Why does a Hershey’s kiss seem more special wrapped in shiny foil? What is it about that new-car smell? Have you ever drank wine out of a water glass? It didn’t taste as good, did it?
These universal sensory cues are difficult to explain but come down to “embodied cognition,” explains the Harvard Business Review, or the idea that our sensations influence our decisions as consumers, without us even realizing it.
Since our senses play a key role in our emotional processing, that means when buyers walk into your home, you want them to feel something they can’t put their finger on.
With subtle but powerful touches, you can orchestrate an experience that achieves just—while drawing focus to your home’s highlights.
“You don’t want them to come in the house and start immediately saying, ‘I’d need to change this. I’d need to do that,’ and start adding up the costs. Keep them on a positive note—like, ‘Wow, how beautiful is this?’”
With these tips for showing your house that appeal to all 5 senses, buyers will be telling their friends about your home and how it just “felt right.”
Sight: Make your home a show-stopping spectacle
We’ll begin with endless possibilities of appealing to a buyer’s sense of sight with intentional pieces of eye candy, starting with critical outdoor visual cues.
Appeal to buyers’ sense of sight before they step inside
1. Greet buyers with simple plants that bring your front steps to life
A few well-placed planters go a long way toward welcoming buyers right up to your front door.
Bright flowers are beautiful, but you don’t have to overwhelm your porch with them, especially if they’ll wilt without a lot of care. Instead, go for easy-to-grow plants that will look beautiful for showing after showing.
- Geraniums: Wordelman recommends geraniums because they’re colorful, bloom big, and can withstand changing conditions. Try red geraniums in a simple terra cotta pot.
- Snapdragons: Snaps offer the bright and bold look of other flowers but flourish in most conditions. Plant these in a grey ceramic or fiberglass planter.
- Caladium: Caladium is a green plant with a pop of purple or pink on its leaves and stems. It pairs well with other colorful flowers—look for deep pots and decorative metal stands to place on either side of your front door.
2. Mow your lawn like a pro
From a buyer’s perspective, landscaping is one of the most appealing exterior upgrades.
A well-manicured lawn is important, but what if you go the extra step to create that stadium-quality checkerboard pattern in your grass?
It’s as easy as mowing back and forth in straight lines parallel to your street or driveway. When you finish your entire lawn, turn your mower 90 degrees and do the same thing. If you want to get creative, try the same thing at a diagonal.
On the inside, remove distractions for a clean, minimal look
3. Hide cords out of sight
We all have dozens of devices, each with their own charging cords. These can be an eyesore if they’re hanging all over your home.
Collect all chargers that don’t need to be plugged in and stash them away in a drawer with a compartment organizer for each cord.
For TV or computer chargers that stay plugged in, bind multiple cords together with cable twisters and tuck the bunch behind your desk, shelves, or entertainment stand.
4. Stash “extras” in bins
Buy stackable bins of various sizes and colors, like the clip-top boxes from Sterilite, to hold assorted personal items that don’t have a home—knick-knacks, toys, that random single sock—and store behind long coats in your hallway closet.
Assign each family member a color (for the top or entire bin) so it’s easier to sort out odds and ends later, or use brightly-colored duct tape to differentiate between clear bins.
5. Put away personal items
You want your home to be welcoming, but not to the point that your personal photos and tchotchkes overwhelm the space.
Wordelman errs on the side of less is more, which means that the cleaner the house and the simpler the decor, the more buyers can really experience your home. You don’t need to add pillows and throws or hang extra art—in fact, pare down shelves, and pack mementos into the stackable bins.
“The less you have on the walls, in my opinion, makes the house look bigger and more open,” Wordelman says.
Smell: Deodorize, neutralize, and freshen
Humans have a very acute sense of smell, and our ability to distinguish between 1 trillion (yes, really!) different scents impacts how we perceive situations and people.
Ever walked the streets of New York City in the summertime? Two words: hot garbage. Think about how off-putting trash and pet odors might be for buyers, and start with simply neutralizing any strong smells in your home.
