After languishing one year and one week on the lousiest real estate market since Fred and Wilma bought their little stone cottage, my house is finally being sold.
"Congratulations!" people are saying. So why am I not doing cartwheels and popping champagne as I imagined I would? Could it be because, after months and months of showings and price reductions and raised and crushed hopes, I am selling my house for 33 percent less than I paid for it in 2005? Maybe that's it!
Please forgive the ugly sarcasm. I can't really help it; it's just a pathetic aftereffect of what I have come to recognize as home seller's fatigue. This is a condition in which prolonged exposure to spray cleaner and the continual threat of strangers appearing at the door make a person (to use the clinical term) a little wacko.
If you've had a home on the market for a while, HSF can sneak up on you. But I'm here to help you recognize the problem. Are you experiencing symptoms like these?
•You have a constant unsettled feeling reinforced daily by the sight of the sign in your front yard, swinging in the wind and, you would swear some days, laughing.
•You have developed paranoia because during various open houses people swiped your prescription drugs and went through your drawers. Not only do you no longer have open houses, but you jump whenever your husband touches you.
•You avoid your neighbors because you are embarrassed that you can't sell your house. Plus, for all you know, they came to your open houses and went through your drawers.
•You make the place all pretty, and the prospects come and go, and do they call again? No. And yet despite this rejection you want them to come back, and this makes you feel bad about yourself. That's right, it's exactly like dating.
•Your agent gets an email from some guy who says he's in Japan but he saw the house listing online and wants to buy it sight unseen at your full asking price. And you actually think about it. (This really happened.)
•You grow to hate every prospective buyer, and you hate them even more after they make an offer, because your house deserves more. You turn around and hate your house for not growing another bedroom. You hate your agent for not waving a wand and making more offers appear. You hate yourself for buying when the market was at its peak, even though you got top dollar for your old house. You pretty much hate everybody and everything.
Impaired judgment, paranoia, anti-social disorder, burying statues of saints in the yard — can't something be done?
Joan Gale Frank has some ideas. Frank is a survivor of that crucible of modern real estate, Arizona, where she and her husband spent about a year selling their house. She wrote a book about the mental strain, "Home Seller's Blues and How to Beat Them."
Frank's overall message is to find the silver lining. She reminds us that while we're constantly cleaning, we can enjoy living in our house at its best. We get a head start on packing when we get rid of the clutter. We are more mentally prepared to move. We are forced to live in the moment. We have an excuse to eat out so we can keep the kitchen clean.
I view these as useful treatments for early, minor cases of HSF. But those of us who have endured the real estate equivalent of the siege of Stalingrad might need more. Like a voodoo doll or an extra large bottle of scotch.
Obviously, one of my coping skills is a sense of humor. But I don't want anyone to think that I am belittling the devastating impact that losing a home has on a family. My husband and I actually are selling two houses, having married recently (well, not so recently now!), and trying to buy a third one. We are fortunate that we are not underwater or at risk of foreclosure. My heart goes out to those families who are. But if we were, I would be trying mighty hard to find something to laugh about.
Keeping a journal is another of Frank's suggestions, and if you're the type, it's good catharsis. Certainly, if I'd had any inkling it would take a year to sell my house, I would have started a blog and maybe had a book deal by now.
If writing isn't your thing, I suggest some other kind of healthy catharsis. Talk to a good friend, a therapist or, if you're lucky like me, your understanding partner in this nightmare, your spouse. Exercise regularly; you might try bowling. Pretend each pin is one of those prospects who said your kitchen was too small: "That's reflected (release, roll) in the (crash!) asking price!"
Frank says, and I agree, that it also helps to remember the big picture: why you're selling in the first place. I tried to envision us actually living as a family in a home we found together. Other times I chucked the optimism and reminded myself: This is a rotten time in your life. This is not supposed to feel good. So embrace the misery once in a while. And get back to cleaning, you've got a showing in an hour.
There are many treatments for HSF, but only one cure: selling the house. Trouble is, now that our family has unloaded my place, we've fallen prey to a new ailment: insufferably demanding homebuyer's syndrome.