You’re in full-on house-hunting mode, viewing as many homes as you can, and your real estate agent takes you to see one that you think just might be the one. Perfect neighborhood and layout, nice yard, the right number of bedrooms — you can’t wait to see it! Then you walk into the house and realize … it smells. Like an old, dirty ashtray. The house looks clean and is staged well, but it has a persistent cigarette odor that seems to have seeped into the walls.
Hard as it might be to believe, some people do still smoke inside their homes, and when it comes time to sell, getting rid of that smoke smell can be incredibly difficult. You can clean and clean some more, but odors from smoking inside a house last far longer than you might think, and can even leave behind some toxins that you might not be too stoked about.
But…you still love the house! So, now what? Is the home’s resale value compromised, and can you negotiate a price cut with the seller? Can professional cleaners get the smell out? Should you even consider buying a smoker’s house? What exactly can you do to get the house of your dreams, sans the stink?
We’ve researched all the ways smoking and real estate values intersect and how smoking indoors potentially affects a home sale, talking to experienced real estate agents about the impact of cigarette damage over time, as well as checking in with cleaning professionals on the best ways to de-funk a smoker’s house.
There are options for buyers who want a particular house but don’t want the smell that goes with it, from negotiating cleaning services and fees with the seller, hiring cleaning crews themselves, DIY deodorizing, or even making a lower offer on a property that has damage from indoor smoking.
Let’s take a look at what all of this might mean for you as a buyer.
How does smoking inside a house actually affect value?
According to a 2013 study conducted by Pfizer Canada, in which a group of Ontario real estate agents was surveyed, smoking inside the home can potentially reduce resale values by upward of 29%. The study estimated potential losses at more than $100,000, based on average home prices in Ontario at that time; this is the most recent research available on how much smoking affects home value.
More than half of the agents surveyed said buyers are much less likely to consider a home that’s been smoked in, and 27% of the agents who responded said most buyers are truly reluctant to buy a house in this condition. This isn’t a hard-and-fast calculation; real estate markets can change quickly, and more goes into a home valuation than the accumulated damage from smoking. That said, a home’s odor does have an impact on how buyers view it, and it’s usually not positive.
Agent Jessica Smith, who is based in Alabama and has more than seven years’ experience in the industry, says that motivated sellers will take care of the smoke problem before they put the house on the market.
“If a home has been smoked in and you don’t remediate the problem, you are likely to have less competition from buyers,” she says.
“I’ve had buyers who loved a home, but decided against purchasing it because the cigarette odor was so strong.”
Explaining to sellers that their home smells is a difficult but necessary discussion, and Smith says she tries to give sellers some tips on ways they can remove the smell before listing their home.
“First, stop smoking in the house, immediately,” she says. “I also recommend that sellers repaint, replace carpeting, and wipe all surfaces in the house with a mix of baking soda and water.”
Replacing carpet might seem extreme, but a simple shampoo job isn’t likely to do the trick, as the smell can go all the way through the pad and subfloor and will resurface once the carpet dries.
She adds that putting out small bowls of activated charcoal and white vinegar around the house can help draw out the smell, along with opening windows to air the place out. Air purifiers or ozone generators can also diffuse odors, as well as oxidizing sprays like Ozium, which helps eliminate smells altogether instead of just temporarily masking them.
Other ways to reduce odor include changing HVAC filters (or replacing the entire system), getting air ducts cleaned, cleaning evaporator coils, and cleaning or replacing light bulbs, which can get coated with dirt and oils from the house, adding to any odors when they are on and warm.
Bigger projects like painting the interior of the house and replacing carpet also tend to be the most expensive, with interior paint costs averaging between $954 and $2,892 and average carpet replacement running between $790 and $2,791. Smaller fixes like air purifiers, sprays, and changing the HVAC filters are much less expensive, although a mid-range air purifier will still cost you a few hundred dollars. If you end up needing to replace the entire HVAC system, you’ll be looking at costs ranging between $5,000 and $10,000.
