Part 3: Selling Your House Is Emotional
From the dozens of calls and emails from our FSBO, we chose to meet with five realtors. Their marketing plans and suggested pricing were similar, so the choice came down to who had the most sales in our area along with the lowest commission.
Sitting at our dining room table with the realtor we eventually picked, she told us that selling your home is “emotional”. At the time I wasn’t quite sure what she meant. Did she think we would feel sad and sentimental about leaving the place we called home for 17 years? At one point I may have felt that way, but now with the new house completed and an exciting new area to explore, I’m happy to be moving. As we went through the process of selling the house I came to realize that the emotions to which she was referring weren’t at all related to nostalgia.
When you first list your house, there’s usually a buzz of activity. The best scenario (which was our previous experience) is that the open house produces multiple offers to pit against each other and push the price over the listing price. Hopeful and optimistic are the emotions I start with, but the feeling only lasts about 15 seconds. The open house was well-attended, and the showings went gangbusters for a couple of weeks, followed by the disappointment of no offers.
Our realtor prided herself on following up with everyone who saw the house. The first few rounds of feedback were focused on “lack of upgrades” which initially surprised me because we spent $50,000 on “upgrades” from the builder in 2000. I came to realize that the interpretation of this critique means that buyers don’t notice hardwood flooring, upgraded trim and molding, a finished basement, twenty custom lighting fixtures, or a brick façade, unless you have granite countertops.
After about 3 weeks, our realtor suggested that we drop the price. Well, it started off as a suggestion but when I resisted, pleasant conversation turned to brow-beating. I got defensive over the bullying at which point she said that although a buyer doesn’t say it out loud, every criticism ends with “for the price”, such as “the house needs too many upgrades…for the price”. And contractual bliss ends in our first major fight.
We let the dust settle for a few weeks, waiting for signs of spring and hoping that the dismal swamp in the backyard would dry out. At the end of April, we relaunched with an open house and a lower price. This time “hopeful and optimistic” emotions are tempered by the fact that our starting point is now $25,000 lower.
The routine begins again, a text from a realtor triggers a flurry of clean-up activities culminating in leaving the house for an hour or two. Feedback from the showings over the next few weeks undergoes a major shift from “lack of upgrades” to “property taxes are too high”. Just a few weeks after the April 15th tax filing deadline, buyers have suddenly become painfully aware that they won’t be able to deduct the $21,000 a year in property taxes on their federal return. With limited expectations, I call an attorney to try to grieve the taxes, but miss the deadline by a few weeks, so nothing could be done until next year. I believe the emotion described here is something you feel when you’re forced to bend over and take it and there’s not a damned thing you can do about it.
After five months, we consider taking the house off the market and making some improvements (i.e. changing the countertops to granite as was the bane of many a buyer) but the timing of this renovation would leave us trying to sell the house in winter again. Maintaining a big empty house for an unknown amount of time is worse than the alternative of a drastic price decrease. And so we drop our pants, become the cheapest house in the neighborhood by far, a distinction that we are surely not worthy of. But at this point, we just need to get the job done.
With a total of four price drops and three accepted offers that didn’t pan out, my range of emotions included anger, frustration, bewilderment, annoyance, dissatisfaction, and finally just plain weariness. After closing day, I had a feeling of having survived a major trauma, with the post-traumatic stress lasting another couple of months.
Pricing (and re-pricing) the house wasn’t the only “emotional” trigger. Please stay seated for the emotional rollercoaster ride and more real estate hijinks in my next chapter.