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Mental health tips for frustrated home sellers

The long wait for her Arizona home to sell affected Joan Gale Frank's psyche. She hopes her new book will help others in similar circumstances keep their sanity.

October 03, 2010|By Mary Umberger

Are you losing sleep because your house won't sell?

Joan Gale Frank knows your pain. She's been there.

Three years ago, her home in Sedona, Ariz., sat on the market for a year, and the frustration started to eat away at her.

"During that period I was going crazy, wondering when is it going to sell?" she recalled. "I ended up living in a state of limbo. I couldn't move on to the next stage of my life."

She didn't try to make new friends because, she thought, she was about to move. She didn't join a gym for the same reason. She found herself disengaging with people and activities because she mentally had put her life on a moving van, except that month after month nothing ever changed.

Frank eventually realized that her near-obsession over getting the house sold wasn't good for her mental health. She started wondering if other people were in the same anxious state, how real estate albatrosses might be keeping retirees from moving on or keeping other people from new careers in new locales.

"I started wondering, 'What do you do, how can someone deal with this?'" said Frank, a motivational speaker and writer who now lives in Portland, Ore. "There's not one support group or one book or piece of real estate material on the mental side of this."

So, she set out to find a way to get her own attitude back in line, and then started thinking about what she could teach other people about it from a physical side (what it really takes to get a house sold) and from a mental one (how to keep the situation from driving you crazy).

"I started asking experts about this situation: real estate people, stagers and landscaping people, therapists and counselors," she said.

She turned what she found into an e-book, "Home Seller's Blues (And How to Beat Them)," which is equal parts practical advice on marketing a property and self-help tips for those afflicted with those blues.

Frank devotes considerable space to a fact of life that inevitably makes sellers (and their real estate agents) squirm: Sometimes, she writes, you just have to cut the price.

"It can make grown women cry and bristly bearded men whimper, because it all boils down to one question," she writes. "Are you willing or able to reduce your price to the point where you have the best possible chance of selling your home for less?"

She acknowledges that there are compelling reasons to stick to a price, but argues that frustrated sellers have to come to terms with both the tangible and intangible costs of holding out for more money. The tangible costs include continuing outlays for the mortgage, taxes and upkeep for months on end. The intangible include the aggravation of living in a home that's eternally in "show" mode and the mental costs of yearning just to get on with the rest of one's life.

Frank and her husband slashed their asking price, though not without anxiety.

"We both decided to take this as our mantra: You can always find a way to make back money, but there is no way in the world you can make back your time," she said. "No matter how rich you are, you'll never get that back, that year of waiting."

The book also devotes lots of space to its basic premise that if the uncertainty is getting to you, you'll need to work on shedding that anxiety, and she offers alternative ways to look at the situation (veering occasionally into Pollyanna territory) and exercises to help let go of the "what ifs" that tend to grow in the mind like poison ivy.

She also has launched a blog, housesellingblues.com.

Frank decided to go directly to electronic publishing, she said, because it's faster and she wanted to touch on this weird moment in real estate history while it's hot.

She needn't have rushed, legions of weary home sellers might have told her, because few things happen in a hurry in this market. That's sort of the point, isn't it?

Umberger writes for the Chicago Tribune.

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