning of carpets, drapes, upholstery, etc. Opening windows to get air flowing is a help too. At times it helps to clean out the air ducts from the AC/heating system. If it is pet odors, then clean the pet’s bedding and the pet as often as needed!

  4. This is always such a hot topic. We’ve done lots of research on this and have even included some of our favorite malodorous “medicine” for smelly spaces in our blog!

  5. The best product I have found if pureayre. It is an all natural product that does not mask smells but, eliminates them. It even gets rid of the smell of smoke in a home. Lemon works wonders, it is the universal sell of clean

  6. As a Home Stager & more specially “Re-designer”, personally, I don’t believe plug in air fresheners will do anything but send a red flag that the seller is covering something up. So what can you do? Well, unfortunately, it’s not an easy fix but not a difficult one either. It will require some work and all depends on the severity. Typically these odors come from carpet, drapery, upholstery , pets and of course food.

    When it comes to covering up bad odors in a home there are several things you can to. Begin with the carpet, usually most sellers have had the carpet for awhile and let’s face it, it will hold in odors. Get your carpets cleaned or replace them all together. For the Do-it-yourselfers, you can easily rent a carpet cleaning machine at your local grocery store. Use this tool for all your carpet, window treatments and upholstery (if the fabric allows it) otherwise you might need to call a professional.

    Next, paint the walls, and be sure to use a nice neutral color (i.e. light grays, light green/sage, taupe, beige, light cream, tan/brown or even gold) throughout the house and if you want, use a second blending color. These are great colors that can blend in with anything, and that is what you are after. Once you select the color/s, you can and add “PoP” colors to each room by your accent pieces. For instance, assuming you selected a soft gray. One room can have a “PoP’ color of red and another room can be blue by simply using bedspreads or decor. Real Estate is a numbers game and if your home can blend in with many different buyer’s furnishings…the more contract possibilities for you and your seller. Fresh paint is one of the least expensive home improvements with great results. Paint has a way in making the home appear fresh and a great way of disguising odors. Lastly, don’t forget painting the base boards.

    If you are a smoker, start smoking outside of the house. I know it’s an inconvenient, but less face it, smoking is no longer acceptable and most people today don’t smoke, so why would they want to buy a smoked filled home? The answer is…..with so much to choose from…they will not even consider your home. So stop smoking, it’s not good for you anyway!

    Food odors, are difficult to get rid of but not impossible. Use small slices of lemon in your garbage disposal, throw out the trash frequently especially that contains any of the food. During an open house, bake fresh cookies to cover up any food odors or you can burn some cinnamon sticks in a pot full of water.

    A great product I use for mopping floors, cleaning ceramic/glass sinks and bathrooms use “Fabuloso” Lavender. You can even pour some in the toilet and leave in. It offers a long-lasting light and clean fragrance. Do this right before an open house for best results.

    I am not fanatic about closets except for the master closet. This is one that will be opened in most cases. You can place fabric softener sheets between clothing or on some shelving. It adds a wonder scent.

    Finally, pets. How I love my pets and I am sure other pet owners feel the same. However, in most cases these little “Earth Angels” can be a little stinky at times. My best advice is to keep them clean on a regular bases and try placing a clean blanket over an chairs/beds they may sit on. This will help protect the upholstery from absorbing the pet odor since you spent money to clean it. Wash that blanket regularly as well. A wonderful product I discovered a long time ago is “Fresh Essence Cologne” by Four Paws. After a bath and when your pet is dry, go ahead and spray this product on them. It offers a wonderful scent for your pet. However, please keep in mind, when you have an open house, although you pet is your baby, it is someone’s pest. Like I said before, Real Estate is a numbers game and you need your house to appeal to the masses. The person that may buy your home, might be allergic to pets, or just not like any pets. So during an open house, hide the toys, beds, bowls and your pet. Ask a neighbor if they would pet sit during the open house or showings. I know this can be an inconvenience, but my question to you….do you want to sell your house? Then you need to do these things. You wouldn’t take your used car to a dealer for a trade in without detailing it?, so why not detail your home.

    Giselle “Gigi” Sala
    Home Staging & Redesigning Services
    (813) 917-0671 (813) 425-4575 FAX