If you are contemplating the purchase of a house previously occupied by tobacco users, it's important to be aware of potential problems—including possible health issues. In this article, we outline six factors to consider when buying a home from smokers.

Possible Health Issues

Health issues arise from the presence of “third-hand smoke.” Third-hand smoke, also known as THS, refers to the sticky residue that contaminates indoor surfaces and contains nicotine and other harmful chemicals. THS can linger for weeks, months, or even years if not completely removed. THS residue can be found on the walls, floors, furniture, ceiling tiles, and carpets. Also, THS residue can be re-emitted into the air through a process called “off-gassing.” As a result, if you have smoke allergies or sensitivities, you should consult your physician before buying a house formerly occupied by smokers.

According to research from San Diego State University, children are especially vulnerable because they "spend more time low to the ground where house dust accumulates in carpets, kids are at a higher risk of suffering harmful health effects due to thirdhand smoke." In addition to inhaling THS, children, as well as pets, can ingest it through touching.

It's still debated in the scientific community as to the level of THS that's needed to cause health problems. However, health issues might include cancer, liver, and lung damage, hyperactivity, and even insulin resistance that can lead to Type 2 diabetes. To date, there is no cleaning solution that's available to completely eliminate THS from a home.

Key Takeaways

  • Buying a home from a smoker can lead you, the buyer, to deal with several issues, including smoke stains and odors.
  • Health issues can occur from third-hand smoke or THS, which leaves a residue that contaminates surfaces and contains harmful chemicals.
  • Restoration and cleanings costs can be high while the resale value of the home could decrease by 30% even if you're a non-smoker.
  • Homebuyers can stipulate that a seller thoroughly clean the house, including replacing the carpeting and painting the walls and ceilings.

Smoke Stains

Although health issues are the biggest concern, the residue left by tobacco smoke produces a yellowish-brown stain on ceilings, walls, and floors, in ventilation systems, and even on appliances. The stains are very difficult to remove, often requiring lots of scrubbing. Special primers and multiple coats of paint are usually needed on ceilings and walls.

Stains on some surfaces, such as blinds, window coverings, and carpeting are frequently so bad that the items need to be discarded and replaced. Also, residual nicotine can leach through multiple coats of paint.

Smoke Odor

The unpleasant smell of tobacco smoke can linger in a house long after the last cigarette was lit. Smoke particles attach themselves to almost any surface, but especially to soft and porous ones. Attempts to mask or cover up the smell with deodorizers are futile. Most non-smokers entering a house where smokers have lived can detect the odor almost immediately.

It’s important to realize that if you smell the odor of cigarette smoke in the house, it likely means that the carcinogens and stains are still there as well. So, in addition to the repulsive smell, you'll have to contend with unsightly stains and the potential health issues. 

Smoke Damage

Smokers don’t always use ashtrays. Countertops, carpeting, bathroom vanities, and other surfaces can suffer permanent damage when a cigarette has been left to slowly burn and eventually scorch the surface.

The most frequented areas of the home will likely have smoke damage, including the bathrooms, bedrooms, kitchen, basement, and garage. Carpeting, especially near where a couch or chair was located, could have burn marks or ground-in ashes from an overturned ashtray. 

Restoration Costs

Depending on how long smokers lived in the house, you could spend considerable time, effort, and money, restoring it to pristine condition. If a professional restoration company has to be brought in, the cost could be thousands of dollars.

Even in a best-case scenario, ceilings, walls, and floors will have to be scrubbed thoroughly, often repeatedly. The walls and ceilings will need to be primed with a special stain-covering product and painted with a minimum of two to three coats of paint. Soft or porous items, such as carpet, drapes, and blinds, will have to be professionally cleaned—although it's more likely you'll have to replace them.

Resale Value

According to realtor.com, smoking can reduce a home's resale value by nearly 30%, and sellers are not required to disclose that they smoked in the home. On the other hand, if you're buying a smoker's home, you'll need the discount in price to offset the costs of restoration, cleaning, and replacing any damaged items such as carpeting. Even if you're a non-smoker, but you buy a home where the previous owner was a smoker, the growing health concerns of THS as well as the difficulty of eliminating stains and odors could cost you when you sell the home.

The Bottom Line

If you discover that the house you're considering is a smoker’s house, you should ask for proof of professional restoration. You could also stipulate that the seller thoroughly clean the house, including replacing the carpet and painting the walls and ceilings. It's important to thoroughly inspect the home to ensure it's free of THS, smoke stains, and odors. If it's your responsibility to restore the home, be sure to include the appropriate charges in your offer to buy the house, meaning you might offer a lower price to help pay for the restoration.