Smells — and Barbara Walters obsession — can spell sour sales

By Bill Cresenzo | April 21, 2009 02:24PM

alternate textRendering of an apartment with problems brokers have to contend with.


New York City real estate brokers have always had their fair share of awkward situations with sellers, but in an up market, some things — like weird smells or odd photos — could be ignored or overlooked.

Not anymore.

“In this market, it is even more imperative to make sure that any property on the market is pristine, staged beautifully and smelling like someone who just got out of a shower — fresh and ready for action,” said Antonio del Rosario, an executive vice president at Barak Realty.

To ensure that condition, brokers have been forced into awkward conversations with sellers, often prefaced with, “I hate to tell you this, but…”

“I had an apartment that was owned by a gentlemen, and it didn’t smell nice, to put it mildly,” said Jill Sloane, an executive vice president with Halstead Property. “It smelled, well, like a stinky guy.”

So she used candles and air fresheners before showing the apartment.  

“It’s our job as brokers to tell people these things, whether they like it or not,” Sloane said.

Of course, candles and air fresheners can only do so much.

Del Rosario said he worked with sellers that “loved turtles and the apartment smelled like turtle turds. I could not hide that smell with scented candles or cookies. I told them, ‘People will throw up.'”

The apartment did sell, but for $25,000 less than the asking price. He said the stench contributed to the lower sales price.

Jill Vegas, owner of home staging company Jill Vegas Staging, recalled a recent gig.

“[There] was this yucky odor the second you walked in the front door. We were sitting in the living room talking, and all of a sudden, this Cockatoo came flying into the living room and landed on the owner’s shoulder.” The guest bathroom was the [two] birds’ hangout room and it was covered — covered — with bird doo-doo. It was really, really gross.”

She told the owner that the birds had to go. The owner wasn’t pleased.

“I wasn’t invited back,” Vegas said.  

Smells are one thing, but sights are another.  

Michele Peters, a partner with brokerage house Weichert-Peters, loved the fact that an apartment she had listed had extremely high ceilings.

And so did the seller, who outfitted the apartment with “a basketball hoop conveniently suspended ‘center court’ in the living room,” she said. “The seller thought it was just the best thing since white bread. [I had] to break it to him that it was just a wee bit — not what everyone was seeking.”

Frances Katzen, a senior vice president with Prudential Douglas Elliman, recalled a seller who had a “major blow up picture” of a Playboy Bunny.

“He also had artwork that was really graphic,” she said. “I had to tell him ‘The apartment is great, but … it might be great to take some of the things down, to create a more neutral palate.’ He really struggled with that.”

Barak’s del Rosario recalled a couple who showcased graphic photographs.

“They were activists, and they were trying to make a statement to people who viewed the apartment. But I told them there may be some people who would be offended by them. I told them I would price the apartment for $100,000 more if they would take the pictures down,” del Rosario said.

They complied and the apartment sold.

Max Dobens, a vice president at Elliman, said he sighs when he thinks about how during holiday seasons, he has to tell sellers to tone it down on the decorations.

“One lady was a very enthusiastic decorator [at] Christmas [time],” he said. “It felt like you were in a department store.”

Recently Dobens was working with sellers that loved Barbara Walters so much that they had an 18 x 24 photo of themselves with the “The View” host, from when they went to see the show live.

When prospective buyers came to the apartment, they “would not look at the apartment,” he said. “They would just focus on the picture of Barbara Walters.”