As the creative duo behind Johnson + McLeod Design Consultants, Ian McLeod and Kerry Johnson have seen all sorts of homes in need of serious makeovers. But nothing could have prepared the Vancouverites for the horror they encountered when looking at a Gulf Island cabin they wanted to purchase for themselves. It wasn’t just the dilapidation that shocked them. It was the fact that it reeked.
The owners were lifelong chain smokers, plus after they died, the waterfront home sat empty for years without any heat on, resulting in rampant mould growth.
“The smell was very, very, old, strong cigarette smoke combined with Limburger cheese,” McLeod says. “You could see the orange nicotine on the walls. These people smoked themselves into the grave. It was a level of degradation that you’ve never seen before.”
Despite the stench, Johnson and McLeod bought the place anyway, transforming it into a dream cottage. It needed months of hard labour to clean it up, but the place was a steal.
In fact, smoking in the home is one of the worst things you can do if you plan to resell. The smell could lower the value of your property by up to 29 per cent, according to a recent survey of Ontario real-estate agents and brokers sponsored by pharmaceutical company Pfizer Canada. With an average house price in that province of $369,000, this could mean a loss of up to $107,000.
Cigarette smoke and other odours can be an instant turnoff, according to Ottawa real-estate broker Roch St-Georges.
“With some buyers, if we open the door and they smell smoke, they take a few steps backward and we leave,” St. Georges says. “They don’t even want to go upstairs and check it out. We close the door and go right to the next house.”
Nearly 90 per cent of real-estate agents said it’s harder to sell a home where the owners have smoked, according to the Pfizer survey. More than half of respondents (56 per cent) said most buyers are less likely to buy a home where people have smoked, while 27 per cent said most buyers are actually unwilling to buy a home where people have smoked.
Not everyone is put off by certain stinks, though. St. Georges just sold a house that smelled of a combination of pot and pet urine.
“There was a pretty strong marijuana smell, and also the dogs had just peed on the floor,” he says. “It wouldn’t have pleased everybody, but my buyers were okay with it. They smoke [marijuana] too.”
If you’re thinking resale, St. Georges suggests not lighting up in your living room.
“When you’re showing your place [to prospective buyers], you hide your toothbrushes, take things off the shelf, and pick up toys lying around on the floor, but [the smell of ] smoking isn’t something you can really get rid of,” St. Georges says. “You can only bake so many apple pies to try to get rid of the smell. The best thing to do is go outside and smoke.”
Interior designer McLeod, meanwhile, explains how he and Johnson got rid of the evidence of decades of cigarette smoking. “We used 40 gallons of Benjamin Moore antifungal oil-based primer-sealer to kill the odour, but not until everything had been washed many, many times with T.S.P. It was dreadful. I don’t even really like to think about it.”