There's a category of online real estate information that I refer to as "advice for morons" that offers such stunning insights as, perhaps you ought to tidy up the house before you put it on the market.
Another perennial tip: Bake some chocolate chip cookies while the place is being shown to potential buyers, because the aroma will make them feel as if they have come home. They'll be hopelessly hooked, and they'll write you a check on the spot.
Eric Spangenberg laughs at the chocolate chip cookie advice and brands it an urban legend. Still, baking something when you're trying to sell a house isn't a bad idea — it just has to be the right "something," he said.
Spangenberg, dean of the Washington State University College of Business in Pullman, Wash., recently published research that he maintains demonstrates that the right scent wafting through the room will influence consumers to spend more money. But the KISS Principle (Keep It Simple, Stupid) is at work here, he said — stick with simple scents, as opposed to "complex" ones.
The researchers, whose work recently was published in the Journal of Retailing, tested a store's sales levels when hundreds of shoppers were exposed to "background" scents of a straightforward orange aroma versus an orange-basil blended with green tea versus no scent at all.
Sales went up noticeably, by 20 percent, when the plain orange scent hung lightly in the air, the researchers concluded.
Spangenberg cautioned against strictly applying his findings about retail sales to the selling of houses (he and colleagues studied consumers in a home decor store in Switzerland), but Spangenberg, who for years has studied the uses of scent in marketing, said the basics should apply.
He said such straightforward scents as orange — or perhaps lemon or cinnamon or pine — are easier for shoppers to "process" and they add to the shopping experience. Blended, or "complex" scents, such as the orange/basil/green tea mix, make our brains work a little harder.
Put another way, they're a distraction, Spangenberg said.
"I've noticed in some homes for sale that they will scent with a potpourri blend that may be very pleasant, but it's just too complex," he said. "There are too many scents in potpourri.
"When you're in the real estate business, you want someone to walk in and want to stay in the house, so you want (the scent) not to be overbearing, but familiar. You want it to encourage revisiting, because sometimes it takes several visits to decide to buy."
If a home seller wants to introduce a scent, Spangenberg cautions against the devices that plug into outlets and waft the aroma around the house.
"They're meant to last 30 days, and the first days, they might be way too strong," he said. "You can't control them."
A better option would be the various types of diffusers that warm and then mechanically waft the scent of oils within a room, Spangenberg said. (Other diffusion methods are as simple as dabbing a few drops of essential oils onto a tissue.)
But sellers ought to test-drive the effects before setting out any type of diffuser and leaving the house for a would-be buyer — a little bit goes a long way, and "little" is what one is aiming for, he said.
The baking tactic isn't necessarily bad, but Spangenberg isn't big on the aroma of chocolate chip cookies — for selling anything.
"It's too complex," he said. "You've got chocolate, you've got vanilla."
Instead, consider warming the humble, and simple, cinnamon bun, he said.
"That's what I'd do if I were selling a house," he said. "I wouldn't spend a lot of money (compared with purchasing a mechanical diffuser). After all, we're just guessing here" when it comes to possible aromatic influence on real estate sales.
Spangenberg said that after his research was released in late November, he was inundated with media inquiries about how scent might influence Christmas retail sales.
He also was asked whether such efforts might amount to manipulating or tricking consumers.
But adding scent isn't nefarious, he said.
"Retailers are always looking for an edge," he said. "And if retailers consider it, home sellers should consider it too.
"If you're in a competitive market, you should think about such things as lighting, colors, music and smell. People process (information) with all of their senses, whether they realize it or not. If you're looking for an advantage, why not use any advantage you can get?"
Spangenberg, whose house is not for sale, said that before he could offer more specific advice to homeowners, he'd have to solve his home's own set of aroma concerns.
"Our issue would be to make sure the house doesn't smell like dog," he said.