6 Tips for Showing a House for Sale that Appeal to All 5 Senses (And Then Some)

Have you ever been lured into a bakery by the delightful scent of freshly baked bread and walked away with more than enough pastries to feed a family of four? Sensory marketing is a strategy experts rely on to reach a potential buyer through all five senses: smell, taste, sound, sight, and touch.

The subtle influences of a sensory experience can be powerful, and it boasts the advantage of not being seen or experienced as marketing messages, therefore facing less resistance from potential buyers.

Sensory marketing has been used for more than a decade to help retailers get their visitors to spend money at their stores. There’s the now-retired “Fierce” signature scent at every Abercrombie & Fitch location, and yes, the swimwear department at Bloomingdale’s does smell like coconuts. Bringing sensory marketing principles into the home selling experience can help a new buyer fall in love with a listing, make a top-dollar offer, or help sway an undecided buyer.

Joe DePauw, a real estate agent in Washington, Illinois, shared his knowledge and best practices for using sensory marketing to help sell a home.

A white gloved hand.
Source: (Rangizzz / Shutterstock)

Tip 1: Make sure the home passes the ‘touch test’

Radhika Mundra once said, “Nothing inspires cleanliness more than an unexpected guest.” DePauw says, “Sometimes, in this market, we can’t wait 24 hours to plan out a showing; people want to see the listing the same day — and, as a seller, you have to be in tune with that.”

Being able to touch and feel the surfaces inside the home is an important aspect of sensory marketing, so the home should be free of dust, including unusual spots such as door jambs, or out-of-the-way areas like window sills.

Always deep clean before a house goes on the market, since buyers have a tendency to open closets, explore out-of-sight areas of the house, or shift furniture, and you don’t want a few dust bunnies to hint at deeper — or serious — repair issues lurking beneath a messy or cluttered surface.

But for those of us who still have to live in the listing, DePauw also has some ideas:

“We try to make the stress of constant or unexpected showings manageable by telling the homeowner to look at the house as if it’s being shown that day before leaving for work in the morning: you make all the beds, pick up all the towels, make sure the kitchen counters and sinks are clean, the laundry room is organized, the shoes make it into the closets — that helps a lot.”

Looking for some guidance on what to clean and how? Our exhaustive house cleaning checklist can be a great resource.

Tip 2: Make it comfortable

Set your thermostat to between 68 and 70 degrees if you’re still living on the property. Help buyers touring your home feel like they don’t have to hurry to get back in their car.

In the winter and fall, you want to make visitors feel comfortable enough to linger inside, ask questions, and really explore every feature your home has to offer.

The longer a prospective buyer spends inside the listing, the better the odds they will remember it. So get that temperature set to the high 60s and light up the fireplace to help create a cozy atmosphere.

During the spring or summer, consider opening windows and turning on ceiling fans. “Smart thermostats are a great feature that can help a seller sell a home,” DePauw adds.

Being able to manipulate the temperature, lighting, and even the fireplace from afar can help a homeowner get ready for a showing with the push of a smartphone button. Also, “Homebuyers love smart features, and this is a great way to show them off.” As a matter of fact, 70% of millennials prefer smart home features.

Also helpful? Fluffy blankets and decorative accent pillows make a living room or bedroom feel soft and inviting.

A basket of cookies in a house for sale.
Source: (Mae Mu / Unsplash)

Tip 3: Smells can make or break your sale

Smell influences how customers perceive time. The more pleasant the aroma, the less buyers perceive the amount of time that’s passed. And remember the amount of time people spend in the home is key to them falling in love with it.

DePauw’s secret weapon? Fresh-baked cookies.

“They help mask existing smells, but also help make the house feel homey,” he explains. “It’s a nice gesture from the seller to a potential buyer.”

Other recommended scents? “Mister Clean or other cleaning products show a homeowner is careful to prepare the house for visitors, but stay away from bleach or overpowering smells that can be irritating and off-putting for buyers.”

