There is a classic vignette that so many of us have seen in movies and on TV, in which a real estate agent has baked cookies for an open house, letting the sugary aroma waft through the air of the property. There is just something about baked goods, fresh out of the oven, that smells like home.
Many of us return to our childhood homes and feel immediately welcomed by the comforting scents coming from the kitchen. In fact, many scents have a naturally calming effect or convey a subliminal fragrance of cleanliness. Therefore, if you are selling a home, it makes sense that you might use scent as a subtle secret weapon to give the impression that your home is a clean, calming and relaxing environment. Conversely, certain odors should be avoided (or masked), as they can turn off buyers and kill a sale.
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The Power of the Sense of Smell
In his novel “In Search of Lost Time” or “Remembrance of Things Past,” Marcel Proust stumbled upon the concept of involuntary memory. Proust noted how eating a madeleine cookie mixed with tea evoked memories of childhood. Modern science has proven that he was onto something, although involuntary memory is more connected to scent than taste. According to the American Psychological Association, the Proust Phenomenon is “the sudden, involuntary evocation of an autobiographical memory, including a range of related sensory and emotional expressions.”
Scientifically, there is good reason for a real estate agent to curate an inviting scent for prospective buyers: Pleasant scents can put people at ease, as well as arouse positive memories. It might be somewhat intuitive that bad smells could indicate that there are structural problems with the property, such as water infiltration, gas leaks, mold or sewage issues, but it may be wise to enhance various aromas during showings. Good smells can subconsciously and positively affect the way prospective buyers feel, perhaps making those buyers gravitate toward a home more than they otherwise would.
“The sense of smell is one of our most important senses,” says Michael Bucaram, a student at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City, where he is pursuing a bachelors degree in cosmetic and fragrance marketing. “Our sense of smell is directly attached to the limbic system in the brain, and this is where we store memories, good and bad.”
To touch upon the positive feelings or memories of prospective buyers when they come to see a property for sale, it makes sense to freshen the scent in a home. Candles and reed diffusers are obvious options, especially in bathrooms. But too many candles or overpowering air fresheners might not only offend sensitive noses, but skeptical buyers may fear that the seller is trying to mask an indelible odor. In addition, choosing the right scents can make a difference.
Scents That Can Help Sell Your Home
“When listing a property, I like to ensure it feels and smells clean,” says Carolyn Gagnon, a real estate agent at Compass in New York City. “This means literally making sure it isclean, with no musty lived-in scents, and oftentimes I do tend to light a candle for a cozy ambiance or provide an air freshener. I tend to favor something citrusy, ocean-inspired or fresh linen-scented.”
While smell is subjective and people like different scents, there are commonalities that you can play to. “Great grounding smells can include anything with cedarwood, sandalwood, musk or santal, which can have nice woody accords,” Bucaram says. “Vanilla can emulate a warm fire or cozy smell, which provides comfort and conveys safety.”
Conveying cleanliness, warmth and comfort are generally the best options. Here are a few pleasant scents to consider to help sell your home:
— Citrus. It’s no wonder that so many cleaning products use lemons as a marketing hook. Citrus fruits, particularly lemons, often convey cleanliness and freshness. For staging purposes, it’s not a bad idea to put a bowl of lemons in the kitchen. Real ones might provide the aroma, but a bowl of faux lemons (a go-to staging item regularly used in kitchens) won’t go bad and gives a visual cue of freshness.
— Vanilla.The coziness of the vanilla scent is a classic. It conveys warmth and comfort and is one of the main reasons why the nostalgic aroma of freshly baked cookies makes us feel right at home. Some people claim that vanilla reduces stress and anxiety.
— Pine or cedar.The smell of pine wood or cedar can promote feelings of well-being. That said, don’t overdo it with pine, as it has been misused in cleaning products for years. The last thing you want is for buyers to think that you are trying to mask the smell of a damp taxicab.
— Jasmine or green tea. Often considered an underrated scent, jasmine can be very calming.
— Cinnamon. Much like the comfort of vanilla or the well-being of pine, cinnamon can evoke positive feelings. It can also be used to mask unpleasant odors if you’re in a pinch. “I had a listing that I showed to a young couple, and they wanted to return with their parents as soon as possible,” says Steve Frankel, estates director at Coldwell Banker Realty in Beverly Hills, California. “When I got back to the house, the sellers had just come home with their big wet dog, and the whole house stank. There were no candles, so I grabbed a pot and boiled some cinnamon and nutmeg. The whole house began to smell like Thanksgiving, and I made the deal that evening.”
[READ:How to Measure the Square Footage of a House]
Odors That Can Hinder a Home Sale
A bad odor in a home can easily kill a potential sale. If the smell of garbage wafts in from the street on a hot day, this is a problem. Not only can bad smells indicate a problem with the property, but these are also a major turnoff for potential buyers.
Here are odors to avoid in your home while it’s on the market:
— Cigarette smoke. If you’re a smoker, there’s a good chance that the smell may have a negative effect on your home’s days on market, as well as the price you eventually get. “Recently, I sold a big home of a dear friend of mine who’s a smoker,” Frankel says. “She smoked in the house, even though I explicitly told her not to. Nobody wants to walk into a home and smell cigarettes. I think the homeowner took a half a million-dollar hit on the sale because of the odor.”
— Food. Although vanilla and the aromas connected with fresh bread or cookies can be inviting, other food smells can be off-putting. Certain spices linger, and food smells can often convey that the kitchen isn’t clean. If you know the home is going to be shown, avoid using potent spices or cooking fish in the 24 hours prior. Given that appliances usually convey with the home and buyers may open the refrigerator, make sure there is nothing inside that could be an exhibit in a food museum.
— Garbage. Take out the trash!
— Dirty laundry. Clothes can pile up, especially in a house with kids. Sports equipment, socks and shoes are often the worst culprits, so don’t let laundry pile up when potential buyers are coming.
— Pets.Give Fido a bath. It’s easy for pet owners to become nose-blind when it comes to four-legged family members. If your home is on the market, now is the time to be vigilant with the litter box and realistic about that old dog bed.
[SEE: 15 Secrets to Selling Your Home Faster.]
Overall, when using scent to encourage a sale, subtlety is key. The pleasant aromas should not be overpowering, but they should support feelings of comfort and cleanliness. The buyers should be focusing on the space, not distracted by any particular smell, good or bad.
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Scents That Make Sense When Selling Your Home originally appeared on usnews.com