The stress of selling a house is enough to make anyone feel overwhelmed. People tend to struggle with big changes and moving is nothing short of a seismic life disruption. The emotional ties to our homes can also cause feelings of anxiety and sadness when it’s time to say goodbye.
“The stress of selling the home is very specific to the individual,” explains Andrew Robinson, a top-selling agent in Columbus, Ohio. “Even with a couple, sometimes the wife is ready to go and the husband is having a hard time leaving.”
On top of that there are logistical challenges like scheduling showings, uncertainty of when you’ll sell, and if you’ll be satisfied with the outcome.
“So much of it is out of your control, and you spend a lot of time just waiting,” adds top real estate agent Dalton Carroll of Arlington, Texas. “You’re waiting for showings, waiting for offers, waiting for your buyer to submit repair requests, and waiting on the lender for the clear to close.”
To get through a process that can be challenging in so many ways, review this list of strategies and resources to help you cope during this limbo home-selling period and minimize stress along the way.
1. Reduce stress with an online cash offer
When you’re about to lose your mind with the hassles of selling a house the traditional way, there is another option. You could consider requesting a cash offer instead and avoid a lot of the usual headaches.
With this method, you skip staging, repairs, and showings. No strangers traipsing through your home office, no lengthy or expensive roof repairs holding up the sale. A cash buyer will offer the entire amount for the house with no mortgage or other type of financing involved.
This eliminates the processing of a buyer’s loan and home appraisal, which are typically the two most time-consuming steps in the home sale process. It also reduces the likelihood of contract delays.
According to Dec. 2021 data from the National Association of Realtors, issues related to the buyer’s financing were responsible for 23% of delayed settlements. An all-cash offer removes this specific risk, creating a clearer path to closing.
Many cash-for-homes operations have moved online, while iBuyer companies go so far as to value your home using technology and provide a near-instant offer for convenience.
HomeLight’s Simple Sale website, for example, provides a great alternative solution for sellers who need to move quickly by facilitating cash offers on its platform.
To request a cash offer from Simple Sale, enter the address of your home and answer a few quick questions about it. We’ll provide an all-cash offer within 48 hours. You can sell your house in almost any condition, and close in as few as 10 days.
2. Contact an agent 90 days before listing
Let’s say a direct cash offer isn’t for you.
You’ve decided to move forward with an open market sale, which does have numerous benefits — like the possibility of buyer competition driving up the price of your home.
But remember in college when you had to pull an overnighter to complete a term paper that had been assigned weeks before? Or when you tried to make dinner reservations for Valentine’s day on February 13 and every restaurant was booked?
When selling a house, like many things in life, it pays to plan ahead and you’ll thank yourself later for it. One of the best steps you can take to reduce stress in the selling process is to contact a Realtor or real estate agent a few months before the date you plan to list.
Robinson suggests aiming to hire an agent 90 days ahead. This allows time for your agent to complete an initial walkthrough, determine which improvements and repairs to make, and schedule work to be done on the house as necessary.
In 2022, pandemic-related housing projects have kept contractor schedules full and the possibility of delays is higher than usual.
“If you want to have your house on the market next week,” he explains, “it’s going to be a lot more stressful than if you want your house on the market three months from now. We can execute to that deadline with less stress.”
3. Find a top-rated agent online
However, one of the biggest stressors in selling a home begins with how to find a qualified real estate agent. Recent statistics show that there are over 3 million active real estate licensees nationwide.
In the past, the main way to find a quality real estate agent was to ask for a referral or call different real estate offices. However, companies like HomeLight have made the search for a top-rated real estate agent or Realtor® fast and easy to do online. It’s definitely a lower-stress way to find an agent you can trust.
To get started, you simply answer a few questions about your timeline and priorities, and HomeLight provides you with two to three agent recommendations in two minutes.
HomeLight’s agent-matching platform is 100% free to use and it’s not pay-to-play, so agents can’t pay to be listed or appear as one of your matches. The company analyzes over 27 million real estate transactions and thousands of reviews to determine which agent is best for you based on your needs.
