Selling a House You Love: 5 Tips to Help Soften the Blow of an Emotionally Tough Home Sale

As Valentine’s Day approaches, skeptics of the world over lament a Hallmark-sponsored conspiracy that encourages the average person to spend $161.96 on things like jewelry, candy, and flowers. But no one can argue that love comes in many forms and one is the connection we create to that place called “home.”

“My house is not ‘just a thing.’ It is an extension of my physical body and my sense of self that reflects who I was, am, and want to be,” wrote Dr. Karen Lollar in her article for Qualitative Inquiry, a peer-reviewed academic journal.

In fact, our research behind the psychology of relationships and conversations with a real estate expert about seller’s remorse reveal there’s more overlap between a bad break up and selling the house that you might think. So give your heart a little TLC—follow these chocolate nuggets of advice that will help you soften the blow of an emotionally tough home sale.

Older couple dancing in house.
Source: (George Rudy/ shutterstock)

How owning a house is like ‘being in a long-term relationship’

Over his 16 years of experience in the real estate industry, top-selling Greenville, North Carolina agent Homer Tyre has helped many homeowners sell a house where they raised their kids, played with their grandchildren, and spent every game night and family holiday over the past several decades.

“You’re so invested [in the home] and for most people, their home is the single largest investment they make,” says Tyre. “They have had so many great or life-altering memories in that home that it’s like being in a long-term relationship.”

Our attachment to our things is more innate than you think. Remember your favorite childhood teddy bear or your own child’s security blanket? From a young age, we develop a deep attachment to our “first ownership”—psychologists Bruce Hood and Paul Bloom found that children consistently chose their beloved and old toy over an identical new copy.

Security blankets help us transition from hiding behind our parents’ legs to independence. In adolescence and adulthood, our favorite “things” become an extension of our identity and self. With a house, one of the most important transactions and possessions, that emotional attachment is even greater.

When your house also represents a community of support

One of Tyre’s clients had an especially bad “breakup” when she had to sell her house. This client, a professional teacher, chose to homeschool her three children in a house she set up to feel just like a classroom. But what made the situation worse was the loss of an entire homeschool network of other parents, friends, and children that they’d grown close to.

“They were relocating to a whole new state. I sold the home for more than the list price, which most sellers would pop champagne over, but it was not a happy situation. It was a really bad breakup,” recounts Tyre.

Her home gave her purpose and a community that she didn’t want to leave.

Another reason why a breakup with your home is hard to go through can be explained by the Endowment Effect. This economic theory finds that people overvalue what they already own. They are comfortable with the status quo and feel threatened by change and the unfamiliar, which makes losing or parting from what they have particularly difficult. Now, they believe that their loss is more than it actually is.

“I think a lot of it has to do with change,” says Tyre.

“It’s just like a relationship where you think, ‘Oh my God, I may have to start over. Am I going to be back on the dating scene?’”

But, breakups are normal, just like selling your house. According to the National Association of Realtors, the average number of years people stay in their homes is anywhere from 10-20 years depending on their age.

Sure, this house was perfect, but the home selling and buying process isn’t finding “the one” that sticks around forever. It’s more about finding the home that fits your needs best based on your current situation. That gets easier if you can feel good in your next decision and give yourself closure over the past—so let’s dive into 5 tips to help you work through it.

Computer used to research selling a house.
Source: (Edi Simetzberger/ Unsplash)

Tip #1: Make sure you’re ready to call it quits from a financial perspective

When you mix money and love, things get complicated. Just ask the 1 in 5 partners who choose to keep their finances separate. Applying this division of church and state to selling the house can suck some of the emotion out of the process.

Above how you feel about the selling situation, you need to figure out the hard financials and timing of this sale. Can you afford to sell this home and buy another, and is now the time to do it?

You can start by using HomeLight’s Home Value Estimator to get a ballpark figure for what your home would go for in the current market. Then, factor in your expenses like home prep, repairs, and agent commissions. Make sure that after you sell the house you’ll have enough money to pay off the mortgage and then some, ideally enough for a sizable down payment on the next house.

Then, find out if it’s the best time to sell your home in your market. Depending on where you live, seasonality makes a big impact—in fact, HomeLight data shows that selling at an opportune moment can help you increase your profits by up to 75%. In San Francisco, the best time to sell is May, whereas in Greenville, NC, June is the money month.

“Doing your due diligence on the front end actually will help you as a seller to swallow that frog if you have apprehensions or if you’re emotionally attached to the home,” says Tyre. “It’s really going to help set you at ease and make that transition a lot easier.”

