Purchasing a place to live is one of the biggest decisions of your life. Even in an ideal scenario — a buyers market with plenty of affordable houses and scant competition — the stress of buying a home is not something to take lightly. And today’s buyers are not living that ideal: Prices remain high, inventory cannot satisfy demand, and competition for the few homes available often leads to bidding wars (fortunately, there are some effective ways to prepare for that). Add to all of this rising interest rates, and it’s a potentially intimidating time for homebuyers.
To better understand how to prepare emotionally for what can be a marathon search, we spoke with Christina Koepp, a licensed mental health counselor at Wellspring Family Services, and asked her to weigh in on what home shoppers can do to cope with this pressure-cooker of stress.
What makes buying a home so stressful?
Buying a home can invite pressure from every direction. Let’s look at just a few of the potential stressors.
Choosing a home
A home purchase is one of the most significant financial decisions many people make in their lifetime, and on top of that, the process affects basic necessities like shelter and safety.
“Buying a home taps into all parts of our mind: our basic need for shelter, our attachment needs for a safe place to connect with ourselves and others,” says Koepp. “To take the risk and make an offer on a home, we need to be willing to attach to a new place to live, and — simultaneously — hold it loosely enough that it won’t be devastating to lose the bid. It’s a narrow path of guarded optimism.”
The real estate market
Just about anywhere you look in the U.S. these days, you’ll find a sellers market. This can make the stress of buying a house feel even more pronounced. A sellers market can bring anxiety accelerators like seemingly endless open houses, bidding wars, and getting outbid by all-cash buyers.
The loan approval process
If you’re working with a lender, the process can take weeks or longer. Expect lots of paperwork, which can be all the more grueling if your dream home is waiting. (To ease some of this tension, get pre-qualified before you find a place you want.)
Working with an agent who’s not a fit
Almost one in five buyers (18%) report that it’s “difficult or very difficult” to find the right real estate agent. If your agent isn’t a good fit, they can add pressure where they should be alleviating it.
Read on for tactics on how to navigate what can be both a stressful and exciting journey.
How can I mentally prepare for the stress of buying a house?
“If you ‘fall in love’ with every home you see, it leaves little room for discerning which is the best fit,” Koepp says. “And you can quickly become emotionally fatigued with each lost bid or opportunity.”
Instead, it can be helpful to think of your home buying journey as a balancing act between vulnerability and healthy detachment. In other words, try to be “vulnerable enough to imagine your life in this potential new place,” says Koepp, while simultaneously employing “the very healthy protective impulse of avoiding getting attached too fully and too quickly.”
Some more tips:
Think about your hopes and preferences in general terms
With each new home, ask yourself how you’ll feel if you don’t get it, says Koepp. When you encounter a loss, talk about it with someone. Discuss what excited you about the home, then carry that forward in your search. In short, keep an open mind as you search for your dream home.
Avoid all-or-nothing thinking by considering your preferences in a general sense — an updated home, an architectural style, a set of neighborhood characteristics, etcetera. This can remind you that there’s more than one place to find joy and contentment.
Identify your non-negotiables as clearly as possible
The way to balance being general with your wants is to be as clear as possible with your deal-breakers. “Know before you look if you’re really only open to a condo with three or more bedrooms, or a house with a garage,” says Koepp. “It’s easy to be swept up in a home that may have some dream elements, even though it has deal-breaker issues.”
Above all, Koepp says, offer yourself the grace that this won’t always be a neat and tidy process. “You get to be human in the midst of it.”
Find the right agent to help you cope with the stress of buying a house
Your agent is your guide through an often complicated journey. Make sure they provide peace of mind and not the opposite. If your agent is doing something that makes you uncomfortable, communicate it to them. Further, clearly articulating your wants, preferences, and non-negotiables will help your agent get aligned. This can ease your mind and allow you to focus on what’s important. If it’s still just not a fit, consider looking for a new agent.
Tips for easing the stress of buying a house in the current housing market
Manage your expectations
“Prepare for a marathon, even if it’s just a sprint,” says Koepp. You don’t know how long it will take to have an offer accepted. “It could be a couple homes you offer on; it could be 12.” Keeping your expectations flexible helps avoid disappointment.
Extend kindness to yourself
Koepp says this part can be challenging for some people. “It can be easy to doubt your judgment, become angry with your home-buying partner, or get obsessed with searching,” she says. “All these responses are understandable! Being kind means finding ways to rest, recharge and integrate each step along the way.”
A few things to try: Take a short break from scrolling through listings to re-center yourself, prepare a comforting meal after a lost opportunity, or be intentional about regularly getting to bed earlier, if you can.
Talk about your home buying stress with someone you trust
It’s helpful for many people to simply “say out loud what’s rolling around in their mind,” says Koepp. “Some prefer to journal. Use whatever works for you; try to share the challenges, insights, dreams and goals that you’re noticing. Reach out often to loved ones to keep your awareness, energy, and perspective in line with your goals and hopes.” This will help you process as you go.
How to bounce back after an unsuccessful offer
First, pause to reflect, then let it go
Koepp says it’s important to honor the deep disappointment that can result from a lost opportunity you felt invested in. “Take a few hours or even a couple days to acknowledge that experience, and know it will fade.” Next, find a way to feel gratitude. This may help counter the propensity to dwell solely on what was lost.