Wordelman advises sellers against using candles or incense or anything with a flame, in part because of the fire hazard. But she also says that overly scented or fake aromas, like those from plug-in air fresheners, may indicate to buyers that you’re trying to mask bad odors.
“You walk into a place and wonder ‘hmm, I wonder what they’re trying to cover up?’” she says. “So gentle smells, if any.”
6. Use mildly-scented cleaning products
One of the most important steps you can take before a showing is to clean, clean, clean! According to the Consumer Reports National Research Center, cleaning and decluttering could up your asking price by 3-5%.
Some products have harsh, bleachy odors, which is great for deep cleaning but not for showings. Use strong products ahead of time, and freshen up with milder, naturally scented alternatives from Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day or Method.
7. Take out the trash
Empty every trash can in your home, including kitchen, bathrooms, and kids’ bedrooms.
Stinky trash can overpower all other pleasant scents. Keep in mind when your garbage pickup occurs, as you also want to avoid overflowing dumpsters stinking up your yard or driveway.
8. Accent with natural aromas, if any at all
Plug-in air fresheners are too overpowering, says Wordelman—but here’s a trick: pick a gentle scent like clean linens, then unplug it a few hours before buyers arrive.
The scent will still linger but rather than noticing the aroma overtly, buyers will simply think that the home smells and feels fresh. They’ll be able to picture folding their clothes neatly into a basket on laundry day, once the house becomes theirs.
Other tiny touches can make your home smell better naturally, like grinding a lemon or orange rind in the garbage disposal or placing dryer sheets in your drawers.
Citrusy scents alone make buyers think a home’s worth more. In a 2016 experiment conducted by realestate.com.au, 44 home buyers were split into groups to tour the same home infused with various scents: brownies, hot bread, freshly made coffee, citrus, and dirty socks.
The results showed that the smell of citrus can boost buyers’ perceived value of a home by $100,000.
9. Address pet odors head on
Selling your home with pets takes a bit of extra work. You’ll need to deodorize, put away any pet products, and have a plan for your pet during showings.
- Store crates, beds, and litter boxes in your laundry room or closets, and gather toys into a designated bin or basket out of site.
- Steam clean your carpets to remove pet hair and accident odors.
- If your pets shed, clean up fur that’s stuck to furniture and floors. Lint rollers are a good place to start, but for larger surfaces use products like the Evercare Pet Mega Cleaning Roller (4 stars, $15.27 on Amazon) or the Evriholder FURemover Broom (4 stars, $19.57).
- Take your dog or cat to daycare, work, or a neighbor’s home when buyers come over. If you have fish, reptiles, rabbits, or other exotic animals, place them out of your main living areas and let the real estate agent know to expect them.
If the buyers are comparing your home to others (which they will be), they’re going to pick the one that doesn’t come with a pet odor, over a one that does.
It’s all about perception—even if the odor would disappear when you move out, in a buyer’s mind, there’s too much risk involved.
Hearing: What’s the music to buyers’ ears?
Sound should complement a buyer’s experience in your home, not cover it up—especially if there’s a lot of street noise or activity at your neighbor’s house.
Wordelman advises sellers to be upfront about any noise issues, adding that most homeowners have already taken steps to mitigate these concerns for themselves.
“We don’t want to seem like we’re hiding things,” she says. “[Buyers] might as well know about it now when they’re seeing it versus a week and half later when they show up to do the inspection.”
10. Play soft music in the background
Background music can set the mood for your showing and may even subtly sway buyers’ opinions: Research from the Journal of Retailing suggests that music can influence purchasing choices.
Wordelman recommends quiet music that doesn’t overpower conversations, like soft jazz.
If you have surround sound speakers in your home or an open floor plan, turn on music at a low volume in the main living area.
Otherwise, turn yours TVs to the same cable or satellite music station play consistent music throughout the family room, master bedroom, and basement.
“Usually our cable channels out here will have music stations, so that way you can put it on in multiple areas of the house,” she says.
