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Are your bad habits driving down the value of your home?

We all have quirks and habits, but did you know that some of the things we do without a second thought can cost tens of thousands of dollars when it comes time to sell your house? Here are five habits you might want to break if you're concerned about your bottom line.

Butt out
Hands down, smoking is the habit that will have the most dramatic effect on your ability to make the most of the sale of your house. Richard Buchanan runs a cleaning service in Ottawa and lists many Realtors, as well as the Ottawa Police Service, among his clients.

Buchanan is often called upon to clean homes that have suffered fire or water damage or have been the scenes of accidents. He says there is nothing more expensive to eliminate than the traces of cigarette smoke.

"To be honest, a heavy accumulation of cigarette smoke is like having a fire," he says. "While you're washing the walls you can see the yellow tar just running down the walls."

Any amount of smoking will do some damage, but the amount varies. "If you're trying to sell a house and you're a pack-a-day smoker, all your surfaces will be stained with nicotine, so you'll have to wash it, then seal it and repaint," he says. "You'll also have to clean the carpets and the air ducts. Sometimes you have to replace the flooring, and sometimes, if the cabinets are white, you'll have to replace the kitchen cabinets."

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Hiring a professional to wash everything in an average-sized home costs around $1,500 and to seal and paint will cost another $6,000.

"If you were to revamp a house to put on the market for a really heavy smoker, it could cost you around $25,000," says Buchanan. "It happens a lot. Some people are willing to swallow the loss, but either way, it's a lot of money."

Catherine Swift, a Realtor in Ottawa, agrees with Buchanan's assessment. "It is a difficult odor to get rid of -- it often requires painting and sometimes replacing carpets. Pet odor is a little easier to get rid of, unless animals have been urinating on the carpet."

The smell of money
Any strong smell will present a challenge to potential buyers, but as often as not, the smell of cigarette smoke in a house will mean many buyers won't even consider putting in an offer, however low.

Using chemical cleaners and air fresheners might make the problem worse. "When a home smells like air freshener, it makes me wonder what are they trying to mask," says Swift. She's not alone -- ask anyone who works in real estate, and they will tell you to clean like you've never cleaned before and then open your windows.

Pet odor runs a distant second to the damage done by smoking. The smell of cat urine is particularly difficult to remove and often requires replacing carpeting and sometimes even parts of the subfloor. Getting rid of the traces of poor pet hygiene can cost up to $15,000.

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-- Posted Apr. 21, 2010
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