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Buying or Selling a Smokey Home

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Even in the kind of wild seller’s market like we are seeing in Guelph, it’s always not easy to sell a home. A few things can be fairly consistent deterrents among buyers, and one of them is smoke odour. Yes, a smokey house can prove a bit challenging for buyers to overcome. But many of them can….

In addition to the general turn-off, many people point to the health implications of what is called ‘third hand smoke’ – smoke coming off of things like walls, upholstery, etc. I’ve watched people walk up to a house and turn around before they’re even through the front door, just due to smokiness.

Buyers don’t know where to begin, and assume removing the odour will involve huge expense and effort – removing carpet, painting throughout, etc. Those things can and do work – I’ve done them myself. But another option is to work with a professional company that remediates these odours.

Really, the smokey house provides you with two options when it comes time to sell. First, keep it as is, acknowledge that it’s a smokey house – and price it accordingly (i.e. just at market value, or slightly under.) Honestly, I wish smoke odour was more often disclosed in a listing – at least in the Realtor notes. Never mind the time wasted when, as agents and buyers, we show up to find a house so smokey that a client refuses to go in. Other buyers are allergic to smoke, or have brought kids along.

In any case, as a seller, in order to maximize your return on investment, you’ll need to take some steps to remediate the smoke odour. Your buyer pool is going to be awfully small if you are looking for an individual who smokes inside their home. From what I can glean, the majority of smokers even don’t want their homes to smell like smoke!

On the flip side are the buyers – out there in Guelph trying in earnest to find a home that they can afford and somehow manage to buy in the midst of an unprecedented level of competition. It’s the kind of market in which buyers are basically forced to consider their options and open their minds to possibilities. Those who might have previously turned their noses up at a smokey property are now starting to ask the question… can we get rid of it?

The answer is yes – and, whether you are buying or selling a smokey house, if you want to remediate the issue, here are some of your options and the steps involved.

First, you can consider hiring a service to come out and treat the home for you. Yes, there is a business out there for everything, and there are companies that specialize in professional odour eradication. I would bank on a minimum of $1,500 and up for a smoke odour treatment, but it’s money well spent and the results can be surprisingly effective.

Beyond that, there are plenty of things you can do on your own. Take it from one who knows. I don’t affectionately refer to my downtown Guelph home as “the crackhouse” for nothing. It was so smokey when I bought it that I had people, including self-proclaimed experts, tell me it would be impossible to get rid of the odour. Trust me, I proved them wrong.

Carpets and drapes… gone. Just – gone. Don’t waste time trying to clean them, just remove carpets and under-padding and any window treatments. In doing just this alone, and opening up some windows, you’ll be amazed at the improvement in the house.

Paint is your next best friend and I recommend priming and painting every surface of the home, and I mean everything. Trim, ceilings, walls, doors… it’s all got to be treated and painted. I was a big fan of a product called Bulls Eye 1-2-3 Primer with my own “project house,” but I also have heard that Kilz works just as well. Spend the money on a good quality primer, and use a similarly high-quality paint product over top of that. Priming and painting alone gets you well down the road to a smoke-free home.

A professional, deep clean is a logical next step, and in extreme cases, you’ll find that other buildings materials (vinyl flooring, hardwood, etc.) just won’t come clean. Hardwood can be sanded in some cases, and vinyl flooring isn’t particularly hard or expensive to remove or replace. Windows and screens will need attention. Once again, seek out specialized cleaning products that are known to remove the colour and odour of cigarette smoke.

Often, attics are blissfully spared from smoke odour. If not, consider having the insulation removed and replaced. It’s an expense, but this is a logical time to boost the R-factor of your insulation and increase some of your Guelph home’s energy efficiency.

Finally, when you actually feel like you can walk into your home and not smell smoke – which, by the way, can be in as little as a week or two if you take the above steps in a rapid order of succession – call in a service to get the ducts cleaned.

Is it ideal to buy a home that comes with a smokey odour? Well, for most the answer is probably no. But is it a deal-breaker? An increasing number of buyers are looking at smokey homes and seeing an opportunity to transform them. In a balanced market, I’ve heard estimates ranging from 10% to 30% of market value can be lost just due a smokey odour in a home. Today’s Guelph market is not likely to see that bear out, but you may land a nice house with a little less competition at a fair price. That alone is a “win” in this market. From there, roll up your sleeves and let that house breathe again.


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