That New Home Smell 

To unload your house, you gotta dump the funk

To unload your house, you gotta dump the funk

School's out, and it's house-selling season. Every year about this time, people start asking me for advice on how to get a house ready to sell. That's funny to me, because selling a house is mostly about appearances. I care a lot about how a house works, but I barely care at all about how it looks. As far as I'm concerned, if a house isn't falling down and doesn't leak, I can probably live in it.

If I can keep a house at 70 degrees year-round, get water to come in through the faucets and go out through the drains, and know that the lights will go on and off when I flip the switches, the house is working well enough for me. Add a good-sized HDTV, a comfortable chair, a fridge, a toaster, a bathroom and a bedroom, and I've got an embarrassment of riches.

After 15-plus years of dissecting houses, I think of a house as a pile of earth and wood that protects my stuff and gives me a place to enjoy my family. I think it's safe to say that the folks who ask me for house-selling advice wouldn't benefit from knowing what I like in a house. They need to know what other people like. People who are very different from me. Best I can tell, your average homebuyers are all jacked up on hopes, dreams, wishes and big-ass plans. In my travels around the houses-for-sale circuit, I've figured out that a lot of home-buying folk have decorating fetishes, like those people who buy suites of furniture that match, plant tulips in rows along their sidewalk and have a theme tree with all white lights at Christmastime. Those folks are just busting to find a house that they can turn into a personal statement.

So, if you're selling your house, you've got to focus in on making your house into their house before they walk in the door. I know, it sounds tricky, but it's not that hard.

First thing you do is fluff up the curb appeal. If you want somebody to buy your house, you have to make people love your house the second they lay eyes on it. When buyers pull up to the curb, they need to be able to envision themselves planting tulips along your sidewalk, playing with their children in your front yard and standing on your front porch throwing a tennis ball to their dog.

Simply put, you've got to make your house look attractive and inviting to your average Tad and Buffy couple. If the house needs painting, paint it. If the yard is a mess, hire a landscaping service to make it look nice. On Sundays, when all the lookyloos come driving by, leave the kids with grandma, send the dog out for a bath, and make sure all the dog crap is gone from the yard. You don't want any real-life kids or dogs startling people out of the critically important homebuyer reverie.

If the inside of the house looks a little too lived-in, pick up the clutter, paint everything that needs painting, and then scrub the place so clean that a person could lick any surface in the house and feel good about doing it.

Then, take all of the highly personalized stuff—family pictures, kids' art projects, Star Wars memorabilia, Barbies and bongs—and stick it in the closets, so nobody can see it. And if you've got erotica displayed in your house, for cryin' out loud, hide that stuff in the attic. I have been in actual for-sale houses that are wall-to-wall porn museums. Here a naked statue, there a painting of an orgy, and in the bedroom itself, hospital-grade restraints cinched up to the bedposts. You might be used to all this, but believe me when I tell you it will make strangers feel like thousand-legged bugs are crawling all over them.

Now, I'm going to tell you the one thing that has let me sell three houses in a row, all by myself, on the first day each house was for sale: make the house smell good.

When we Jowerses know we're about to sell a house, wife Brenda starts mixing up concoctions of fruits, herbs and comfort-food ingredients until she comes up with something that smells so wonderful that people want to eat it, drink it, cuddle with it and carry it with them always. One whiff of the Brenda brew and people start fighting over who's going to pay the most for the Jowers house.

Although Brenda makes the magic brew, I take credit for initiating the plan. In my years of leading wannabe homebuyers through houses they thought they loved, I noticed that nobody ever bought a stinky house. No matter how much charm and character a house had, it was never enough to overcome the smell of mildew, rot, sewer, cigarettes or somebody else's feet.

So, if you want to sell your house this summer, fight the funk. Kill the funk. Replace the funk with something that smells like Christmas dinner. You'll have people fist-fighting on your lawn, begging you to take their money.


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