We’ve all done it: Baked cookies or lit a scented candle before dinner guests arrive. Maybe you even turned on some Frank Sinatra to set the mood.
But new research shows that while popular scents or songs may elicit positive emotions, they can distract from our ability to make decisions.
“If you’re trying to sell your home, having the wrong smell or music playing is worse than having none at all,” said Eric R. Spangenberg, dean for the College of Business at Washington State University and longtime professor specializing in environmental psychology. “There is a lot of cognitive processing involved in a home purchase. A 30-year mortgage is a big decision.”
Spangenberg has studied the effects of scents and music in retail environments since the late ’80s. His latest research, published in the Journal of Retailing, shows that what consumers hear and smell is a determining factor in how much time and money they spend.
“The [home] staging business should incorporate other senses,” he said. “The science of olfactory cues is not being used. People use intuition, but a lot of intuition is based on urban myths more than it’s based on science.”
Spangenberg has three key principles to help sellers use smells and songs to make their homes more marketable.
No. 1: Keep it pleasant
If you’ve ever cringed walking through the perfume aisle in a department store, it’s probably because your brain was on sensory overload. Spangenberg says when a smell is that powerful, it’s all you can think about … literally.
“You want scents to be on the edge of your perception — not centrally processed,” he explained. This leaves the central part of your brain to do what it does best: process the task at hand.
For a home buyer, the focus should be on deciding whether to buy a home, not trying to identify and sort out a powerful scent. To ensure this happens, Spangenberg says sellers should limit how much scent they infuse into a space.
Music follows the same principle. A song that is louder than you’re used to will detract from your ability to focus on anything else.
“Abercrombie & Fitch has a strong environmental psychological element to what they do,” Spangenberg said. “They don’t want me — a 50-year-old male — in their store. It’s too loud for me.”
No. 2: Keep it simple
Spangenberg’s research has shown that simple scents are most effective in influencing shopping behaviors. In fact, his study found consumers spent 31.8 percent more on average when a home-decor store had a simple orange scent instead of a complex blend of orange, basin and green tea.
“Our results suggest the more simple, the less distracting,” he said. It goes back to the idea of freeing up the decision-making part of the brain. For home selling, Spangenberg says a simple citrus scent would be a better choice than a blend of potpourri.
Moreover, in his 2011 music study, titled “It’s all in the mix: The interactive effect of music tempo and mode on in-store sales,” Spangenberg found that music in minor mode was significantly more effective when accompanied by a slow tempo.
“Our ability to perceive and process those two things (mode and tempo) is hardwired in human beings,” Spangenberg explained, recalling an experiment conducted at a Nordstrom department store.
“Popular music wasn’t effective at keeping people there,” he said. “The problem was the tempo was too fast, making people move faster through the store than we wanted them to.” As a result, Nordstrom often has a live pianist play slower music in its stores today.
In the same way, home sellers could consider using simpler scents and slower songs to keep potential buyers interested.
No. 3: Keep it consistent
Finally, Spangenberg’s research suggests consistency or congruence is key. He advises home sellers to evaluate their environment, the season and their potential buyers.
“A wood-and-stone home should have scents congruent with that environment,” he said. “But in a home with no wood, you wouldn’t expect a pine scent.”
Spangenberg says that it’s this inconsistency — the fact that the smell doesn’t fit with its surroundings — that matters.
“If you walked down the spice aisle blindfolded and smelled cumin, you would think someone needs a shower,” he said.
At the same time, consistency with the season is important. For example, Spangenberg says you wouldn’t expect a spring scent during the winter or floral notes in a home with Christmas decorations.
He says inconsistency can take away from a potential buyer’s ability to think about purchasing a home. This includes gender preferences.
“If I am trying to sell a condo to a young, professional woman versus a man, I would use different scents,” Spangenberg explains. “It’s about doing what fits.”
Pending sales of existing homes dipped 0.4 percent from January to February, but remained at their second-highest level in nearly three years, according to an index maintained by the National Association of Realtors.
NAR’s Pending Home Sales Index, which represents existing-home contracts signed but not yet closed, slipped from a downwardly revised 105.2 in January to 104.8 in February. But February’s score was still up 8.4 percent from a year earlier, NAR reported.
The report comes a day after the S&P/Case-Shiller 20-City Composite Index posted its highest year-over-year gain in six years. The positive housing news helped drive the Dow Jones Industrial Average to a record high and push the S&P 500 Index to just two points short of its own all-time high.
A monthly report released yesterday also showed that new-home sales remained close to the four-year high that they reached in January, dipping 4.6 percent month over month.
Tight inventory, which has risen marginally recently, is preventing contract signings from increasing more, said Lawrence Yun, chief economist at NAR.
“Only new home construction can genuinely help relieve the inventory shortage, and housing starts need to rise at least 50 percent from current levels,” Yun said. “Most local home builders are small businesses and simply don’t have access to capital on Wall Street. Clearer regulatory rules, applied to construction loans for smaller community banks and credit unions, could bring many small-sized builders back into the market.”
Despite some bumps in the road, the housing upturn is “intact” and rising home prices are expected to boost household net worth and offset fiscal tightening, according to a monthly economic outlook released today by economists at Fannie Mae.
Tight inventories continue to restrain sales of existing homes. Although the number of homes on the market grew by nearly 10 percent from January to February, the 1.94 million homes for sale represented a 19.2 percent decline from the same time a year ago.
Pending sales of existing homes dipped 0.4 percent from January to February, but remained at their second-highest level in nearly three years, according to the National Association of Realtors.
New-home sales also slipped from January to February and builder confidence was down for the second month in a row in March. But housing starts reached a near five-year high in February and new-home sales climbed 12.3 percent year-over-year.
Fannie Mae economists project that existing-home sales, which were up 9.4 percent last year, wlll grow by an additional 10.5 percent this year, to 5.15 million homes, and by 6.2 percent in 2014, to nearly 5.5 million homes. Sales of new single-family homes are expected to post even stronger growth — 15.1 percent this year and 44.1 percent in 2014.
t sometimes happens that one of my columns will spark lots of questions from readers, as was the case with a past column on dryer venting.
Judging from the questions I’ve received, there’s apparently a lot of confusion and misconceptions about the subject of dryer venting, and a lot of people are struggling with misinformation that they’ve been gathering from friends, the Internet or other sources.
So it seemed like a good time to revisit this topic, and clear up a few misconceptions:
Misconception No. 1: It’s OK to vent the dryer directly into the house, so that the air can be used as either a source of humidity or a source of heat.