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Can smell sell your home?

Could smell be the new rock ’n’ roll? A forthcoming exhibition at Somerset House this summer, promising ‘a sensory journey through contemporary scent’, is a reminder that people are guided by their noses as much as by their eyes and ears. And house-hunters are no exception.

Many estate agents have horror stories of showing people around a property and seeing their noses wrinkle in surprise. It might be the cat litter. It might be the lingering aroma of last night’s curry. But whatever the source of the smell, it usually kills off any chance of selling the property.

Most people selling their homes are well aware that they should stock up on air-fresheners before putting their homes on the market. But getting your home to smell its best is an elusive an art as getting it to look its best. How many owners repaint rooms, then neglect to disguise the off-putting smell of paint?

The science of smell has moved on since the days when a few cut flowers or a freshly baked loaf of bread were thought sufficient to hit the right notes. Yet quite which smells attract or deter buyers is disputed.

In an interesting study in Australia last year, people were asked to visit test homes infused with particular scents and then estimate the market value of each property. The property smelling of old socks, predictably, came out worst, but it was a close-run thing at the other end of the league table, with citrus scent just edging out brownies. Roast chicken, interestingly, fared not much better than smelly socks.

Studies in this country have produced slightly different results. We are at one with our Australian friends on the evil of smelly socks but, according to a study stretching back to 2011, put a premium on such things as fresh sheets and freshly made coffee.

Smell is such a personal thing that there is a danger of over-analysing the issue. You do not want your living-room smelling like the perfume department at Harvey Nichols. Often simply opening a few windows can remove smells which put people off. But it is certainly worth taking smell into account when marketing your property.

Incidentally, just as a matter of common sense, it is worth asking for a second opinion about your home. People are so used to the smell of their own homes, that they become dulled to scents which may put off some visitors.

Here are our own top smell tips.

Five smells to avoid:

  1. It will set alarm-bells ringing about the state of your damp courses.
  1. The aroma of roast food. Your supper last night may have been delicious, but the after-smell is not going to appeal to anyone.
  1. Rubbish bins/bags. There may be nothing particularly pongy in them, but their cumulative effect can be off-putting.
  1. This should be a no-brainer, but some smokers may get accustomed to smells that put others off.
  1. Wet dogs. Does your home smell of Rover? It might deter some buyers.

And five smells worth introducing (in moderation):

  1. Citrus scent. Brings a subtle hint of the Mediterranean to a London a home.
  1. Fresh sheets and fresh flowers – give a room a lift.
  1. Green tea or Jasmine tea. A more delicate scent than fresh-brewed coffee, but likely to be just as alluring.
  1. Warm croissants, brioche, baguettes, etc. Think French patisserie.
  1. Diffusers. Simple, but effective.
  • For more information on Perfume, a sensory journey through contemporary scent at Somerset House (21 June – 17 September), visit