Are there risk factors associated with a house that was smoked in?
In addition to the obvious olfactory issues, a smoked-in house also means tobacco residue, otherwise known as thirdhand smoke. This residue can build up on home surfaces, including walls, countertops, and even ordinary household dust. It’s not just unsightly but also contains carcinogens, as well as toxic heavy metals such as lead and arsenic.
Some research indicates that thirdhand smoke may contribute to lung cancer and can damage DNA. Children can be especially susceptible, as they are likely to spend more time on the floor, where they can ingest smoke-contaminated dust both orally and through the skin. Thirdhand smoke is also very difficult to remove, and it can remain in a home for months or even years.
Aside from not smoking in the house in the first place, the best way to eliminate thirdhand smoke includes repainting, removing carpet, even replacing wallboards or countertops. Basically, anything in the house that is slightly porous could contain toxins from thirdhand smoke, and rectifying the damage is not only costly but also time-consuming. Buyers should be aware that buying a house with thirdhand smoke damage, while mostly fixable, could come with some potential long-term problems.
How difficult is it to permanently remove cigarette odors?
Removing odors from a house is an involved process, and depending on the length of time the house has been smoked in and the extent of the damage, it will probably require the services of a professional cleaner. Move-out cleaning costs average anywhere between $110 and $650, depending on how long it takes the cleaners and how much smoke damage is in the house.
Jose Miano, accounts manager of his family-owned cleaning business, Always Ready Cleaning (ARC) in Las Vegas, says that deep cleaning a smoked-in house can take three to five hours longer than a normal cleaning, and it often involves extras such as washing walls.
“We use pretty heavy chemicals,” he says. “But the truth is, once the smoke is in the walls of a house, it won’t come out. We recommend people prime the walls with an oil-based primer, and then repaint walls and ceilings after we clean.”
A professional cleaning service might be more expensive than doing it yourself, but it’s often a much better option than DIY cleaning, advises Smith. “If there is a strong smoke smell, it’s worth it,” she says.
What are your options as a buyer?
First off, you should be aware that in most states, smoking inside the home isn’t one of the things a seller is required to disclose. And although there’s a chance you’re going to notice the odor when you view the home, if the seller takes care of the problem before they list it, you might not ever know. Make sure you discuss any concerns with your agent, so they can try to avoid showing you any homes that might have been smoked in if it’s a deal-breaker for you.
As awful as cigarette odor and damage might be, this could also be an opportunity for buyers to negotiate a price reduction. In this day and age, that amount isn’t likely to come close to the 29% reduction in value cited in the Pfizer study, but you and your agent may still have some leverage. It all depends on how pervasive the smoke smell is, along with other variables relating to the home that normally affect value, such as the age of the house, location, square footage, upgrades, and so on.
But if the home has been on the market for some time with no offers, you can almost bet the smell is part of the problem, which could put you in a prime position for negotiating.
Getting estimates on costs for cleaning and repairs on the home is the first step, as well as discussing with your agent whether you want to make a lower offer, or request that the seller pays for professional deep cleaning along with painting and floor replacements.
Smith cautions that seller concessions heavily depend on the market. “Even with the odor, there could be competition with other buyers,” she says.
“I try to tell buyers that we can fix it,” says Smith.
“I usually suggest getting professional help and working with the seller to rectify the issue.”
While smoke smells inside a home aren’t something that any buyer should ignore, if you decide to make an offer on a house that has been smoked in, an experienced real estate agent can help you along the way.
Understanding your options is key, as well as knowing potential risks, costs to clean and deodorize the house, and whether or not it really means you can negotiate a lower price. A house with cigarette smells doesn’t necessarily have to be insurmountable, and at the end of the day, your new home might just come out smelling like a rose!
Header Image Source: (Andres Siimon / Unsplash)