Real Estate - Unpacking the Emotions


By Diane Saatchi

This morning, I sat down to write a blog about the condition of the 2017 real estate market.

Then, three early morning emails and subsequent phone conversations took me in an entirely different direction. I intended to write about current prices, relative discounts, and time on the market. Those conversations with homeowners and a buyer, however, were not about money, but about their memories and aspirations.


I was reminded again that personal real estate is not just about the physical commodity and its cost. It’s not only about interest rates and mortgages and ROI. It is about letting go of the past and embracing the future colored by the underlying reason for the transaction.

And there is always an underlying reason.

Home is where the important things happen; it is where we spend most of our time and where our memories are created. Lives and relationships begin and end, children grow up, and we grow old in our homes. It’s where we celebrate and mourn. At its best, home is the ultimate safe and happy place.

The decision to buy or sell a home, not just a primary home, is usually initiated because of a life — not a real estate — event. Sometimes, not always, the event is positive, but even the most joyous of life events can be bittersweet. While it may be said that we decided (emphasis on decide) to buy, sell, downsize, or that we want to be closer to parents, children, work, school, the genesis of the decision is usually something outside of our control and far afield from real estate.

As I think about recent sales, I cannot identify a single one that was not precipitated by a significant life change. In each sale, the seller, the buyer, or both experienced the loss of a parent or spouse, illness, marriage, divorce, birth of child or grandchild, relocation, retirement, or change in finances. In a few instances, the homeowners decided to sell in anticipation of loss — that is, they wanted to sell before they had to.

Given this, it’s no wonder that pricing, listing, showing, and negotiating are wrought with emotion. Looking for and buying or selling a home is thought to be one of the most stressful life events. It is on par with other major life events like, marriage, divorce, illness, birth, death and career change. A house sale is business, but packing up, letting go, and moving on is entirely personal.

On the surface, we are dealing with the sale and purchase of real estate, but in actuality, we are trading the sellers’ memories for the buyers’ dreams, along with the associated baggage.

The buyer and seller have the property in common: one wants to buy and the other wants to sell. It is pretty easy to get the price and terms worked out. The hard work begins once those details are decided. Keeping the deal together from that point on is challenging, because while the buyer is doing due diligence, the seller starts to think about the next move. While one looks for what is wrong with a property, the other looks ahead to the unknown. In many instances the buyer is also a seller and the seller also a buyer. Those emotions are at odds and in stereo.

In one of those emails this morning that got me thinking about the emotions a seller wrote: “The few friends I tell about the sale are in shock which makes me feel sort of bad… They react almost as if I told them I'm getting divorced… it's crazy… but it does make me ask myself 'Am I sure?’"

Fortunately, moving offers lots to do. Focused activity is wonderful therapy because it puts us back in control. For the buyer it’s decorating, shopping, meeting with tradespeople, packing, and setting up utilities. For the seller, its giving things away, packing, planning for where things will go, and maybe arranging content sales. There is something cathartic about filling the dumpster and checking off all the items on the to-do list.

It takes some time and distance but eventually we realize that memories are in our hearts and minds and as such are not left behind. The buyers may alter the house, even tear it down, but they can’t change the memories that were created there.

© 2017 Diane Saatchi