4. Reduce clutter for an easier move
“So many of my clients have been in their houses for 20 years, they can feel a bit overwhelmed,” Robinson says. “For many, one of the greatest anxieties is what to do about all the stuff in the house.”
That’s why Robinson’s referral list includes not only moving companies and storage facilities but local auction partners, home organizers, and charitable organizations.
If you’re downsizing, you might be distraught about the potential of taking a loss on the investment you’ve made in curating fine furniture, paintings, and collectibles. Maybe your kids have grown up and out of clothes and toys or your design aesthetic has changed.
Fortunately, there are businesses who are eager to consign, upcycle, and recycle just about any item you no longer need.
These days, you don’t even need to haul your grandmother’s 90-piece set of Reed & Barton silver, your autographed ripped Ramones t-shirt or baseball collection to the auction house for assessment.
In most cases, you can email or upload good quality photos to their website. Then, their experts estimate value and determine whether to accept your items for consignment. Once the item sells, usually the auction house and former owner split the proceeds.
To find the closest auction house or one that handles specialty items, visit liveauctioneers.com.
If you are getting rid of the contents of an entire house and you have the luxury of time before the property goes on the market, you may want to consider an estate sale.
Working on commission, estate sales professionals typically stage every room from the half-bath to the garage to show off every item available for sale.
Their devoted followers know the first day of the sale is full price with discounts for every successive day.
For an introduction to your area’s estate sales companies, visit estatesales.net.
If you have clothing, housewares, toys and other usable items, consider a donation to your local homeless or battered women’s shelter or a national charity such as Goodwill, Vietnam Veterans of America, or Habitat for Humanity.
5. Refresh (don’t renovate) your home
Not only is it stressful to perform major renovations to your home right before you sell it, but it can also be a bad move financially.
According to Remodeling Magazine’s 2021 Cost vs Value Report, the average cost recouped on 22 common home improvement projects is only 60%, with returns on major bathroom and kitchen overhauls being some of the lowest.
Rather than spending $25,000 on a complete bathroom redo, Robinson says, “sometimes, you can create the same wow factor for $1,500 by changing light fixtures, cabinet hardware, mirrors and vinyl flooring.”
So when in doubt, refresh rather than renovate, and focus your attention on these high-ROI home prep efforts:
- Deep clean and declutter (adds over $4,000 in resale value on average)
- Improve your curb appeal (adds nearly $12,000 in resale value on average)
- Stage an outdoor seating area (ranked as the #3 most-desired feature among today’s home buyers)
New carpet, freshly painted walls, and repairs to make sure HVAC, appliances, and other mechanical systems are operational may also be recommended. See HomeLight’s guide on what to fix before selling a house for further guidance.
6. Communicate your comfort level in pandemic times
The COVID-19 pandemic and recently the omicron variant may be adding additional stress to the process of selling your home. Talk to your agent about your concerns about health and safety so that they can assist and share all of the available options with you.
For example, your agent may be able to help you reduce in-person showings by adding a virtual tour, 3-D walkthrough, or aerial video to your listing to give buyers a better idea of your home’s characteristics online.
Remote showings or virtual open houses are additional tools agents have used during the pandemic. It’s also good practice to screen buyers for pre-approval or proof of funds before they view the home to cut back on useless showings.
If you’re a little uneasy about having people in the house who may be infected, provide masks, gloves, shoe covers, and sanitizer at the entrance of your home for peace of mind.
7. Create a system for low-stress showings
Even in a pandemic, physical showings are still happening. With safety precautions in place, the market has adjusted.
A year ago, “there was still some apprehension about social distancing at a showing appointment or open house,” Robinson says, “But, the demand for housing outpaces the anxiety about COVID so, we’re seeing a very high level of activity at showings and open houses.”
However, maintaining a neat and clean home throughout the listing period is perhaps one of the most painful parts of the process. To make things easier, develop a pre-showing routine that you can execute with muscle memory.
