13 Unexpected Turnoffs for Home Buyers

Surprises That Scare Home Buyers Away.

You’ve done everything in your power as the real estate agent or home seller to attract home buyers to your perfect house—but for some unfathomable reason, as soon as the prospect walks through the front door, they turn tail and flee!


Here are some well-intentioned tactics and accidental mishaps that can turn off potential home buyers.

1. Smells

That lovely new bacon-scented candle in your kitchen can come across as an unpleasant stench to vegans, vegetarians, or those who abstain from pork for religious reasons, not to mention anyone who isn’t fond of bacon. Everyone has different preferences when it comes to scents, and what you consider the best aroma on earth may be one that has others scurrying out of the house upon first sniff.

That’s not to say you should allow your house to smell like your dog or cat did something unpleasant for the tenth time in the dining room, or like Grandma just visited and smoked a cigarette in the living room, or even like the bathroom is developing mold on the ceiling. The safest scent is no scent at all: Get rid of as many odors as possible.

2. Baked Cookies

An old adage used to be to bake cookies in the oven for an open house, in order to put potential homeowners into the mindset that they were already home and therefore this must be the perfect home to buy. Although this tactic seems foolproof, it’s got one fundamental flaw: smells. There’s no way of telling who prefers chocolate chip cookies or oatmeal cookies, and having a house that smells too thickly of freshly baked goods can put off any gluten-allergic home buyers.

Again, the safest scent is no scent at all.

3. Dirt & Grime

You know the signs: a sink overflowing with dirty dishes, a stain on the floor that may be from the spaghetti dinner last week or the painting session last night, dirty and clean laundry mixed together on every surface in your teenager’s room, dirty grout between the tiles, and more.

Dirt. Grime. The easiest way to turn potential home buyers away is to show them how their dream home could become a nightmare home.

4. Clutter

Not to be confused with dirt, clutter means “too many objects in one place.” Although the fireplace mantel is a great place to display family photographs and all the knickknacks you’ve gathered from around the world, once you put too many items on display there, the focus goes from that lovely millwork adorning the mantel to the hodgepodge display of objects slowly but surely overtaking the mantel.

Fortunately, cleaning up clutter is the perfect excuse to be proactive and begin packing up your home! Be sure to get an expert opinion from a home stager, as the vase of fresh roses on your dining table and the ultra-modern art deco on your wall may actually be conducive to showing off the functionality of the room.

5. Music

Music runs along the same vein as baked cookies: It can put people in the right mood, and you really want to put them in the mood to buy this house today, but everyone has a different preference for music. That soothing jazz or modern hip-hop could come across as a disruptive cacophony of noises. Not to mention, if the music is too loud, it prevents people from have a conversation and discussing how much they love the open and airy feel of your living room.

6. Overenthusiastic Decorations

As with music and scents, everyone has a different preference for how to decorate their home. The floral floor-to-ceiling draperies framing the windows may match the carpeting, but they can also limit how much sunlight gets into the room and draw too much attention to themselves instead of the lovely shape and size of the windows.

A professional stager, or your real estate agent, can help guide you toward decorations that emphasize the space and functionality of the room without offending on an individual’s aesthetic preferences.

7. Improperly Hung Art

A general rule of thumb is to hang artwork at eye level, so that people aren’t craning their necks back to look up at the picture or bending down to see it properly. If the artwork is hung too high or too low, it can cause people to think the room is disproportionally small or tall, and it can put them off.

If you’re not sure whether artwork is hung at the right level, ask a friend—or better yet, your real estate agent! They’ll give you honest feedback that can really help to sell your home.

8. Odd Use Of Living Space

For a variety of reasons, a garage could be converted into a family room, a family room into a spare bedroom, and a spare bedroom into a dining room, and so on. In the moment, this may resolve a lot of storage and space problems—but when selling the home, it can really confuse and turn off buyers.

A house without a garage is a big minus. Walking through the front door and straight into the bedroom can come across as crude and invasive. There’s no easy way to temporarily fix this besides packing the room up and rearranging furniture, but in the long run, it’ll help sell your home faster and get you into your new, perfect home where you don’t need to use the living space in unconventional ways.

9. Pets

Fido may be the friendliest dog in the neighborhood, but to someone who was bitten by a dog as a child and now has an irrevocable fear of all canines, Fido is a sign that this house is just not the right one.

As often as possible, be sure to take your pets with you outside of the house when your house is being shown. If you can’t take your pets with you, ensure that they are securely locked in their kennel and tucked away where they won’t bother visitors. Be sure to put up a sign near your front door stating that the pet is securely confined; visitors will appreciate the extra warning.

10. Misrepresented Listing Details

Misrepresenting your home can not only deter potential home buyers, it can destroy your reputation and even be illegal, depending on how much you deviate from the truth. Posting a picture of a corner of the room that shows only the wall and the carpeting, without showing the fireplace, isn’t illegal but it will prevent buyers from knowing that your dining room has a really great fireplace. Stating that your home has a three-car garage when it really has a one-car garage and a permit for parking two cars elsewhere could be illegal.

It’s better to be truthful in your listing details than not, and it’s best to put up the best pictures that you can take of each room.

11. Darkness

It’s hard to fall in love with a house when you keep bumping into the walls. Some lightbulbs take a few minutes to warm up to their full brightness, so as soon as you know that you’ll be having visitors, be sure to turn on all the lights in the house.

If all of your windows have draperies, curtains, blinds, or shades, be sure to pull them up or tie them back in order to let the most light into the room. Sunlight naturally improves a person’s mood, so the increase in natural light will help potential buyers perceive the home positively. (That’s why we always recommend cleaning the windows when you’re selling a home!)

12. Visible Signs Of Decay

Mold on the ceiling? Cabinets that have clearly been nibbled on by some creature or insect? A gutter that’s dangling halfway off the house? These are immediate red flags to any buyer. And depending on the buyer’s home loan (such as if it’s a VA Loan), they also may not be able to buy the house if it’s not in stable, move-in-ready condition.

If your house isn’t in tip-top shape, be prepared to set aside some cash to fix it up before listing it or to put a clause in your selling agreement stating that you will pay for the repairs.

Another possibility is to sell the home “as-is,” which generally appeals to investors rather than buyers seeking a new home for themselves. In this case, be prepared for the home to sell at a lower price.

13. Follow The Buyers. Everywhere.

Yes, this is your home. Yes, it’s nerve-wracking to have strangers in your house. But following them around like a hovercraft, while it will get them out of your home faster, won’t get your home sold any more quickly. Trust your real estate agent to be observant, ensuring that no shady characters trespass while your home is being shown, and protecting your belongings, while finding the next family that will love your home as much as you do.


For home staging and showing tricks and tips, check out our blogs Selling with Success: How to Stage Your Home Effectively and How to Stage Your Home in 2 Hours, 30 Minutes, or 10 Minutes.

Selling your home doesn’t have to be stressful or headache-inducing. At Howard Hanna Real Estate Services, our goal is to help you make Home Happen Here.® With our one-stop shopping, we offer real estate services, mortgage services, title and escrow services, and insurance services, taking the worry out of moving by walking you through your entire home buying or selling experience. If you’re moving to a new area, our global and local Howard Hanna Relocation Services can also assist you with the relocation process.


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