Researchers have found that of all the senses, smell is the one most closely associated with emotion. Maybe that’s why certain smells can instantly trigger memories of special people and places. And it may also be why new-home sales associates have long been fans of scent marketing, as it’s called, to help connect with that very emotional part of the brain.

With nearly 40 years of experience in the business, Dallas-based new-home sales trainer and consultant Bob Hafer can attest to its impact.

“When prospects come into model homes, they may be upset by a recent experience,” he says. “When they smell something like a fresh-baked apple pie, they are immediately reminded of a better time. It really doesn’t matter what the memory is—all that matters is the smell helps change the mental state the prospect is in. It sounds silly, but it does work.”

Hagerstown, Md.–based real estate marketing pro Brian Flook says scents also address one of the realities of having a building that essentially sits vacant.

“Model homes can easily become stale and pick up smells that are less than desirable,” he says. “If you have any question that good smells create positive feelings, simply visit a model where a careless salesperson recently microwaved fish. It’s an immediate turnoff.”

Does it matter what kind of scent is used? Jennifer Ruple, marketing manager for the San Antonio division of Pulte Homes, oversees model homes in 10 communities. She uses plug-in ScentWave systems that dispense the aroma of ­cookies, which are a popular choice with builders.

“When prospective buyers smell that,” she says, “it creates that moment of walking into a home where you’re baking cookies instead of walking into a house.”

Leigh Tarullo, an Orlando, Fla.–based sales trainer, says she’s a “huge fan of ­signature scents in model homes.” When she was a new-home sales manager, she used a variety of scents for several years before settling on vanilla as a standard because she considers it a “homey” smell and one that appeals to both men and women on an emotional level. Like Ruple, she ­prefers using a service that provides scent machines with refillable catridges over room air fresheners from the grocery store. Besides being comparably priced, “I didn’t want to have to rely on the salespeople or cleaning crews to monitor or change out plug-ins,” she says. “Plus, we found the scent lasted longer and more consistently through the home with the scent machine.”

Of course, scent marketing is only one small element of a sales presentation. “If you succeed at place, product, and price,” says Bob White, president of Marietta, Ga.–based Venture Homes, “this is an opportunity to attach a sensory memory point to a visual one.”

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Atlanta, GA.