DePauw recommends trying to remain as scent-neutral as possible, and to take it easy with the intensity of air freshener or plug-ins because they can be overwhelming for buyers. In summary: pass on the pumpkin spice and maybe focus on lavender instead.

For sellers with pets, DePauw recommends steam-cleaning carpets when the house gets prepped for the market, but also making sure every day that the cat litter box is clean; your dog toys and dishes should be stored away, and recruiting a neighbor to watch your pet during showings can be invaluable.

For sellers who smoke, “It’s going to be expensive to mask the smell,” he notes. “So we try to be mindful of that.” Painting helps, but to some extent, there’s no masking the scent, just minimizing it. “If a client has a sensitive nose, they’re going to know someone in the listing smokes.”

Tip 4: Sounds to stage the home

Studies prove retailers who play soft music encourage shoppers to linger, while louder music has the opposite effect. Another benefit of soft music? It can drown out sub-optimal ambient noise, such as a highly-traveled road, nearby construction, or public transportation.

Don’t have a radio or a sound system? Most smart assistants like the Amazon Echo or the Google Assistant are capable of playing music services like Pandora or Spotify for free.

In addition to masking noises, make sure noise pollution is reduced by keeping the television turned off and, if you’re on good terms with neighbors, suggesting they keep their dogs inside for the duration of the showings.

Additional ideas? The sound of wind chimes from a front or back porch or water gurgling in a small water feature. The goal is to make the home feel like a tranquil, private oasis.

Tip 5: Let buyers experience a taste of home

Remember the fresh-baked cookies from Tip 3?

“Add a note inviting buyers to taste the cookies, and place a flyer highlighting surrounding restaurants,” DePauw recommends. “We have a system to generate restaurant and school suggestions, and we keep that flyer on the counter for potential buyers.”

Other ideas? Bottled water in the refrigerator, or offering single-serving containers of trail mix or gummy bears. (Don’t forget to leave out napkins and trash cans to capture any mess before the next showing.)

A bedroom in a house for sale.
Source: (Francesca Tosolini / Unsplash)

Tip 6: More than meets the eye

Upgrade your light bulbs inside and out with warm, white-hued lights that create a calm, inviting ambiance. While doing that, ensure light fixtures are clean and free of cobwebs, dust, or other debris.

Also handy? Open the blinds or window treatments to let natural light in. If one room is darker than others, play with a combination of table, floor, and ceiling lights to illuminate or highlight the room’s best features.

In that same vein, DePauw suggests leaving out “any information about maintenance, warranties, or existing permits for future projects.” This adds value to the house.

Records in a binder or a spreadsheet detailing maintenance, existing warranties, or vendors used for certain services are a value-add to the house because it implies the house has been maintained by a detail-oriented owner who probably took care of every problem that ever arose,” DePauw says.

When it comes to staging, DePauw admits he’s not an HGTV-style agent: “Interior design is so subjective, and I don’t want to insult someone. I might bring up an evaluation of a staging company, and let the stagers be the experts and make suggestions where needed.”

If you’re interested in doing it yourself, HomeLight has an entire selection of Home Decor and Staging Tips that will help prepare the visual aspects of a home on almost any budget.

In addition to professional or DIY staging, using a few well-placed and well-kept house plants can go a long way toward making a house feel like home. Look for lush greens, such as ferns, yucca plants, or peperomias, or flowering plants such as geraniums, peace lilies, snapdragons, or begonias, all offering a good mixture of interesting foliage that’s also low-maintenance.

When preparing your house to go on the market, go beyond the usual cleaning and decluttering to perceive the space through all five senses. Highlighting the full experience of what it feels like to exist in your home can help your listing stand out from the competition, sell faster, generate a top-dollar offer, or sway that indecisive buyer toward making an offer.

Header Image Source: (Tim Mossholder / Unsplash)

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