4.24.2009

Home-Selling in a Sh#tty Market


Start by being negative. In a down market, you can’t be negative enough. Extrapolate the worst case to the furthest extreme you can’t even imagine and try to imagine it. Bring your fears up in conversation with your husband and talk about it when there’s a space in normal conversation. Send him emails about bad news in the housing market. Not too many – don’t make it predictable. Send other things, too.

Talk about things you would do if you had money. Talk about bills and how hard it is to enjoy life with a stinking huge mortgage. Ask hypothetical questions like, “If you didn’t have to give all your money to the mortgage company, what would you do with it?” Don’t proceed until your husband is thinking at least as negatively as you are.

“You think we could rent it out?” he’ll say. “We might be able to make a little money and live somewhere else cheaper.”

“Do the math,” you say. “Figure out how much we’re losing every month. That’s assuming you can even get a renter. I can swing a dead cat and hit four rentals just on this street.”

“Oh,” he’ll say, blindsided by your calculations. You’ve worked everything out in so many different ways he won’t want to look at the details. You’re buried in details and none of them are positive. If they worked at all, you wouldn’t want to sell, either. You’re just trying to live in reality.

Have him talk to the realtor. Pick the most aggressive one you know, the one you have been talking to for months, discussing the market and the numbers. The one who keeps telling you it’s pretty rotten out there, but you should do okay. The one who says, “I might have a buyer for you already.” He’s probably lying, but you need hope in these situations. Any hope, even imaginary hope, helps you face reality.

Once your husband talks to the realtor, if he’s a good realtor, your husband will say, “I think we should sell.”

“You really think so?”

If it’s your idea alone, you’ll be easy to blame. But you’re on the same team so you want the best for both of you. You can see reality a little clearer since it’s you who does the bills and the budget and the shopping. You know how hard it is to stretch the money to the end of the month. Since you’re a team, you need to act like a team player.

“Tell me why you think we should sell.”

When the realtor comes over to sign the listing agreement, make sure your husband asks all the questions he wants about whatever it is that concerns him. He might have some good questions, even if he’s already discussed these questions with you and you’ve already answered them exactly the same way as the realtor. That’s called reinforcement. Almost nobody comprehends something completely on the first go-round.

Remember that the realtor wants to get paid, so he’s also on your side. He’ll know more than both of you because this is his job. If you listen to what he says, even if you don’t like what you hear, you can make better decisions. You can understand which decisions are better.

Start to worry when you only get one showing in two weeks. Ask your husband what he thinks you both should do.

“The only thing we can do,” he says, “is lower the price. We can’t change the location and we can’t add another bedroom. Let’s lower it.”

Let him call the realtor to do so.

The realtor will say, “There are many reasons why lowering the price to under $250,000 is a good idea. Buyers search in $25,000 increments, so now you’re under a big one. I’ll bring the paperwork over tonight.”

When your husband calls the realtor again, and then again, asking to continue lowering the price, the realtor might say something like, “Now you’re just panicking.”

Don’t let the realtor sway either of you. You and you husband both bought into the idea of selling your home. If it isn’t sold, you have to do whatever it takes to get there. Even if whatever it takes is bringing a check to closing.

“Do we really have to bring a check to closing?” your husband says. “Why aren’t we renting it out? I think we should rent it out.”

Before this happens, make sure your husband has pictured you both in a new place, a place where you don’t have this elephantine mortgage hanging over your head. It’s a nice place and it’s closer to friends and family and everything he likes. It doesn’t rain as much there and he hates the rain. It’s a happy place because you both will have enough money to do something besides pay HOAs and eat oatmeal.

Don’t talk too much about the equity you’ve lost or the financial gift you’re giving the new buyer, if you ever get someone to become the new buyer. Instead, send another email or two about the housing market. Do some more calculations and write them down. Leave them out to show him when he doesn’t have time to look. It isn’t fun to sell in a down market so don’t make it more painful than necessary. The more you think about it, the worse it gets. Little reminders work much better than big depressing reality-check family meetings. Tell yourself, “Good things await you in your future” and other fortune-cookie-type platitudes.

Keep cleaning your home obsessively while you’re praying for an offer, no matter how low. There’s a point where everything you love about this place becomes everything you hate. The more you clean for showings, the faster you’ll get to that point. Besides, there’s nothing else you can do to influence the sale now.

“There’s an offer,” the realtor calls and says. “You want to know how much?”

He’d better tell you because if he tells your husband, your husband will not be happy. Your husband may not take the reality of the market as well as you will. You don’t swear at people in traffic so you’re better able to get the stab in the eye first-hand.

“$215,000,” he says. “It’s $15,000 below asking, but in this market that’s considered close. It’s a good offer.”

Think about it for a while, using your logical brain. Stay far, far away from your emotional brain. In fact, unplug that thing for a while. Put it in a moving box and tape it up. You won’t want to use it during this whole move or you’ll be sad about all the memories you have here and all you’re leaving behind. You could really regret just about everything right about now. Minimize regret.

“Think about what we should counter at,” you tell the realtor. “We should counter, right?”

“Sure,” he says.

Don’t get emotional. Don’t get emotional. Even when your husband gets emotional, since there’s no law he has to be logical if he doesn’t want to, don’t you go and get emotional.

“I think I want to rent this place out,” he says.

“If that were a good solution,” you say, faking calmness and almost convincing yourself, “we would have done that in the first place.”

“How much will we have to bring to close?”

“Less than ten thousand, I think. I don’t know for sure.”

“Where’s that coming from?”

“Let’s let the realtor do his job, okay?” You both don’t have to come to an agreement all at once. Even if you lose one night of sleep, it’s only one night. Getting emotional, getting angry, does a lot of damage and we need this team to be strong. Who knows what else is in store for your team in the future.

“Okay,” he says. He says a lot of other things but since they’re emotional, you’d do best to let them keep on going past your ears and out the window.

The realtor meets you for your signature on the counter offer. “Don’t get greedy,” he says. “You’ll lose the buyer.”

You sign all the papers. No, you don’t want to be greedy. You let the realtor do his job.

“Don’t start celebrating,” the realtor calls and says later, “but I think it’s sold.”

You call to tell your husband. While the phone’s ringing you remind yourself you’re on the same team. You have to face reality and it’d be nice not to face it alone.

Remind yourself if he needs to process this particular reality, he’s free to do so. If he needs to vent a little and share with you some of his more interesting, most private emotions, remember the good of the team. Anyone can get stressed selling a home in a sh#tty market, cash advancing the credit cards to give the buyer a gift at closing, ending up with negative nothing.

Show some team spirit and enjoy the last part of this game. There are so many more teams endlessly stuck in this game without a prayer of moving on.

It’s your time to be positive now.