Keep in mind that if you use the free versions of these services, you may be subject to commercials or listening time limits.
11. Make use of wind chimes and water features
Water features and wind chimes help lessen the impact of street noise, especially when buyers are exploring your front and back yards.
These decorations work best when the listener is close by—so they aren’t meant to drown out loud sounds if you’re inside.
Most home improvement stores stock self-install fountains to meet a variety of aesthetic preferences and budgets. You can also make your own with a planter, a plastic bucket, a bag of rocks, and a few simple tools. If you go the professional route, the national average cost to install a fountain or waterfall is just over $2,600.
Keep in mind that fountains are seasonal because they are generally connected to your outdoor water supply. If showings take place during colder months, you may not be able to make use of water features.
Wind chimes are even simpler and less expensive than water features.
Chimes will sound different depending on their size, shape, and material, so test a few out before you decide.
Woodstock Chimes makes wind chimes in a variety of tones that are highly rated and will set you back less than $50.
12. Talk to your noisy neighbors ahead of time
If you have a noisy neighbor—think barking dogs, loud music, or voices that carry—let them know about upcoming showings well in advance.
Address them in a non-confrontational way, ideally not in the midst of noisy chaos, and listen carefully to any concerns they have about your own noise levels.
Ideally, you aren’t just trying to stop the noise for a few hours—you’re attempting to make a lasting positive change to benefit your buyer.
Taste: Offer buyers a welcome refreshment break
Touring homes is exhausting!
Buyers will be showing up after long days of work, parched and close to delirious.
You don’t have to prepare a whole catered spread for showings, but some simple bites and beverages can help energize buyers to linger a bit longer in your home.
If they’ve seen multiple properties just before yours, refreshments will feel like a welcome—and necessary—break.
13. Treat buyers with bottles of water and simple snacks
- Place bottled water in your refrigerator with a visible note to agents and buyers on where to find them. If your fridge is cluttered, Wordelman says it’s best to leave bottles at room temperature on the counter—buyers will still appreciate it. If you stick to water, you also minimize the risk of spills damaging your furniture or floors.
- To-go bags with trail mix, chips, or other pre-packaged snacks are portable and easy for buyers to enjoy while they wander through your home.
- If you baked cookies for the sweet smell, leave them out in a cookie jar or tin for buyers to enjoy!
- To mitigate messes, offer napkins alongside your snacks, and place tasteful waste baskets around your home so guests don’t dump empty bottles and snack bags on furniture or make a mess.
Touch: Use textures to create a tactile experience for buyers
Buyers want to feel like they could live in your home, and texture can make them feel welcome if it’s not overdone.
When it comes to the sense of touch, Wordelman says she prefers to keep things clean and simple and work with what sellers already own rather than adding luxurious accessories purchased just for the sake of a showing.
Here are a few bonus tips to maximize touch without maxing out:
- Dust surfaces so that you can run your fingers over them and come up clean. Wordelman advises sellers to do a last-minute wet mop on hardwood floors so they shine.
- Vacuuming your carpet is an important step in your cleaning process, but it also revives the kind of texture that feels good on bare feet. Make sure you vacuum in both directions—and if you have pets or messy kids, have your carpets professionally cleaned. You can find cleaning services from trusted online resources like Houzz.
- If you have rugs around your home, make sure they’re as clean as your carpets and hardwood floors. Wordelman advises sellers to remove and store rugs for showings so the house feels as open as possible.
- You don’t need to replace every linen in every bathroom, but avoid putting your worn or dirty hand towels in powder rooms. After 115 hours of testing different towels, reviewers at the Wirecutter recommend the resort cotton hand towel from Frontgate, which feels “like a high-quality hotel towel” and will set you back less than $20 apiece.
The bottom line when appealing to buyers’ senses is to highlight what’s already great about your home—then give it a little extra oomph with simple touches and gestures.
“I’m all about not trying to trick a buyer,” Wordelman says. “I want them to see and experience as much of the house as they can so we’re not risking taking it off the market and turning around and having to go list again because they didn’t notice something.”
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