Smoke and Stinky Houses

Thanks for the photo

I’ve said for years that sellers shouldn’t have stinky homes. In 2012 I ranted a bit about the smelly things sellers use to cover up other smelly things. But what impact does cigarette smell have on houses’ marketability?

I had clients a couple years ago who drastically changed my perspective on smoke smells when they introduced me to the concept of third-hand smoke. Third-hand smoke is

“Third-hand smoke is tobacco smoke contamination that remains after the cigarette has been extinguished,” says Jonathan Winickoff, a pediatrician at the Dana Farber/Harvard Cancer Center in Boston and author of a study on the new phenomenon published in the journal Pediatrics. According to the study, a large number of people, particularly smokers, have no idea that third-hand smoke “the cocktail of toxins that linger in carpets, sofas, clothes and other materials hours or even days after a cigarette is put out”is a health hazard for infants and children.

But what impact does a smoky house have on price? As with almost everything, the answer depends in large part on the buyer. My reasonably educated guess –

– 70-80% of buyers will just walk away (particularly those with limited budgets/timelines or with kids).
– 10-15% will move forward, with reasonable estimates + 10-15% for painting, cleaning and other necessary things for remediation.
– 5-10% will do something that I wasn’t expecting. (maybe more, maybe less. Humans are human.)

As I’m inclined to ask experts their opinions, I asked Wes Ammons with Duct Medic for his opinion:

Are you referring to cigarette smoke, cooking smoke, incense, fireplace smoke or an actual house fire? Removing any type of smoke can be a tedious and exhaustive process. Oftentimes there is no single solution or quick fix for this issue. I recommend using a process of elimination starting with DIY to hiring one or more professional companies who can dedicate their time and resources to specific areas of the home. I have listed a few options below.

  • Let the home air out as much as possible (open doors and windows as much and as long as possible)
  • Run air purifiers or air scrubbers in affected areas of the home
  • Professionally clean all hard surfaces (cabinets, floors, doors, walls, windows, screens, light fixtures, fans, etc.) Painting the walls/ceilings may be necessary (ed note: starting with a product like Kilz, from my experience)
  • Professionally clean carpets, drapes, upholstery, linens, etc. (in extreme cases replacing carpet and padding is the only option)
  • Clean HVAC ducts and air handler components if necessary (dust build-up can harbor smoke particles and release odor as the system circulates air throughout the home)
  • Fog duct system (preferably after they have been cleaned and if the odor persists)
  • Install whole-house, duct mounted purification system

This list represents experiences I’ve had over the years while working with homeowners as well as other companies. Please let me know if you have any questions or need any clarification.

Ed note: I’ve also heard from clients and other real estate agents that ozone generators are effective, although the EPA questions ozone’s efficacy.

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1 Comment

  1. Simon Campbell January 30, 2014 at 09:40

    This can be a major concern for smokers who want to sell their home. Buyers who smoke themselves and will not notice or care about the leftover smell will definitely reduce the number of buyers. Additionally, if the walls are stained, even a smoking buyer will no doubt notice. Cleaning and restoration will need to be a prelisting priority.


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