The Scent of Real Estate

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credit flickr.com daveograve

I was out showing houses the other day and I got to thinking about how you would buy a house if you were blind. Have you been watching Master Chef this summer? The winner was blind and I kept thinking she was going to cut one of her fingers off and have to present the judges with sautéed index finger in a light cream sauce, but she never did. I guess the point is you adapt. Your other senses take over when they need to.

(Editor’s Note: If you enjoy Elizabeth’s non-traditional real estate rants check out her blog

If you were blind, I imagine you’d tour houses using a lot of touch, but I bet you could get 90% of the information you need to make your decision just using your sense of smell. In fact, I think the next time I’m showing houses I’m going to bring a blindfold for my clients and make them appraise the houses they’re seeing simply based on smell before I let them see and tour the house. I bet we could shave some time off the house tours just by having buyers really immerse themselves in the scent of a home before they even look around.

I feel pretty confident there are at least 6 types of houses I could identify and describe by smell alone:

Scent 1 – Cigarette smoke – This house is owned by an elderly woman whose husband recently died of emphysema. It has pastel wallpaper, laminate counters, brassy plumbing fixtures and doorknobs and mirrored closet doors. It will need a total cosmetic gutting, but has been structurally well cared for.

Scent 2 – Fresh paint and carpet glue – We’ve entered a fix and flip. Every wall has been painted ‘Oyster’. There’s new, light brown carpet everywhere and the granite is different in every bathroom because it’s all discounted extra pieces from the hardware store. The house is move-in ready, although there’s no guarantee nothing wacky is going on underneath the hastily painted surfaces.

Scent 3 – Pet urine – Ah, now we’re in an abandoned short sale. The sellers were bitter they are losing every penny they put into this house and it’s ruining their credit, so they let the family dog ‘mark’ every corner he wanted to before they moved into their rental. The purchase process will be ugly and the flooring will have to be completely replaced.

Scent 4 – Fresh baked cookies – This one’s easy; it’s definitely an equity sale with a seller who’s hoping to squeeze as much cash out of the house as possible. It’s move-in ready and homey feeling. It’s a touch over-priced, but you can see yourself living there. It’s not super modern or updated, but it’s a lovely home.

Scent 5 – Sewer gas – Yep, we’re definitely in a foreclosure. That hideous and distinct smell is what happens when a house has been abandoned for so long the sewer traps that keep the odor from invading the house dry out and stop working. This house is dusty and littered with bug carcasses. There’s a pool out back with a plywood and rusted wire structure covering it so no neighborhood children accidentally fall in it and drown (or possibly to keep everyone from seeing the body of the one who already did).

Scent 6 – Mold/mildew – There’s no denying that smell of moisture and decay that comes with a large plumbing problem somewhere in the house. It could be the water heater leaking through the wall in the garage into the laundry room. It might be a massive leak under the kitchen sink. It very possibly could be upstairs master bath toilet leaking down through the ceiling into the living room. Hard to tell exactly which without looking, but the smell is a red flag to your nose: This is a house with a major issue.

See what I mean? The information is really all there for us in a completely under-utilized sensory organ in the field of home purchases. Who needs really to see a house when you can smell it?

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About the Author
Elizabeth Newlin

Elizabeth Newlin has been a full-time Realtor since 2005 and a part-time smartass since 1978. She blogs about real estate and life over at www.RealEstateTangent.com. She hopes you take her with a grain of salt.

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About the Author
Elizabeth Newlin


Elizabeth Newlin has been a full-time Realtor since 2005 and a part-time smartass since 1978. She blogs about real estate and life over at www.RealEstateTangent.com. She hopes you take her with a grain of salt.

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