Similar to a relationship break up, selling a home shouldn’t be a rash, spur of the moment decision. Do a gut check and figure out if you’re financially ready to sell this house. Placing the numbers in front of you gives you a moment to emotionally detach from your home and view it as a business deal.

Tip#2: Reframe your mindset to focus on your ‘Why’

The first question Tyre asks his seller clients is, “What’s your ‘Why’?”

Maybe you seek a new lifestyle that apartment living can provide, you’d like to move to be closer to the grandkids, or it’s time to trade up to give your growing family more breathing room.

In any case a focus on your end goal makes it easier to harness your attention on the future and reframe your home sale as change (good change!) rather than loss. Then, selling your house becomes an opportunity for you to move on to a different chapter of your life.

Tyre also views reframing as a strategy to market the home and find the right buyers.

“If you have someone that’s emotionally tied to the home, take why they’re that emotionally invested and use that to market to find a buyer,” says Tyre. “Then, you can find the right buyer that appreciates it and understands it. This helps the seller feel like they’re leaving it in good hands.”

Tyre describes this as the dream deal, in which the buyer acknowledges the emotional ties the seller has to the home. This helps the deal close faster since both parties want to see each other succeed in the process—the buyer and seller work together to work toward an outcome that benefits everyone.

New white kitchen island in house.
Source: (AddiGibson/ pixabay)

Tip #3: Keep living your life with productive distractions

The last thing you want to do after a breakup is to withdraw from your life and forget about any goals you’ve set individually. And similarly, after you decide to sell your house, don’t let yourself wallow and neglect home selling responsibilities.

Oftentimes, home sellers are also buyers, so their home purchase is contingent on their home sale. If you’re downsizing, maybe your next house should be closer to your family in the next town over or closer to the city so you have a shorter commute. If you’re relocating to a completely different city for a new career, you’ll need to investigate the area and find the best location for your needs.

Channel your emotions toward figuring out what your future will look like, in terms of the house and your neighborhood. Focus your attention on making the best offer for your next home. Speak with a top real estate agent in the area to help you navigate the market as a buyer.

Or, if you’ve already closed on another house, distract yourself by decorating your new place.

Install the kitchen island you’ve always wanted that never worked in your old home or build that walk-in closet that you have a dedicated Pinterest board for. Turn the home into a finished product that you’re proud of, creating a sense of accomplishment.

That way your next home becomes a productive distraction that will help you get over the initial home sale.

Tip #4: Walk down memory lane: Do the emotional work

Many psychological studies have found that revisiting the positive memories of a past romantic relationship helped with the coping process of individuals who went through recent breakups.

Writing about the experiences helped increase the subjects’ well-being and talking through what had happened created a more independent sense of self for the subjects.

So, when you sell your house, don’t be afraid to:

  • Walk-through your home and revisit old memories.
  • Reflect on how the house has served its purpose for however long you lived there.
  • Talk about how you loved living here with your spouse, children, and family members.

This type of processing helps you to accept your emotions throughout the home sale. If you want to keep a snapshot of the home, take photos and use those as emotional anchors for you to look back on in the future.

Then, take steps to detach from what you used to call your home. Trust your real estate agent and start the staging process. See how furniture works in different arrangements, change up the decor, and paint the walls neutral colors to begin depersonalizing the house without giving yourself whiplash.

Group of people having party in kitchen before selling house.
Source: (Jack Frog/ shutterstock)

Tip #5: Get closure by making it a point to say goodbye

A key step in recovering after a break up is saying goodbye with respect and empathy. This helps both parties understand and communicate why the break-up happened so that everyone leaves with closure.

When selling a house, you don’t want to walk away with unfinished business or bitterness. You might not be emotionally prepared for the change, but don’t demand buyers to overpay for your home or leave the home in a sloppy state. Be respectful to the next set of homeowners, and take the time to get everything in shipshape for the final walkthrough.

A proper goodbye can also include a “house-cooling party” that lets you invite friends and family to your home for one last time before handing over the keys. Those who are important to you also have a chance to say goodbye to you and the home.

Ready to sell the house you love? Partner up with a top agent to insert a degree of separation

When Tyre discovers that his clients are attached to their homes and can’t seem to make a clean break, he asks them to open up and share their memories: “We always say, ‘tell me more,’” Tyre explains.

The discussion helps sellers to cope with the process, while also allowing Tyre to understand how to approach the home sale from a professional perspective.

In this way and many others, an agent is your confidante and the necessary degree of separation from a home you see with rosy-eyed sentiment. Partner up with a top agent who’s been through the selling process umpteen times and can stay cool as a cucumber, even on days when you feel like a train wreck.

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