Selling a Home: What To Expect Emotionally

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I put my house on the market last summer. It didn’t sell; not a big surprise in this economy. Nevertheless, it was a happy/sad occasion to get it listed.

Happy: I wanted to downsize to something that suited my needs better, since my daughters were starting to move away.

Happy: I was looking forward to not having a mortgage. Having been in real estate for the past five years, I had been struggling to keep up payments.

Sad: It didn’t feel good to be in that situation, but I felt I didn’t have a choice.

Sad: Several months worth of prep work to get it ready for showing were exhausting and emotional.

Best advice on selling a home isn’t the whole picture

As a real estate agent, I told my clients to de-clutter as much as possible so potential buyers could see the bones and get a sense of living there themselves. If there is too much of you in the house, they get distracted when looking and may not be able to visualize themselves having coffee, watching a movie, raising children or entertaining in what could be their new home.

I’d tell them:

  • Put away pictures, knick-knacks and family mementos.
  • Take out as much furniture as you can, even if you have to put it in storage.
  • Put away your countertop appliances.
  • Do small repairs – touch-up painting, window washing, deep cleaning if necessary.
  • Think ‘curb appeal’ with an attractive yard and entryway.

I was suddenly on the receiving end of my own advice.

And it’s been painful. It’s a grieving process.

Selling a home is an emotional act

I went through and sorted every room and closet to see what I needed to keep, what I wanted to keep for the girls, and what I could sell or give away. I made several trips to the public library with books and magazines, to Habitat for Humanity, and the freebox at our recycling center for just about everything else.

I packed away things I didn’t need right away and that I would take with me to a new house – framed pictures, the girls’ artwork, 35+ years of journals, spring needs for the greenhouse. My storeroom and shed were full of packed boxes!

One morning, as I was going through the kitchen cupboards, I found an extra 1/4-cup measuring cup and put it in a container of coffee that I keep in the freezer. I stopped and thought, ‘What if I need this for baking?’ and immediately I said to myself, ‘I don’t bake now that the girls are gone,’ and then I started to cry.

Not only was I selling my house, I was selling a precious time of my life raising my girls here.  The kitchen was where we baked cakes, cookies, corn bread and pumpkin rolls, and made hundreds of tortillas that we ate warm with butter. My younger daughter, at about 12, made a cherry pie from scratch in this kitchen.

Selling a home means personal disruption

My de-cluttered home didn’t feel homey. It was more like a museum or a hotel. Few of my personal things were out, and my routine was disrupted! I had to look for things I used every day. I put the kitchen hand soap in a drawer, and never remembered that when I went to use it. I had the kitchen trash in a different place, an inconvenient place, but ‘out of the way’ of a potential buyer’s view.

I washed and put away my dishes all the time, and put the dish drainer under the sink when I was done. I made my bed every morning. I kept my clothes picked up and dirty laundry, again, ‘out of the way.’ I didn’t feel like I really LIVED here anymore! There weren’t curtains on the windows, so buyers could easily see the amazing views, but I felt totally exposed at night. It was very hard, and a constant reminder of the crappy economy and losing my children to adulthood to live on my own again.

I had no restrictions on showing times, so anyone could come any time. It would have taken just one showing to send me and my memories packing into the unknown. I was unsettled, physically and emotionally, all the time!

I was worried about the future. Where would I go? Would my utilities be as low? Would it be sunny? Warm in winter and cool in summer? Would I be able to grow food? Have great views? Have kind and helpful neighbors? Would it be safe? These are all things I already had and did not want to give up!

Selling a home final advice to Real Estate agents out there: be sensitive

I want real estate agents to keep these things in mind when they are dealing with sellers. Selling a home is a very emotional experience, all day every day. It starts with the circumstances leading up to selling, and moves to the decision to sell, the prep work, listing and showing. I didn’t sell the house, but I was not looking forward to the stress and emotion of negotiating a contract, closing the deal and moving. I doubt that phase would have been easy, either!

I closed a short sale last year. Not only did this couple lose their house and business, they were getting a divorce, and they had three small children. In hindsight, I don’t think I was compassionate enough when they dug their heels in and refused to do what was needed according to bank deadlines. Putting my own house on the market for financial reasons made their situation and my lame reactions very clear.

Please be sensitive to what your sellers are going through. More hand-holding, less do-this-do-that, and a little understanding will ease the home sale journey, no matter the reasons.

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Nan Fischer

Nan Fischer has been living and building green for over 35 years. Nan’s emphasis on the BuildDirect blog is about how to make your dollar stretch further, while also moving toward a more sustainable lifestyle, as well as upcoming and existing technology to help us live in an ecologically-friendly way. Nan also authors posts on the website of her seed business, sweetly seeds.