Homebuying (and Selling) Takes a Larger Toll on Your Mental Health Than You Think

published Sep 26, 2022
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What’s more stressful than having surgery or dealing with a divorce? Selling a home, says a recent survey from Offerpad, a real estate technology company. In fact, moving to a new place, preparing a home for sale, and planning a funeral are the three stressful scenarios that beat out surgery and the end of a relationship.

Here’s some of the startling data Offerpad’s survey revealed.

  • 62 percent of respondents admitted their mental health was negatively impacted by the stress of prepping for a home sale.
  • 63 percent actually thought about delisting their property because of all the work it took to prepare for showings and open houses.
  • 53 percent said they spent more time preparing for a home sale, while 75 percent said they spent more money than they wanted to or expected to for a home sale.

A recent report by HomeLight, also a real estate tech company, came up with additional grim findings about the impact of the homebuying and selling process:

  • Bidding wars caused anxiety among 27 percent of homebuyers; 13 percent of buyers said this was the biggest challenge they faced during their path to homeownership
  • Buyer’s remorse is real; 70 percent of buyers across the nation experienced at least one regret about the whole experience.

All in all, that’s a whole lot of people who need to take a hot minute to do some deep breathing exercises. 

But I can speak from experience that buying a home is absurdly stressful. Scratch that — I can barely speak from experience because, quite frankly, I think I’ve blocked out much of what went down during our homebuying process. I have vague recollections of my husband and I filling out scads of paperwork, managing checks and bank transfers for a lot of money, and then sweating out a response from the bank on the day of closing. Not the sweetest of memories, to be sure.

I am happy to report that the stress does dissipate when you finally get the keys to your new home, though don’t be surprised if it reappears when your first mortgage payment is due.

Credit: Getty Images/Carol Yepes

Why is buying and selling real estate so stressful?

Aside from the fact that it only involves what will perhaps be the biggest investment you’ll make in your lifetime, Mihal Gartenberg, an agent with Coldwell Banker Warburg, has the answer to this question: “Because you are not in charge of the process,” she says. “No person is.” 

Well, then, who is in charge, exactly? 

“A successful real estate transaction is ultimately in the hands of a team of people, and depending on the situation, you cannot always exert your influence over them,” Gartenberg explains.

For those of us who are control freaks (ahem, including me), the way around this is to work with people you trust. That includes choosing a real estate agent who’s got loads of experience in your local market.

“Using an experienced and even-keeled real estate agent to shepherd you through the process can be helpful in terms of understanding all the factors at play,” says Steven Gottlieb, another agent at Coldwell Banker Warburg.

Keep in mind, too, that some agents bill themselves as experts in first-time homeownership. You might look to work with one of them if you are indeed taking your first ride on this roller coaster of emotions.

Real estate agents practically double as therapists.

If you’re wondering if stressed-out buyers and sellers have an affect on their real estate agents, they sure do. While it’s easy to say that it’s all in a day’s work for agents and brokers, many of them likely deserve a bump in their commission: Another recent HomeLight report found that 60 percent of agents say their buying clients are more prone to needing “constant reassurance” throughout the process. 

And while there’s no crying in baseball, there’s apparently plenty of it in real estate: 32 percent of agents needed to coach home buyers through their tears. (That’s what a volatile market, inflation, and a potential recession can do to you.)

Nicole Beauchamp, an associate broker with Engel & Völkers in New York City, says it’s important to have a discussion with your agent about how and how often you will be in communication during the buying or selling process. “It is also incredibly helpful to have clear communication at each stage of the process,” she says. “Where things often go sideways is when there is radio silence, which creates angst and confusion.” 

Lindsay Barton Barrett, an associate broker with Douglas Elliman in New York, recognizes that while buying or selling a home represents a new beginning, it’s not always a happy one. “There will be positivity that comes out of this process whether it’s closure or a fresh start,” she says. “Viewing long-term change as a positive is a good way to refocus.” 

Barrett recommends writing it down and envisioning the outcome when the going gets tough. “All big life changes are going to hurt and it will take time,” she says. “The experience will fade in time.”