Buying and selling real estate – especially in pricey, overheated Silicon Valley – can make a wreck of anyone. Sometimes clients turn to me and say “how can you do this for a living?” They are bewildered that I can take so much stress. (The short answer is that helping someone to buy or sell is not the same thing as buying or selling one’s own property!)
Having worked with many home buyers and sellers, and having bought and sold real estate myself, I can verify that even the easiest, smoothest transactions are still very stressful. Some are worse: sales after a divorce, death, forced relocation, bankruptcy, illness (and medical bills) all pile on the emotions and in many cases, worry. Several times I’ve had clients battle or get diagnosed with cancer while in the middle of a home sale.
Happy reasons for buying or selling do make it easier, but the sheer volume of things to do and manage can be overwhelming even so.
While I wear a lot of hats in my career, I am not a counselor. However I can offer some suggestions based on my experiences that may help stressed out home buyers and sellers. If you tend to be a worrier, or have a lot of other big things going on in your life, it may not be a bad idea to get help via a therapist for these weeks / months to manage the stress. Wherever you’re at in your home sale, I hope these help.
Home buyers and mitigating stress
Taking on that big, new mortgage can be terror-inducing. So can packing up the place you’ve called home for the last 10+ years. I know, I’ve bought and sold homes of my own! Everything looks and feels worse when you wind up awake at 2am from jitters, by the way. Just know that it can happen, and remind yourself that it will look and feel better at 10am than it does in the middle of the night with too much on your mind.
While some of these tips are more buyer or seller oriented, both sides can feel the weight of any of these (and sometimes more) stressors and hopefully benefit from the suggestions.
Here are a few home buyer stress reduction tips:
- Lending worries – this tends to be The Big One. The best defense against stress here is good information. Know that the banks may qualify you for more than you are comfortable borrowing. Don’t be pushed. Before deciding what’s a good or bad loan and purchase amount, consult with a CPA or other tax professional to get a sense of the “net impact” of your loan. Once you have that info, you should be in a better position to decide, and that will ease your mind. Ditto with the various loan products – get lots of info on the options (30 year fixed, 10-1 arm or?), and then when you decide you will feel better because you are better informed.
- Other money worries – future costs count too and homes need ongoing maintenance. For older homes, you may want to budget and save about 1% of the value of the home for repairs and/or replacement per year since built unless your new abode is brand new. You will not use this much per year, but do aim to save that much. If you can put that away, then it will not be scary or horrible when you need a new roof, sewer line, kitchen, or whatever because you have prepared for it. People tend get into trouble when they find that replacing things over time is a shock to the budget. Plan for it and you will feel less stress because you are ready. (That goes for insurance too: if you make sure that you have a strong policy, you will sleep better at night).
- Categorize under “obvious”, but get enough sleep, be careful about having too much caffeine, alcohol, etc. Take care of your health because even the most unavoidable stress can run you down. Try to get to bed at the same time each night. Try not to look at computers or your cell phone for a half hour or more before going to bed (that blue light tells your brain to stay awake.) Get exercise, even if it’s walking 20 minutes a day. Eat right (veggies and fruits). You will feel better and you will handle stress better if you are better rested and nourished.
- While you’re being diligent about your sleep and what you eat, also mind what you listen to. People love to give advice – even if it’s not any good! Beware the poor “over the cubicle wall” advice, or people from out of the area telling you how to negotiate here. Nothing good can come of getting bad advice. Consider where the advice is coming from, and check with a qualified professional whether that’s your Realtor, lender, or attorney if necessary.
- Related to all that: hire a good Realtor. Please. There are gobs of Realtors in this area. My local MLS has around 16,000 members. The top 1/3 or top 1/4 are probably really good and they don’t charge more than the rest. A good Realtor will help you to ID red flags, find a good lender, navigate you through the process of writing an offer and the acceptance and the escrow. The seller pays the fee so there is NO reason to be stuck with a bad agent. If you have help from a strong, ethical agent whom you can trust, it will help your stress level!
- Many people swear by meditation. I wouldn’t vote against it!
Home sellers: worry reduction tips
- The stress of too much stuff and what to do with it – Begin the thinning out process as far in advance as possible, as this is frequently the biggest stresser, and it’s more true the longer you’ve been in your home. If you think you’ll be moving in 5 years, decide to break down the work and start now with the sorting: items to keep, items to give to family members or friends, items to donate, items to sell, items to toss. Maybe do one room per month, or one set of boxes in the garage per month. I suggest doing it one chunk at a time because you can feel a sense of accomplishment as you go, and that helps! Of course, if you don’t have the luxury of going at your own pace and you needed things packed yesterday there are resources to help you, such as professional packers or estate sales companies. Needing help is perfectly normal, and getting it can be a major stress reliever!
- Being rushed and having to deal with too much stuff – Sometimes it’s not possible to start this process ahead of time – sometimes there’s a forced relocation due to a job transfer, a change in health, etc. If you have a lot of “stuff”, and you are rushed, ask family and friends to help you (if you will allow them to do so). Or pay a professional organizer to assist you. Either way, when the worry about all those things is lifted, you will feel better. If all else fails, and truly this is a last resort, haul it to storage and deal with it later – but do get it out of there.
- Hire well – Hiring a good Realtor is just as true for sellers, if not more so, since your listing agent will give you guidance on what to do to get ready for the market that will give you the best bang for your buck. If you feel assured that you are getting good guidance, you will feel confident throughout the transaction. A good agent will make sure you understand what’s happening, keep an open line of communication to field your questions, and make sure you’re on-track with your schedule.
- Have a contingency plan – often when selling, the biggest fear is not having another place to go to. So before you begin, make a plan! Work with professionals to identify your possible budget, where you’d like to move, and the market there. It can help if you make a plan to put your belongings in storage and get them when you’ve bought your new home. This is true whether doing a move up or move down or lateral transaction. Please also read “How to Sell One Home and Buy Another Without Losing Your Mind“
- “This too shall pass” – when having to keep the house clean for showings and inspections starts to get to you, know that it’s temporary. Take a deep breath and remind yourself that it’s only for a little while.
- As with home buyers: get enough sleep (stress is draining), get enough exercise, and try to eat healthfully. When you’re physically stressed, it won’t help your mental stress levels! It all adds up.
If you feel that you are experiencing more than the normal Silicon Valley real estate stress, do not hesitate to call on professional help. This is big stuff and there’s no shame in getting assistance.