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Published: May 11, 2022 12 min read
Person On Couch Receiving Psychiatric Therapy Next To A Psychiatrist With A House Shaped Head
Jose Velez / Money

Buying a home is rarely a fast or simple process. But in recent years, the task has become near impossible. There are bidding wars and skyrocketing prices. For-sale listings are few and far between. And sellers? They expect you to skip inspections or pay in cash to win.

They’re conditions that aren’t just challenging — but downright overwhelming.

Buyers are so stressed, in fact, they’re seeking therapy for it. According to a recent survey from Realtor.com, 23% of recent homebuyers said the process drove them to schedule extra therapy sessions. More than a quarter took mental health days off work to deal with it all.

Brandon Beaver, a 37-year-old project engineer from Florida, falls into both camps. When he was searching for a home in Orlando earlier this year, he quickly found himself feeling “stressed and alone,” he says. He eventually sought help from his employer’s on-site counselor and took four mental health days to ease the stress. (Since closing on his home in March, he says he’s feeling much more relaxed, thankfully!)

Sellers are feeling the burn of today’s fast-paced market too. Kristie Jones, for example, just sold her St. Louis home for more than $100,000 over listing price. Though the profits were certainly a nice perk, selling was no small undertaking — and Jones sought therapy to help cope with it all.

“Purging, packing, coordinating the move, dealing with the 42 showings and six contracts in 18 hours caused anxiety and stress,” she says. “I think the hardest part was doing it all by myself. It was a lot. It triggered the mourning process for my father who had passed away in 2020 unexpectedly. He was someone I would have leaned on during this stressful time, and it made the entire process harder and lonelier.”

Both Jones and Beaver said their therapy sessions made dealing with the hot housing market easier. And according to professionals, more and more clients are coming in with similar struggles.

“Housing-related stressors are on the rise and not a topic that was prominent within the therapeutic process up until recently,” says Elnaz Mayeh, director of clinical operations at Lightfully Behavioral Health in Los Angeles.

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The stresses of a hot housing market

Therapists say the housing market is spurring a wide range of mental health struggles for their clients, and in their work, talks of buying, selling and even renting a home are now more common than ever.

“Struggles related to the housing market have had social, emotional and psychological impacts that are becoming more prevalent topics of discussion in therapy rooms,” Mayeh says. “This is not only due to the prospect of purchasing a home and the myriad of stressors included in the process, but the effect a chaotic housing market has on a person’s psyche.”

Mayeh says the homebuying process is also “less fun” than it was previously — another factor that adds stress for her clients. Now, the high-stakes market is creating a “winner vs. loser mentality” and generating feelings of rejection, loss and defeat.

“This journey used to be exciting for individuals and families,” she says. “It meant a start of a new chapter and attaining a piece of the American Dream.”

Andrea Anderson Polk, a licensed professional counselor in Northern Virginia, has even seen health issues arise due to housing stress. Her clients have experienced sleep problems, difficulty concentrating, chronic fatigue and more. Relationship problems are a common theme too.

As Gita Zarnegar, a psychologist at The Center for Authenticity in Los Angeles, explains, “The homebuying process has significantly increased the level of conflict among couples. How can they work as hard as they do and not be able to afford a home? They take out their frustrations on each other.”

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How to deal with housing stress

If you’re feeling stressed by the hot housing market, experts say there are strategies you can use to cope. Seeking professional help, like Beaver and Jones did, can also be beneficial if it’s within your financial means.

1. Set reasonable expectations

According to therapists, establishing accurate, based-in-reality expectations — from the start — is critical to safeguarding your mental health during a home search.

“Have realistic expectations,” Mayeh says. “Remind yourself that there are more people that want to buy than available homes to purchase. When you go into this experience with realistic expectations, your expectations are more managed, and a loss won’t feel as defeating.”

She’s right about supply and demand. The number of active listings is down 60% compared to 2020, and buyers are still out in droves. According to brokerage Redfin, 65% of offers placed by its agents in March faced a bidding war.

Patrick Walsh, a licensed therapist in New York, recommends familiarizing yourself with market conditions like these — particularly local ones. Doing so can “normalize and contextualize your experience,” he says.

