The Immovable Stink: How Smoking Can Reduce your Property Value

by : Calum MacKenzie

Smoking cigarettes used to be a symbol of sophistication and style. Classic black and white films featured glamorous movie stars enveloped in a dreamy haze of smoke, which created an aura of mystery and seduction. Now that we know about the health risks involved, world opinion has turned on this past time, and smoking bans are popping up in restaurants and bars around the nation. Despite the dangers, many people still choose to light up. For some, it is a pleasant way to unwind at the end of the day, while for others it is a raging addiction that can't be controlled.

While smoking is certainly bad for your health, it can also be a drain on your property value. The smell and the stains penetrate every surface, and are very tough to get rid of. Buyers don't want to live with your tobacco fumes, and will either nix your house completely, or take thousands of your asking price.

Smoking inside is a terrible, yet totally preventable mistake that homeowners make. The smell of cigarette smoke is not only present for an hour or two after you light up, but affixes itself to the furniture, carpets, and walls. Ceilings are also vulnerable, as the smoke rises and is absorbed in the paint and wood. This odor is unmistakable, and no matter how many cans of air freshener you use, the stench refuses to leave.

If you plan on selling your home, the first thing you need to do is attack the smell head on, and get rid of it as much as possible before potential buyers walk through the door. If they enter the property and are hit with the remnants of cigarettes, chances are very good that they will immediately take your home off their radar. No one wants to move into a stinky house, especially one in which the smell is so toxic and hard to remove.

To reduce the odor, you need to air the rooms out. Keep windows open as much as possible, and get all upholstery, window coverings, and rugs steam cleaned. Anything made of fabric needs to be washed thoroughly, or else the scent will return.

Smells and stains also stick to hard surfaces like cupboards and walls. Traditional cleaners including ammonia or bleach can help to some degree, but the results are often temporary. Take Agnes' situation, for instance. When she bought her current home, she knew that the previous owner was a smoker, but thought that a little ammonia and a lot of elbow grease would solve the problem. Five years later, Agnes can still clearly smell cigarettes on her kitchen cupboards. No amount of cleaning has made the residue of old tobacco budge.

For hard surfaces like walls, the most effective method is to clean the area with Tri-Sodium Phosphate, which is a heavy duty cleaner. After cleaning, apply a thick primer, which prevents stains and smells from seeping through. Once you've cleaned and primed, you can go ahead and paint. Whatever you do, don't simply paint the walls without cleaning and priming first. Otherwise you'll end up with ugly yellow stains that emerge right after the paint is dry. The odor also returns with a vengeance.

After fabrics, walls, and ceilings have been taken care of, look for little things like light bulbs and paintings, which absorb scents as well. Clean everything, down to the smallest detail! To sweeten the room, you can burn scented candles, or spray perfume on the light bulbs. When they heat up, the aroma will fill the room.

One other word of caution: if you have every smoked in the bathroom, you will need to scrub everything with TSP. Steam can release cigarette smoke that has been lying dormant in grout and walls. Your buyers will not be impressed if every time they take a hot bath, they're assaulted with the stench of tobacco. They may even try to come after you legally for creating a potential health hazard in the home.

No one wants to deal with the aftermath that comes with years of smoking in a home, especially prospective buyers. If you haven't been able to remove the odor, then be prepared to knock a fair amount off of your asking price. Otherwise, you will be hard pressed to find buyers interested in taking on your home.