Keep your cool when you sell your house


March 15, 1992|By ELLEN JAMES MARTIN

You're sleeping restlessly. An old back pain has flared. You find yourself drinking more coffee than usual and reaching for the doughnuts you swore off. Sometimes your heart races and you feel panic about the future.

It's all because your house is on the market.

For people selling a home, anxiety is perfectly normal, say stress management specialists. There's the out-of-control feeling about who will buy your home and how much they'll pay. There's the stress of constantly trying to keep your home neat. And there's the sense of violation that comes from strangers trooping through your private areas, leaving hurtful comments behind.

"Realize that everybody gets stressed out in these situations. Awareness is half the battle," says John Mason, author of "Stress Passages: Surviving Life's Transitions Gracefully," a Celestial Arts paperback.

With your routine ripped up and your life in transition, you're unlikely to skate through the process of selling your home. But you can take steps to manage the anxiety and protect your body from the ravages of stress. Who knows? They also might hasten a sale.

Here's what stress experts advise:

* Don't stick around when your home is being shown for sale.

If you've listed your home with a real estate agent, disappear when the agent shows the place to prospects. Would-be buyers feel more at ease when surveying a property in the absence of its owners. And by disappearing, you'll spare yourself the pain of hearing what others dislike about your home.

"Our history is tied into the home where we've lived. And when people walk through our home it's like walking through our soul," observes Carla Perez, psychiatrist and author of "Getting off the Merry-Go-Round," a Simon & Schuster paperback.

* Plan some enjoyable diversions when you must be away from your home.

If you're forced into exile from 2 to 5 on a Sunday afternoon, it may be tempting to work on your taxes at the neighborhood library or to go grocery shopping. But given your frayed nerves, it could be more constructive to schedule an activity that's distracting or fun, Dr. Perez suggests.

Why not treat yourself to a good movie, take a soothing walk or ride your bike through a community park? Better still, think about visiting good friends -- ideally, another family that has lived through the ordeal of home selling and can laugh about it.

"Friends can be a wonderful refueler in life," Dr. Perez says.

* Spare yourself some of the drudgery of cleaning or cooking if your budget allows.

"For some people, it's exhausting to have to keep a house clean all the time," Dr. Perez says.

It's important to keep your children's pajamas off the bedroom floor and to wash the dirty dishes. But no law forces you to do all the housecleaning yourself. Your realty agent can probably give you the name of a reputable cleaning service.

By the same token, you may want to dine out more. You'll spare yourself the need to cook. And your home will be more appealing if the aroma of fried pork chops and steamed cauliflower isn't lingering when potential buyers arrive.

* Limit when your house will be shown.

Real estate agents will be the first to tell you to be flexible for would-be buyers who want to see your house. And although you don't want to frustrate any reasonable prospect, you can often have a say in the scheduling of visits if you do it politely.

"Some reasonable boundaries are in order," says John Travis, a physician and stress management consultant.

One way to manage the schedule is to provide your agent with a list of the "best times" to tour the house each week, Dr. Travis advises. These should be used as guidelines rather than hard-and-fast rules, he says.

It can be very upsetting to face an unexpected knock on the door from strangers who want an immediate tour of your home. Don't let people visit without an appointment, Dr. Travis counsels.

* Don't stay in "for sale" limbo forever.

While most people are able to withstand the psychological wear and tear associated with a couple of weeks or months of home selling, even the most healthy individuals can be ground down if the process lasts too long, Dr. Perez cautions.

"I don't care how strong you are. If the place goes unsold week after week, it's going to feel like rejection," she says.

There can be many reasons why homes don't sell over a long period but the most common is price. You may be convinced your property is worth such-and-such. But if it doesn't move, the market is shouting that it disagrees.

The stress of staying in home-sale limbo can take its toll on family relationships and even your health. If your home isn't attracting bids, consider taking it off the market or lowering its price.

"People have to take stock of their own breaking points," Dr. Perez says. "For some people being in limbo for more than a few weeks is terrible."

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