Top 10 Odors That Homebuyers Hate

Does your listing need some freshening up?

We've all heard that fresh flowers and baking cookies can help sell a home, but do you know why? And do you know which odors rank the worst? Scott Loper breaks down a study from Berkeley that answers these questions.

Thanks for sharing, Scott!


Every home has a predominant odor (sometimes there are competing odors) and most homeowners are so used to the odor(s), that they cannot perceive it.

Top 10 Odors that Homebuyers HateHowever, according to researchers at UC Berkeley, it takes less than a hundred milliseconds for a person walking into a new environment to determine if an odor is pleasant or unpleasant.  But it then takes a few seconds for a person to determine the nature of the odor (i.e. sour, sweet, musty) and typically, many people cannot correctly identify an odor.  They just simply know if they like it or if they don’t.

In our opinion, these are the top ten odors that homebuyers hate and can't resist commenting on when touring a home:

1.       Cigarette smoke

2.       Cat urine

3.       Dogs

4.       Other pet odors – litter boxes, cages, terrariums

5.       Musty – mold and mildew (predominantly detected in basements)

6.       Pungent cooking odors – garlic, onions, curry

7.       Stale smoky downdrafts from the fireplace

8.       Decaying organic material from various potential sources – rotting potatoes in the kitchen, a dead mouse in the wall, trash that needs to go out

9.       Unwanted critters – skunks, stinkbugs

10.    “Human” odors – stinky shoes, body odor, dirty diapers, urine (predominantly detected in bedrooms and bathrooms)

Research has shown that the perception of a smell is universal.  Regardless of their culture, most people can agree if an odor can be categorized as pleasant or unpleasant. 

Rehan Khan, a research scientist in the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute at UC Berkeley, states, "… a significant part of what people find to be pleasant and unpleasant turns out to be the same anywhere on the planet and may reflect something about molecules themselves."

Effects of odors are universal too.  Pleasant odors are believed to trigger an emotional response which will reduce tension and anxiety and improve mood.  Unpleasant odors can have the opposite effect.

Where cultural differences come in is in the tolerance of a particularly strong odor.  The more familiar someone is to a particular odor, the more likely they will tolerate it at a higher intensity.  The intensity of an odor can fall on a scale of 0-6.

0 - no odor

1 - very weak (odor threshold)

2 - weak

3 - distinct

4 - strong

5 - very strong

6 – intolerable

Any odor (good or bad) when it hits an intensity of six, is too strong.  But for some people, even a faint smell (1 or 2 on the scale) of something unpleasant (i.e. cooking odors) is a complete turnoff; whereas other people might find a strong odor (4 or 5 on the scale) of something pleasant (i.e. perfume) is also a turnoff.

Therefore, sellers only want subtle pleasant odors, nothing strong or overwhelming.

Odors also trigger a memory response from past exposure to similar odors.  Therefore there are a few smells that will get mixed responses from homebuyers; they may love the smell or hate the smell:

1.       VOC’s from fresh paint or carpeting (irritating or “Wow, new carpets!”)

2.       Mothballs/Cedar closets (nostalgic or “an old person’s house”)

3.       Bleach (ultraclean or a locker room)

4.       Incense (nice or “What kind of weirdos live here?”)

Some of the most universally pleasing odors are: chocolate, baby powder, pine trees, cinnamon, citrus, and fresh flowers. 

So the suggestions of putting out fresh flowers or baking chocolate chip cookies or apple pie just before a showing are not arbitrary.  These aromas typically create good feelings and emotions and evoke warm memories.

Ask a friend or your Realtor for an honest evaluation of the predominant odor in your house.  In many homes, it is the choice of laundry detergent and dryer sheets (which is often a very pleasant odor). 

If you do have bad odors, don’t try to mask them with too many candles or perfume.  Go for a very faint but pleasant odor instead.  A seller’s best bet is to find the source and get rid of any unpleasant odors, because it can kill a buyer’s interest within a hundred milliseconds!

Contact Scott Loper, Associate Broker, Realtor®, RE/MAX Realty Group at 215-513-1333 for help buying or selling a home in Lansdale, Harleysville, Hatfield, Souderton, Skippack, Collegeville, North Wales and the surrounding areas of Montgomery County of Pennsylvania. To Search for Homes For Sale in Montgomery County Click Here.

Top 10 Odors That Homebuyers Hate - Copyright © 2012, The Scott Loper Team, All rights reserved.


If you enjoy reading our blog, please SUBSCRIBE.

RE/MAX BalloonThe Scott Loper TeamRE/MAX Balloon

Scott Loper - Associate Broker

Lisa Loper - Sales Associate

Gina Wherry - Sales Associate

RE/MAX Realty Group

439 Main Street
Harleysville, PA 19438

Ph: 215-256-1200 x-213

 Rockwell Institute--in business since 1974
Top 10 Odors That Homebuyers Hate
Does your listing need some freshening up? We've all heard that fresh flowers and baking cookies can help sell a home, but do you know why? And do you know which odors rank the worst? Scott Loper breaks down a study from Berkeley that answers… more
Restaurant Review: Yeh Yeh’s
For today’s restaurant review, we ventured to Yeh Yeh’s, a relative newcomer to the neighborhood. Yeh Yeh’s specializes in banh mi, a. k. a. Vietnamese sandwiches: airy toasted French baguettes stuffed with marinated grilled meat (or tofu), pickled… more
Test Taking Tip: Stretch for Better Focus
We’ve already explained the benefits of exercise and a good night’s sleep when preparing to take your real estate exam Now let’s talk about something you can actually do during your exam: take short stretching breaks. A certain… more
Book Review: 100 Open Houses and So Much More
Consuelo Saah Baehr’s 100 Open Houses was not what I was expecting. I chose this book because the description intrigued me: “Rebecca Haas, like all of us, is being tortured to death by the sameness of her life, her thoughts, her weight, the… more
Warning! Forged and Fraudulent Deeds Are on the Rise.
The idea of a forged deed may sound pretty unusual to you; probably the only time you've heard the term was when you were studying for your real estate exam. (Hopefully you remember that forged deeds are one of the title defects covered by both… more
For Sale By Owner Advice--When Do I Know it Is Time to Hire A…
Agents should see FSBO properties as an opportunity: you’ve just identified a property owner who wants to sell his home. All you have to do is convince the wary seller to list their home with you instead of going it alone. Need some advice on how to… more
Instructor of the Month: Jim Cunningham
Welcome back to our Instructor of the Month series. This month, we’re talking with Jim Cunningham, who teaches real estate courses at Long Beach City College in Long Beach, CA. Rockwell: How long have you been teaching? Jim: I began… more
Secondary Markets Won’t Allow Private Transfer Fees
Put yourself in the position of one of your buyers: they’ve just had a $200, 000 offer accepted on a new home, and now they’re finguring out how much cash they’ll need for closing. They discover that, on top of costs like a loan origination fee,… more
Changes to Facebook Fan Pages
In case you haven't heard, Facebook is changing business fan pages to the new Timeline format as of March 30. If you've already changed over to the Timeline format on your personal page, you may be familiar with the overall look. But this blog post… more
Restaurant Review: Taqueria El Rinconsito
Today we're reviewing another quick, inexpensive lunch option for our Bellevue real estate students: Taqueria El Rinconsito Located in an unassuming strip mall just a few blocks from our office, El Rinconsito is a very casual eatery, complete with… more