2. Communicate with your partner

If you’re buying with a partner or spouse, proactive communication is key. As Walsh explains, “Communicate, communicate, communicate. Prior to beginning the homebuying process, sit down and level-set. Affirm that you are on the same team, get clear as to what you want and develop a basic strategy to metabolize disagreement.”

And when conflict does arise, Walsh says to “extend grace and assume goodwill.”

“Your priority should be to seek absolute clarity as to why,” he says. “Is it a disagreement about communication styles, unprocessed resentments or a values difference? Properly diagnosing the cause of a conflict enables couples to have the targeted, high-quality negotiations that resolve it.”

3. Get a good agent

Having a great real estate agent can also help reduce stress in the buying or selling process. For one, they can make sure you set accurate expectations. They can also act as a sounding board when things get tough.

“Build a meaningful relationship with a trusted real estate agent and let them guide you through the emotional minefield that is purchasing property,” Walsh says. “A good agent knows how to calibrate your expectations and will help you interpret the market and strategize accordingly.”

Scott Harris, a licensed associate real estate broker with Brown Harris Stevens in New York, recommends scheduling regular check-ins with your agent. These “keep the lines of communication clear and open” and can help you steer clear of conflict.

4. Give yourself time

Homes might be selling like hotcakes, but that doesn’t mean you need to rush through things. Get comfortable with the process taking a while. According to the National Association of Realtors, it took the average buyer eight weeks to find a house in 2021. That doesn’t even include the four to six weeks it takes to close on a mortgage loan.

As Mayeh puts it, “This will likely be the most expensive investment of your life. Don’t feel pressured to make a quick decision.”

In fact, she often sees clients feel buyer’s remorse after moving too fast through the process.

“Many individuals are coming into therapy due to regrets for making a snap decision under high pressure,” Mayeh says. “Start looking early. Don’t wait until a month before your lease is up to start looking. The longer you wait and closer you get to your move out date, the more anxiety and pressure you will begin to experience, which often leads people to go way over their budget and experience feelings of regret once the transaction is over.”

5. Set boundaries

Strong boundaries can preserve your mental health when buying or selling a home. To start, Mayeh suggests establishing rules for how frequently you’ll look at online listings. According to a survey from Opendoor, more than half of homebuyers check for new listings at least seven times a day.

To avoid falling in this stressful trap, commit to checking listings only once or twice per day — perhaps during a certain timeframe (like 5 to 6 p.m. on the train ride home).

“This will help you develop a mindfulness approach around this experience making it feel more within your control and less fixated and obsessed,” she says.

Polk also recommends enacting some social boundaries and setting aside time for things you enjoy.

“Say no to other commitments, social engagements and activities that perhaps you don’t have the time, attention and energy for during this acutely stressful season,” Polk says. “Prioritize self-care. Take some extra time for nurturing and enjoyable activities such as taking a long walk, a bath, a nap.”

6. Be prepared

Going into the process financially prepared can alleviate some of the stress, too. First, have a clear handle on your budget, and if you’re financing your purchase, lock in your mortgage rate and have your documents in order early. A good rule of thumb is that your monthly housing payment should account for no more than 30% of your income.

You should also get pre-approved for a mortgage. Doing so can give you a better idea of the loan amount you’re working with (or how much you can bid up on your offers), and it can also show sellers you’re a qualified buyer who’s likely to follow through on the deal.

It could even allow you to remove some contingencies from your offer and make it even more attractive.

“Knowing that you have financing secured when you make your offer eliminates the need for a mortgage contingency,” says Joanne McCoy, a HomeLight real estate agent at Woods Bros Realty in Lincoln, Nebraska. “Banks are getting more conservative with their approvals, making this kind of contingency even less certain.”

7. Prioritize your mental health

Finally, therapists say, tune into your mental health and be intentional about how you frame your home search.

“Monitor your current mindset throughout the day and identify negative thinking patterns by avoiding ‘what if’ statements and imagining worst-case scenarios,” Polk says. “Practice gratitude. Write down three things each day you are grateful for. This will train your mind to look for the good things that are happening in your life and remind you that this, too, shall pass.”

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