First, get the supplies you need:
- Invest in a few decorative storage boxes with lids that blend seamlessly into the décor of your bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchen and living room. These let you quickly tuck any personal items out of sight.
- Then, pick up an assortment of cleaning wipes so you can wipe down countertops and easily polish up mirrors and faucets.
Then, use this checklist or some variation that works for you:
- Put all dirty dishes in the dishwasher.
- Empty garbage cans around the house.
- Wipe down surfaces.
- Make the beds and fluff pillows.
- Stash small rugs and excess clutter from bedrooms.
- Hide outdoor toys and garbage bins.
- Close toilet lids.
- Shut closet doors.
In addition, make sure to communicate your preferred window for showings to your agent. Plan ahead with a few go-to activities you can do with your family to get everyone out of the house for a few hours.
This is easier in good weather conditions, when you can go for a walk or head to the park. Otherwise, check with local friends and family members if they would be OK with you hanging out at their place while the house is being shown. Restaurants, the library, coffee shops, or the gym could be alternatives.
In pandemic times, make sure to stash a few masks for each family member in the car so you have them if needed on-the-go.
Once the system is set up, not only will you be able to get ready for guests at a moment’s notice, you can share your protocol with family or roommates. That way, they can pitch in and lighten your load, and won’t be surprised when you announce you’re going out for dinner or headed to the children’s museum during a showing.
8. Be prepared for a fast or slow sale
The current low inventory and low interest rates have conspired to create a seller’s market. However, each house and local market is different.
If your house is not selling as quickly as you’d hoped, the situation is certainly stressful; but, it’s not hopeless. A little research into common reasons houses remain on the market can help you identify the issue and get back on track.
Robinson finds clients are equally stressed by the possibility of their house selling too quickly in this low inventory market. “While sellers want to take advantage of the market and they don’t want to carry two mortgages,” he says, “they don’t want to be left without a place to live.”
Robinson is often able to leverage his connections with a few townhome rental agencies to provide his clients with the ability to get a six-month lease. That way, they can go to market, extract the maximum equity from their home without worrying about where they’ll live.
With advanced planning, new construction is another option. “If they go into contract on a new build that maybe is on a six- to 12-month schedule,” Robinson explains, “they have a very strategic timeline of when we take their house to market, so that they don’t have to move twice.”
9. Practice self-care
While the process of selling a home is stressful, it’s usually compounded by factors that prompted your move in the first place and issues resulting from the decision to make a major life change.
For example, if you’re moving for a job opportunity or to be closer to your aging parents, you worry about how your kids will adjust to a new school. You may have second thoughts about downsizing now that your spouse has just announced plans to retire and foster for a Great Dane rescue.
No matter the source of the stress, self-care is essential to diffuse the situation before your mental status wreaks havoc on your physical well-being.
Luckily, stress relief can be quick, inexpensive, and accessible 24/7. It can be as simple as walking your dog, having coffee with a friend, or making time to do an activity you enjoy.
10. Access free expert advice
Believe it or not, accurate information is a powerful stress buster. The better you understand how processes work, definition of terms, the roles of people involved and the options you have at certain stages, the more confidence you have in your ability to handle the sale successfully.
If you can pinpoint the components of the sales process that are causing you the most anxiety, Homelight’s Seller Resource Center has a free, virtual library of blogs written in plain language to answer your questions.
11. Keep the stress in perspective
No matter your reasons for moving, selling a house is stressful. Staking the for-sale sign into the ground could trigger a vivid memory of a birthday celebration or backyard barbecue which hits you like a ton of bricks. Or showing requests may conflict with your job responsibilities, creating scheduling challenges now that you work from home.
However, remember that this is part of the plan. If you’ve gone so far as to list the house and start fielding offers, you have already put a ton of thought into this decision and now’s not the time to second-guess it.
Hire the professional help you need, stay organized, and find ways to decompress when stressors arise. Remind yourself of what comes next: the opportunity to live closer to loved ones, enjoy a better neighborhood, and embrace a new chapter.
- Adrian E. Hirsch Contributing Author
- Caroline Feeney Senior Managing Editor