Most real estate investors know that a “smoking home” can be a bear to clean up. However, the issue may go far beyond the cost of smoke and stain removal. According to a new report from, smoking in a home can reduce property value by up to 29 percent. That number could climb as more studies on “third-hand” smoke (THS), the residue left on walls and in fabrics long after a smoker has left the area, indicate that this remainder may be extremely harmful.

Joshua Miller, director of technical training at home restoration company Rainbow International, told reporter Audrey Ference, “The lingering odor isn’t just unpleasant; studies have also linked it to cancer.” He added THS is particularly dangerous for pets and small children since both are more likely to transfer smoking residue on their hands and into their mouths.

Not Just an Issue of Smell Anymore

Historically, savvy real estate investors have been happy to purchase smokers’ homes at deep discounts because, with some very hard work, they are able to purge the smell and clean the home. While the upfront investment in cleanup and remediation may be hefty, the payoff usually is as well. However, the new THS research may mean more remediation than has been necessary in the past and, possibly, that the new owner will need to work closely with an inspector to find out if there is a serious issue with THS..

Sellers are not presently required to disclose if a former resident is a smoker. Ference warned a fresh coat of paint can temporarily mask the smoky odor but that it will likely return.

Are Smoky Houses a Lost Cause?

Does this mean you simply shouldn’t buy a home that belonged to a smoker? Not necessarily. Here are a few steps that may help remediate the smell issue as well as problems with THS:

  • Professionally cleaning the air ducts
  • Changing all filters on heating and cooling systems
  • Cleaning the evaporator coil in the HVAC unit
  • Replacing the HVAC entirely
  • Washing the walls and ceilings
  • Changing the lightbulbs
  • Painting walls and ceilings with a neutralizing primer and fresh paint
  • Steam cleaning the carpets
  • Washing and/or replacing curtains and drapes
  • Installing HEPA filters and charcoal odor prefilters
  • Using a dehumidifier

Bryan Blankenship, CEO of Ohio Turnkey, added that in his experience, shellac-based primers work best as an under-layer before fresh paint. “If you are going to buy a smoker’s home, just realize how much work you are going to have to do [when you buy it],” he warned. “You will have to remove all soft surfaces entirely just to get started.”

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  • Carole VanSickle Ellis

    Carole VanSickle Ellis serves as the news editor and COO of Self-Directed Investor (SDI) Society, a membership organization dedicated to the needs of self-directed investors interested in alternative investment vehicles, including real estate. Learn more at or reach Carole directly by emailing

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