By Bill Primavera
When it comes time to sell a house, there are many issues to be addressed to make it attractive to prospective buyers, from curb appeal to functionality of all systems. Realtors are eager to provide advice to guide sellers through the process of “getting ready.”
But probably the most sensitive issue to address is unpleasant odor in the house.
Every home has a particular smell. Sometimes it’s good and sometimes not. When it’s good, we might want to savor it and remember it, but when it’s bad, both we and a prospective buyer want to escape it.
When I rented my first apartment, the air quality was very different. I lived in the basement of a private home which was only slightly above grade and faced the north side of the house. It had a musty smell caused by the moisture in the air that was so thick that the walls would sometimes weep from it. Being a proactive tenant, even as an 18-year-old college student, I petitioned the landlady to buy a dehumidifier for me, and I kept it running day and night to make the air quality acceptable.
The next time I was keenly aware of objectionable house smells was in the apartment of an older woman who had invited me, as an antiques dealer at the time, to buy some of her things. When I entered her apartment, located in an old former hotel in Brooklyn, I was hit with a smell that was very unpleasant and very hard to describe.
The windows were all shrouded in heavy curtains and shades and the furniture was all deeply tufted. I’m embarrassed to admit that I thought the smell was coming from what I had heard described as “old people smell,” but that was a wrong assumption. I was told by the owner of an air quality control service that there is no such thing. Rather, he said, it’s the circumstances of the old person’s environment. There may be closed windows and no air flow or it could be their personal habits, how often they bathe and clean their clothes. The odors don’t have an opportunity to dissipate.
I learned that the three most common causes of house odor are smoking, pets and mold. Usually no one does anything about the first two – smoking and pets –because people are not aware of those odors when they live with them. They are very aware of mold, however, either because of the smell or allergic reaction, which is something they want to address. Toxic mold produces a chemical called mycotoxins, which can cause serious illnesses that can be fatal.
Pet smell and the odor from smoking may not raise a danger signal as much as toxic mold, but when you think about it, the source of the smoking smell can be very harmful to the one who smokes and the one who breathes in second hand smoke, according to the surgeon general. Pets can be anathema to those who are severely allergic to them. Both smells can be addressed with home remedies when the source moves on, but toxic mold, which is reputed to have hastened the death of television personality Ed McMahon, should be handled by a professional remediation service. There is just too much at stake, especially in the remediation process, to approach on one’s own.
If a house is being readied for sale and the owner is advised to eliminate the smell of smoking or pets, the best cure is good ventilation. The process can be expedited with baking soda, that old standby that we know from our mother placing a box in the refrigerator. Baking soda can be sprinkled on furniture and carpeting that has absorbed smoking or pet odors, and after it sits for several hours, is vacuumed.
The worst thing to do about household odors, in my opinion, is to try to mask them with candles, incense or other odor combating products. The layered smells can be worse than the original offending odor.
Bill Primavera, while a publicist and journalist, is also a Realtor® associated with William Raveis Real Estate and Founder of Primavera Public Relations, Inc. (www.PrimaveraPR.com). To engage the services of The Home Guru to market your home for sale, call 914-522-2076.