Photo of Walden Pond and the words "Real estate stress can be helped by knowing what to expect"Buying and selling residential real estate, particularly the place where you have been living or will be living, is extremely stressful, even under the best of circumstances, such as when the reason for selling or buying is happy. (This is less true for investment property, at least for most people.)   It’s even tougher if there’s a serious illness, suicide, death, divorce, unwanted relocation or some other cause that is not of one’s own choosing.   Or if selling when the market is down and home values are falling, as they were doing in 2008.

Stress can be helped tremendously by knowing roughly what to expect and then accepting it.  Certain things tend to happen when buying or selling a home.  Things aren’t going to be perfect or 100% predictable every inch of the way, but if the buyer wants to buy and the seller wants to sell, most of the time we can get to closing without too many bumps and bruises.

Although most Realtors who want to show your home to their clients or preview your property will be very polite, request the time via the proper channels and will be respectful in your house and while locking up, unfortunately a few are just not as professional.  It is annoying, but almost without fail something will go wrong when a whole lot of people (Realtors and others) come through your house or condo.  Some agents will just knock at your door without an appointment.  Some will fail to lock up 100%.  Some may forget to wipe or remove their shoes or follow some other request (such as not entering a garage or particular room).  Sometimes agents simply mess up (or their clients do, or members of the public coming in at an open house). On very rare occasion, personal items will be disturbed.  Recently at a client’s home something was broken.  I’m sure it was inadvertent, but it was upsetting to my sellers.

Surprises happenWith my seller clients, I try to set the expectation that while most showings and viewings will be fine, some won’t be. It’s unfortunate but I know that this is simply true.  Maybe 5% of the time, something is off.  My hope is that if sellers know that this is to be expected, they know it’s in the range of normal, it won’t be as upsetting.  Worse is expecting perfection!  Home selling is virtually never a perfect endeavor (even in a hot sellers market), but if you can not focus on the little things like the occasional oops at the house, you will be the happier for it.  Best to direct your attention to the big goal and getting it met, and let everything else fall away. . . . Let your Realtor worry about the little things for you, as much as possible.   Or as the book suggests, “don’t sweat the small stuff“. (A cousin of mine gave me that book a few years back – it’s a great read with sound advice!)

Sometimes there’s a communication or technology failure, and despite all kinds of planning, you and your real estate sales person can get out to the property you planned to see and for whatever reason cannot get in. Lots of things can happen.  Perhaps it sold an hour ago.  Lock boxes or key pads sometimes fail.  This is particularly true in the hottest days of summer.  Or one member of the household OK’d the showing but forgot to tell the others – so perhaps the lock box wasn’t left out.  Normally there’s not an issue, but again, about 5% of the time, something may happen.  You and your agent arrive only to be told that half the members of the house has the stomach flu.  Who knows.  Please just know that the business of seeing houses is not always exact, in large part due to so many variables.

In escrow:
For both home buyers and sellers in Silicon Valley today, there can be bumps in the road in escrow (or when your home is “under contract”).  Most of the time, if there are surprises in escrow, it’s due to something with the loan or appraisal.  If sellers have done pre-sale inspections and taken care of major concerns, there are not usually any big surprises if the buyer does any new inspections.

On the other hand, lending issues are largely out of the buyers’ and agent’s control.  Most recently I have run into lenders on jumbo loans requesting as much as 12 months in reserve by the buyers for their monthly house payment, taxes and insurance. That’s crazy high, but it is happening!  So, be realistic.   Buyers, stay on top of your lender. (Work with someone trusted, please.)  Sellers, try to remain flexible and understanding because the buyer in most cases is doing everything possible to close – but it’s simply running late.

Part of the trouble is that sometimes buyers are putting in unrealistically low numbers of days to remove their contingencies for the loan (and appraisal).  That’s OK if the lender can actually perform that fast, but it’s important to talk with the lender to make sure before creating such an important commitment!  Loans can be delayed for many reasons: your HR person won’t return calls to verify employment, the underwriter is sick / on vacation / just slow, money was moved from one account to another but the paperwork trail has gaps in it, etc.

But of course that’s exactly why cash is king.   Sellers prefer all cash offers because most of the risk is eliminated (that the sale will fall through).  But not all.  Most of the time, buyers can still inspect and back out, unless they have written an offer with no contingencies whatsoever.

For everyone involved, it’s important to stay on task and on time as much as humanly possible.  Usually delays are addressed with an addendum to extend whatever it is that’s running late.  For your own sanity, I strongly suggest not planning so tightly that there’s no room for slippage.  That is a huge mistake and will cause your stress levels to go through the roof – and your stress will ripple through everyone else involved in the transaction.  Please allow a little “wiggle room”.


Please also see:
Overheated market, overheated emotions





  • Mary Pope-Handy

    Silicon Valley Realtor, selling homes in Los Gatos, Saratoga, San Jose, Silicon Valley, and nearby since 1993. Prolific blogger with a network of sites.

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