Though prices aren’t at the Alpine heights they reached earlier this year, they’re still a whole lot higher than they were last year. And with supply scarce, and likely not catching up to demand for a very long time, it’s harder than ever to buy a home. More proof? Homeownership is at all-time lows.
So if you’re a prospective homeowner, you’re probably feeling a little blue right now. Don’t worry—that’s normal! But if you’re going to survive the house hunt, you may need a little psychological preparation and support.
Use your real estate agent as a therapist
“It seems like about 60% of my job is being a good counselor and listener,” saysCynthia Cummins, a Realtor® in San Francisco and author of the Real Estate Therapy blog.
New York City Realtor Nicole Beauchamp agrees.
“Every time I get on the phone with a client these days, I’m delivering real estate therapy,” she says. Some of her clients go from house hunting into existential crisis, forced to examine what they want out of home and life. “My job is to guide them through their soul-searching.”
Suspend your expectations
If you enter the housing market expecting to stumble upon, and immediately snatch up, your dream home, chances are you’re setting yourself up for tears—lots of them. Much of suffering, according to Buddhist philosophy, comes from high expectations.
“I have to begin by trying to set realistic expectations without scaring the bejesus out of people,” says Cummins. “I remind clients as we go through this not to take it personally.”
Says Beauchamp, “You have to be OK when you’re starting the search that you may not find what you want. Some people are too specific, and that can be a detriment; they’ll never meet the sliver of criteria.”
Be open to what’s out there, instead of deciding in advance exactly what you want.
Know your limits
“I tell my clients to try to manage how much energy they are putting into every offer,” says Cummins. “How much psychic and mental energy are you going to put into a place in order to win it, without exhausting yourself?” If you’re obsessing over a house that’s just not within reach, move forward with your search.
Beauchamp, who has seen her clients get more and more desperate, suggests taking a breather from time to time. “Sometimes you have to take a step back, take a day and go to the beach,” she says.
Sherry Helgoe, a Yorba Linda, CA–based therapist who often works with Realtors, suggests compiling “a written list of stress relief strategies you can refer to for the seeking and waiting time frames of the home buying process.”
Focus on the search
“Stress becomes greater when you choose to add more ‘events’ to your life,” says Helgoe. “Carefully decide what else you are going to add to your ‘stress plate’ during this time.” Don’t choose to add extra stress, she says, by getting a new puppy or a new car at the same time. (Also: Never buy a new car when you’re trying to buy a home!) Try to maintain equilibrium elsewhere in your life.
Step up your stamina
Cummins says that much of her job these days focuses on “managing the agony of defeat and trying to help people stick with what has turned into an endurance sport.”
She’s seen many clients “putting their hearts on the line with a perfect offer, only to have it completely ignored. That can be pretty crushing after a while.” In this market, her clients may make three to six offers before they win one. Be prepared to hang in there.
Allow yourself to dream a new dream
“Sometimes it’s not giving up; sometimes it’s recalibrating,” says Beauchamp. “It may mean thinking about moving to an outer suburb where you can have the space you want at a price you can afford. It may mean finding something smaller.”
It requires more than the inventory on the market; it requires an inventory of yourself. Why is homeownership high on your list of values anyway? And what would you sacrifice to achieve it?
Expect delayed gratification
Call it the agony of winning. Sometimes, you score the winning bid, sign the contract, and pack up all your belongings only to be saddled with a new round of intense feelings: anxiety, at the very least, and sometimes even depression and regret. It can be very overwhelming when the search is over and you found you’ve spent way more than you wanted in a neighborhood that wasn’t on the top of your list.
It may not be until you make your first meal, or rake your first leaves, or make the first upgrade that you know will increase your home’s value down the road, that you finally feel at home, and full of gratitude.