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York Co. real estate agent creates smell that sells

Selling a house in York County is a simple matter of economics, says real estate agent Stephen Cooley - too few buyers, too many homes.

The numbers are numbing.

Buyers have dropped 70 percent from 2005, he said. The number of homes for sale has increased 50 percent - many are foreclosures. Locally there are 16 homes for every buyer, he said.

For the seller, that means everything must be perfect, said Cooley, a leading agent with Keller Williams.

Perfect, he said, means having a home that appeals to the five senses.

"It's about creating a sellscape," he said - and avoiding "vanilla dog."

Sellscape factors include how the house appears from the street, whether the interior is attractive, whether the home is properly staged and decluttered.

Sellscape also means getting your neighbors to clean up their houses - as well as any unattended properties in the neighborhood. After all, Cooley said, your home sale will affect the value of their home.

Most of these factors rely on the homeowner's taking action - sometimes expensive action.

Cooley wanted to give sellers a simple tool that can save them from losing as much as a quarter their home's value.

He wants homes that smell inviting - no yesterday's fish, no dog hair, no lingering tobacco smoke.

To create that atmosphere Cooley, in conjunction with the Old Wilmington Candle Co., created a candle that cleanses the air without leaving a telltale aroma.

He calls the candle "The Scent That Sells."

"Five years ago there was not much of a need for this," Cooley said. "Now, we have to have solutions for every house problem."

Smells can trigger both good and bad memories in a potential buyer, Cooley said.

"A strong smell can drop the value of a home 25 percent, on average," he said.

Traditional tricks to mask aromas include grinding a lemon in the garbage disposer, baking something fragrant in the oven, and burning scented candles. Most of the commercially available candles that claim to remove odors come in various scents.

The problem with these tactics is that you add an aroma to the mix.

The result, Cooley said, is "you have vanilla dog," or "you cook an apple pie, but that doesn't help the bathroom."

Cooley wanted a candle that left no odor, leaving, "an indescribable smell."

The Old Wilmington Candle Co. in North Carolina accepted Cooley's challenge.

Michael Lambrix, one of Old Wilmington's owners, said the company started with a soy base. Candles are traditionally paraffin based, which is derived from petroleum. But paraffin produces soot, Lambrix said, and 95 percent of its burning aroma lingers in household items.

Lambrix mixed the oils of vanilla, sandalwood, musk, patchouli, cherry and peach with the soy. The wick is cotton. The result is a candle that burns cleanly and the scent is - as Cooley wanted - indescribable.

"He wanted a clean smell with a homey atmosphere," Lambrix said.

The company went through numerous blends and Cooley made several trips to the North Carolina coast to smell its efforts. While he liked many of the blends, their smells were too strong.

"He likes uniqueness," Lambrix said, "He wanted the perfect scent."

When Old Wilmington got the right scent, Cooley tested the candle at a dog kennel and in a smoker's house.

When the candle passed those tests, Cooley put it to its toughest test - letting homebuyers try it.

Cooley and his clients liked the results. He has been selling the candle for $26 since Aug. 1. A month later, he started selling the candles online at

So far, he has orders from California, Nebraska and the New England states.

While Cooley personally likes several of the scented alternatives the Old Wilmington Candle Co. tried, he has no intention - at least for now - of pursuing them.

"I don't want to be a candle maker," he said, "I just give sellers another tool to get their homes sold."