Things You Can’t Smell in a Virtual Tour That Could Cost You Later

Odors—pleasant or unpleasant—are strongly tied to our emotions and can leave a lasting impression when it comes to buying a house. Especially bad ones. The reason: Some unpleasant smells can indicate larger (and costlier) issues.

But what if you can’t actually be on hand to take in all of the smells yourself, particularly during these coronavirus times when many open houses and home tours have turned into virtual events?

That’s when it’s more important than ever to ask your real estate agent to be your (very sensitive) nose. Toward that end, here are the odors your agent should sniff out for you to not only help save you money but possibly disappointment down the road.

1. Pet smells

One of the most common odor complaints during in-person tours is pet odors. Lingering odors from pet “accidents”—especially dry cat urine, because ammonium salts form in residue—are particularly pungent. Unfortunately, a typical bottle of carpet cleaner isn’t likely to remove the odor.

You’ll have to call in the pros and that can be costly, depending on factors such as the type of flooring, degree of saturation, and materials used when installing the floor. Even so, new carpet and flooring might be the only route for a fresh start and peace of mind.

2. Cigarette odors

Tobacco odors can seep into porous surfaces like carpeting, drapes, rugs, walls, and especially ceilings. In fact, ceilings can be the biggest culprit in a persisting smoke smell in a home, as cigarette smoke tends to travel upward and latch onto the first surface it contacts. Professional cleaning is key in this case since carpets have different fibers that can be damaged with a DIY approach.

And tobacco-stained walls (including wallpaper and paneling) not properly cleaned and treated with a nicotine stain-blocking primer will come back to haunt you and bleed rusty stains through any newly painted walls. While a smoker’s house doesn’t have to be a deal-breaker, there will be added costs and elbow grease to remove the odors.

3. Mold, mildew and musty odors

These three odors not only smell bad, but they also leave a seriously negative impression regardless of how attractive the house is. The odors suggest uncleanliness and a damp, cold feeling—plus the scary possibility of mold growing beneath the surface. When there is mold, there always is a moisture concern somewhere, and this should be addressed first so the challenge doesn’t reappear in the future.

Call in an indoor environmental professional to capture air and surface samples to see what types of molds are present and to determine which type of mold remediation is necessary. At the very least, call a pro to check for leaks and professional cleaning of porous services, and then run a dehumidifier.

4. Rotten eggs or a sulfur smell

If your agent is overwhelmed by a rotten egg smell, he or she should run for safety because the odor might be a sign of a gas leak. If your agent smells a milder version of rotten eggs or sulfur, however, it could point to plumbing issues. If the house has been vacant for a while, the drainpipe water trap might have dried up, leaving the pipe without a water barrier to stop offensive odors wafting up from farther down the pipe.

The real budget buster? If your agent notices the stench coming from multiple drains, as this could be a problem with the plumbing equipment or local sewer authority. If the problem lies with the sewer, a sewer inspection might be needed to resolve the issue, and that could possibly entail digging in the yard or basement.