Smart Moves by Ellen James Martin

How to Sell Without the Anxiety

Consumer confidence is running high. Home prices are still rising, especially in the starter home segment where properties are scarce. What’s more, those with solid jobs are more intent than ever on making a purchase. Yet even now, some wannabe sellers are suffering sleepless nights.

“Selling a house is a tough passage -- ridden with lots of uncertainty, even under the best of circumstances,” says Tom Early, a veteran real estate broker.

Why does selling a home provoke such anxiety? Because so much is at stake. Many homeowners have the bulk of their wealth tied up in their property. Also, their plans can depend heavily on the success of their sale.

But no matter how reasonable, seller apprehensions can undermine prospects for a smooth sale, according to Mark Nash, a real estate analyst and author of “1001 Tips for Buying and Selling a Home.”

“People’s fears make them lose sight of (reality). That can cause them to act against their best interests,” Nash says.

Mary McCall, a real estate broker since 1987, says seller anxieties are not uncommon in all economic times. She says owners who have little equity can be especially nervous about selling.

Even after a buyer is found for a home, many owners worry that their deal could fall through due to financing problems or that the purchaser’s home inspector might discover repairs that could prove costly.

“Buyers today are very nitpicky, and so sellers worry a lot about all the repairs and changes they may need to do to get the sale through,” McCall says.

Staying calm is a challenge for many sellers. Here are a few pointers that could help:

-- Don’t listen to uninformed opinions about your situation.

As many sellers can attest, once a property goes on the market, its owners often receive a great deal of unsolicited advice from neighbors, family members and friends.

But Nash cautions that taking too many opinions into account can jangle a seller’s nerves, especially when the opinions come from people who lack expertise in real estate.

“Hearing all these views will only confuse and frustrate you,” he says.

If you have questions or concerns about what your listing agent is telling you, Nash recommends you seek a second opinion from another professional in the field. For example, you could ask for advice from the managing broker in the same office where your agent works, or call an agent from another nearby office. Or you could hire an independent appraiser.

-- Formulate an action plan to help address your worries.

Therapists who help clients manage their anxieties often make an unusual suggestion: Set aside a brief daytime period during which you can worry actively. In this “worry time,” take pen to paper and itemize your fears. Then list the steps you could take if your fears are realized.

For example, perhaps you fear your home won’t sell before you must move. In that case, you could list steps you could take to convert your place into a rental property, if only for a brief period.

“What you’re doing is generating options for yourself. That way you’ll have a greater sense of control over your destiny and won’t feel hopeless,” Nash says.

-- Take “time out” breaks.

If you’re suffering from a lot of anxiety about your sale, Nash urges you to take a systematic approach to stress management, such as meditation, yoga or formal relaxation training.

“If you can break the stress for even 20 minutes each day, you can come back to the issues with the freshness and focus that should increase your chances for success in whatever you do,” Nash says.

-- Avoid discussing your selling plans in the late evening.

Many people who worry about selling allow the subject to spill over into evening hours, Nash says. But he urges sellers to deal with the matter only in the daytime.

“Selling a house is a business proposition that should be handled solely during business hours. Don’t discuss it with your significant other during the late evening, or it could cost you a good night’s sleep,” Nash says.

Rather than tackling your real estate issues at night, Nash suggests you engage in calming activities during your last “wind down” hour before bedtime. This could include light reading, watching a funny movie or doing a crossword puzzle.

“Before you go to bed, free yourself of any anxious thoughts that could keep you from sleeping peacefully. You’ll need to fortify yourself so that the next day you can handle both your workload and your real estate issues,” Nash says.

(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at