Ask the Egghead: Can pet odors prevent the sale of my home?

Dear Egghead: My real estate agent has recommended that I take several expensive steps to deodorize my home before she lists it for sale. She insists that my dogs have created a foul odor. I can’t smell anything offensive, and I don’t know anyone else who does. Should I ignore my agent?

ANSWER: It wasn’t easy for your agent to bring up this touchy subject. Pets are often treated as part of the family, and nobody likes to face the fact that a beloved pet might prevent the sale of your home. Dogs, cats, and other animals produce odors, just as humans do.

It’s no mystery why you’re unaware of the problem. Repeated exposure to a certain smell can lessen over time — you simply become less sensitive to it, or totally immune. Visitors to your home, however, can be very sensitive to it — some people more than others.

Sure, you can get a second opinion as to the presence of offensive smells, but my advice would be to follow the agent’s instructions sooner rather than later. You don’t want to sabotage the sale of your home by refusing to pay the cost of cleaning. If your home sits on the market for several weeks because you haven’t acknowledged the odor problem, the less and less likely it will be that your home ever sells at its true market value. You can prevent this situation by going to the time and expense of cleaning now. Don’t waste your time arguing about whether your house stinks or not, take action. (And while we’re on the subject, odors of tobacco smoke can kills the sale of your home, just like pet smells can.)

Trust me, if the problem is bad enough that your agent brought it up, it’s serious enough for potential buyers to cross your home off their list. And walking through your house with an aerosol can of deodorizer isn’t going to fix the problem. The more you introduce synthetic fragrances, the more suspicious buyers will be.

You’re going to need professional help, and here’s the kind of action needed:

  • Relocate the pets until your transaction is closed. Needless to say, pet toys and bedding should be removed.
  • Hire a professional to clean your carpets. This means someone with long experience in extracting dirt and smells. This is the biggest step to fixing the problem, and if it doesn’t fix matters, replace the carpets.
  • Ventilate. Open all your windows, even if it’s the dead of winter.
  • Clean upholstery, drapes, and other fabrics, including blankets and clothes. These materials have soaked in the smell for a long time, and they will give the same smell off until cleaned.
  • For staining and smells from urine, use the Clorox disinfectant it calls “Urine Remover.” The stuff works. Another effective product is “Resolve Ultra Pet Stain and Odor Remover.”
  • Paint your interior spaces. A fresh coat of paint works wonders, it has the same impact as the smell of a brand-new car.
  • For those times when your pet will be present, give them a thorough bath.

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