Home Buying: How to Tell If Smokers Are Hiding Tobacco Smell
An Important Tip for Home Buyers
If you're buying a previously owned home, you need to know this! Smokers mask smoke odors with tips taught by realtors. But you can still tell that those odors exist if you know what to look for—and if the smoker's agent hasn't figured out this trick, too.
You don't want to walk into your new home to find THIS!
This is an actual photo taken by a first-time buyer after she entered her newly purchased home. She had expressed concern about a very faint smoke odor to the seller, who brushed it off by saying her boyfriend wasn't allowed to smoke inside the home. After the home was sold, piles of used cigarettes and messes like this were left all over the house. The house reeked of smoke and required several thousand dollars of cleaning to get the smoke smell out.
Cigarette Smells Are Easier to Mask Than to Remove
You would think that you'd be able to tell a smoker's home just by taking a sniff, right? Wrong. There are ways to mask the cigarette smell, temporarily. Unfortunately, methods for getting out tobacco odors and stains for good are expensive, so sellers will just do a quick fix to conceal the stench.
Smokers' homes are hard to sell. Google "selling smokers home" for many pages on this problem. Unless you are a smoker, you may want to avoid the hassle and go to the next house. For the moment, it's still a buyer's market, so you certainly can afford to do so.
Ways to Recognize a Smoker's Home
Remember, realtors are doing all they can to help sell a home.
Initial Warning Signs
- If windows and doors are open and/or there are plug-in deodorizers in every room, that's a warning sign.
- Ditto if there are scented candles burning and/or the smell of fresh-baked anything.
How You Can Investigate
If you tour the home when the seller's out, it's easier to tell.
- Sniff drapes, carpets, and upholstered furniture. Especially sniff the closets and clothes. It's hard to hide cigarette smell on clothes.
- Scoot furniture or tilt pictures. There's often a lighter area underneath or behind things, with a faint yellow or brown stain around it.
- Run your finger along the curtain rod in an area where clothes haven't been moved in a while. They probably didn't take all the clothes out of their closets to wipe down the curtain rods.
- If there's a computer tower, game console, or other major piece of electronics, look behind it if you can. Fans and anything that generates static electricity will attract smoke particles, which leave a dark stain on the desk/carpet.
You shouldn't feel shy about shifting pictures or furniture if the seller's present—you're about to spend a lot of money, after all! But here are some more tips.
- Cigarette butts in the patio, on the sidewalk, or in the garden, especially in empty flower pots. They clean out all traces inside the house, but they tend to forget outside.
- Yellow or brown stain or soot inside light fixtures and lamps.
- It's standard for sellers to paint the walls, so a fresh coat of paint isn't a giveaway. But a smoker has to paint to cover up the stains! Otherwise it'll look like this (well, maybe not that bad).
- The fresh coat of paint helps, but not forever. Nicotine sweats through even tough latex paint. And THAT is your secret weapon.
Best Way to Recognize a Smoker's Home
Even if They've Gotten the Odor Out
Smokers can take many steps to scrub walls, ceilings, floors; replace stinky carpets and curtains; and repaint every surface to cover up stains and mask odors. If they live in a warm area, they may take to leaving the windows open all the time to keep air circulating and odors moving out.
But there's one place that gives away the home's history: the master bathroom. Unless the owners have really and truly gotten all the nicotene stains out (and they often just paint over them), sticky yellow-brown drips will sweat through the paint on the walls. There may only be a few of these spots around doorframes, in corners where they scrubbed less vigorously. But within a few months of repainting, they'll start to come through.
They can be wiped off with a wet towel, but they'll keep coming back for a few years.
Below is the underside of an open doorway into a master bathroom. Yuck!
How to Remove Smoke Odor from a House
If you love the house and want to risk it...
The good news is that you can remove the stench. After all, homes damaged by fire can often be rebuilt and saved, and they get a lot of smoke damage!
But depending on the amount of time people smoked in the house, it may be an expensive restoration: several thousand dollars, at least. Keep this in mind when negotiating the price.
Here's how to get out the smoking smell for good:
- Remove all furniture and fabric: carpets, drapes, even cloth wallpaper. You're probably not going to be able to wash them well enough to get the smoke out.
- Have all ductwork thoroughly cleaned. Or, better, just get the A/C, furnace, and ducts replaced and upgraded to a more energy-efficient system. Again, negotiate down the price for the repairs you'll have to do.
- Clean walls/ceilings/floors/insides of cabinets THOROUGHLY. Many sites recommend a vinegar or lemon juice scrub -- apparently acidic cleansers are good at attacking tar. But you'll want a professional cleaning service. Or, better, go straight to a fire/smoke damage restoration service.
- Put activated charcoal odor absorbers in all closets, cabinets, garage.
- Make sure to clean all the the light fixtures and other recessed, slightly inaccessible areas.
- Remove any popcorn ceilings. Replaster as needed. It's your new home... make it nice!
- OZONE THE HOUSE. This is the biggest step. Note that no people, pets or plants can be in the house during the ozone process.
- Prime. Maybe twice. Then repaint everything.
Where to Get an Ozone Treatment
Rent a Generator or Hire a Service
Search the yellow pages or Google for: Ozone shock treatment, odor removal ozone services, ozone generator rental, smoke/fire damage restoration.
While many companies let you rent an ozone generator, you may wish to try a smoke/fire damage restoration company. They deal with extreme cases of smoke damage, so mere cigarette smoke shouldn't be as bad. Just watch out for scammy companies; there are many contractor-type companies who make a career of exploiting people in desperate situations. If anything they say smells "off" to you, trust your nose.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2011 Ellen Brundige