On Second Thought, Don’t Bake Chocolate Chip Cookies for the Open House!

By Melissa Dittmann Tracey, REALTOR(R) Magazine

A favorite real estate tip: When prepping a home for a showing, whip up some chocolate chip cookies to fill the home with that rich, inviting, tasty smell. Who wouldn’t want to sit back and stay awhile?

Well, you may want to put down the mixing bowl and turn off the oven. Research now says that chocolate chip cookies are one of the worst scents to have in a real estate open house.Researchers used a sample size of 402 people in a home decor store in Switzerland to find out which scents were the most pleasing to customers. The researchers say the findings could provide some insights into the most pleasing smells during open houses too.

One of the author’s of the study, Eric Spangenberg, dean of the college of business at Washington State University, recently told The Wall Street Journal that baked goods are a complex scent that can distract potential home buyers, even if the scent is pleasant. Buyers will subconsciously devote time to trying to figure out the scent, instead of devoting the time to determining if this is a place they really want to live. (Or maybe it’s really that they devote time and energy to finding where in the world you stashed all those cookies!)

Other distracting complex smells that researchers also suggest could distract customers: Potpourri, gourmet foods, and baked goods.

So if you want an inviting smell to fill a home for your open house, what home scents should you reach for? Simple scents — like pine, lemon, cedar, and vanilla — all which can be easier for buyers to process and less distracting, Spangenberg says.

For example, Chris McDonnell, a real estate professional with Coldwell Banker Distinctive Properties in Vail, Colo., told The Wall Street Journal he’ll prep a home for an open house by cutting fresh pine branches or picking fresh lavender and mint from his herb garden — scents that mimic the outdoor lifestyle he’s also trying to sell.

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. Really, Switzerland! Are you kidding? Almost every child has eaten a chocolate chip cookie in America. It is one of those “collective, cultural scents” which one easily detects. How about Strudel? Did they check that!
    Seriously, Realtors forever have been using the old trick of taking a pie pan and some vanilla to achieve a perfectly acceptable aroma. So I do agree with your scents but baking something, if you’re so inclined, should be a big, cultural, collective scent and Chocolate Chip Cookies (Toll house my fav!) or apple pie are two BIGGIES!

  2. Pat

    Or you could just offer them a chocolate chip cookie as soon as they enter.

  3. Great article, and I couldn’t agree more! Of course I love the scent of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, but scents can be very distracting. I am also opposed to sellers having candles or potpourri in their home for sale, I know, boo. My suggestion to sellers: Dust and vacuum often, open windows and clean with an all natural cleaner or plant based ingredients.
    ~Happy Selling

  4. Anne Meczywor

    My buyers are always suspicious of any strong scent, wondering what the seller is trying to cover up. I always tell my sellers that strong scents scream, while thoroughly clean and fresh speaks volumes.

  5. Wow – no more coookies!!! bummer…. house I ended up buying many years ago made home made bread just before we showed up to tour. Ended up with some fresh baked bread and we bought the house. We probably would have bought the house regardless of the fresh baked smell. Bread was sure good though!!!!

  6. I’ll never be convinced that the smell of beans cooking on the stove didn’t sell a home. My client was making them to go with dinner, we just happen to have to show the home before they ate. Good Ole comfort food.

  7. Donita Johnson

    I disagree strongly with one comment about offering a cookie to clients….with the allergies that people have today we cannot be too careful so I would urge you NOT to offer any type of refreshments to people coming to Open Houses.

  8. Good post; the best scent is no scent! Clean, clean, clean!

  9. Chocolate chip cookies were always thought to be the “go to” comfort smell when having an open house or showings. However, I too, recently discovered new information about the best scents….” Scents that Sell “. The favorites were: lemon, green tea, cedar, vanilla, pine and basil. I think you have to be careful with pine and cedar. The worst scents were: potpourri, gourmet foods, chocolate chip cookies and other baked goods. Thanks for the post. I feel so in the know.

  10. Lori

    I agree that the best scent is no scent or odour of food, animals or perfumey!
    If the home is cleaned well then that is all that is needed.
    No candles or food given out . A natural citrus (essential oil ) scented room spray can be nice and not over powering.

  11. Robbin

    As a potential buyer, I most appreciate a fresh just cleaned scent. Murphy’s Oil soap and lemony scents are personal favorites of mine.

  12. More people prefer the scent of a clean home with no strong fragrances.

  13. I agree! We try too hard not to distract buyers with strong smell.

  14. Rebecca

    I always put on a roast in crockpot. Nothing says “I’m home” like a good smelling roast!!

  15. Serena Bales

    Clean smells the best, pine sol is a winner. It comes in pine or lemon. Although, I would give the roast a try! I don’t bake the cookies there, but I do leave candies or cookies. A sugar boost is welcomed by hard working agents and aggressive buyers. Your welcome.