If you have ever purchased or sold a home you know that it can be a stressful experience. For most people, buying a home is usually the single biggest purchase that they will ever make. Selling a house has unique set of stressors. I recently interviewed a local real estate agent to discuss some of this stress and how she helps clients manage it.

Home Buying Stress ManagementKelly Aulph began in real estate in 1998. Based in Royal Oak, MI she has years of experience in real estate and business, and can best be described as an accomplished and results-driven professional. Kelly enjoys providing exceptional client service and is known for her professionalism, honesty, strong work ethic, and creativity.

Kelly has also helped my family both buy and sell a home. I personally appreciate her calm, efficient, and knowledgeable guidance through the process. While my family’s experience was a relatively smooth one, it wasn’t without it’s stress.

Dr. Hanley (SH):  For most people buying a home is the single largest purchase they will make in their entire lives. What are some of the feelings and emotions that get stirred up in the process.  As a realtor, what have you noticed and how do you help people manage the stress?

Kelly Aulph (KA): Some people are totally fine throughout and some have complete meltdowns, sometimes more than just once.

I set expectations ahead of time. I am very thorough in communicating what to expect, what may happen (especially in this current seller’s market that is very competitive), and what could go wrong. I just have to keep repeating myself. Many buyers and sellers forget how stressful it can be. They forget things I may have said at the beginning (before the stress triggers present themselves). This is why I have to stay calm and just keep reminding them of the process, items along the way, and the end goal.

SH: Which is more stressful for people, buying or selling a home, and why?

KA: It truly depends on the individual and the surrounding factors. For example:

  • Are they selling their home for the first time ever? Is it a home they bought as a newly married couple and have lived in for 40 years?   
  • Are they selling their parents home after both parents have died?
  • Are the sellers selling due to a divorce settlement?
  • Is the buyer buying for the first time on their own after the loss of a spouse or a tough divorce?
  • Is the buyer buying on their own when they never thought they would buy at that stage in their life… alone?
  • Is the buyer buying because they came into funds due to a death in the family?  

All of these factors can cause different types and levels of stress. Sometimes it’s bittersweet and for others it is just difficult.

SH: With such a big purchase I know many people feel a great deal of anxiety. It is stressful when you finally have to “pull the trigger.” As a realtor, how do you help people manage those worries?

KA: I go to great lengths to ask a lot of questions before they begin the process. I need to know why they are buying, how they feel about it, etc. I also connect them with a great lender that can educate them on the financial aspect, money down, monthly payment, taxes, etc. If a buyer looks at over 40 houses and hasn’t made a single offer I have a conversation with them about their motivation and where they want to be. Sometimes we take a break until they are ready again. In this seller’s market buyers can burn out, especially if they are writing many offers on homes with multiple offers and continue to get out bid.

SH: My sense is that until the the closing documents are actually signed, there is a lot that could go wrong. In those situations you are dealing with disappointed (maybe even angry) people. How do you handle those situations?

KA: Yes. I tell my clients the ENTIRE time that it is NOT a done deal until the closing papers are signed and funds are distributed. I have seen it all, and remind them of that through the entire process. It is not just the inspection and appraisal to get through but title and underwriting also. Should the buyer lose their job a week before closing or buy a boat and new car right before… well we may lose the deal altogether. People can and do get angry. It is my job to keep a level head and just continue to educate and remind them of the end goal and possible ways to save a deal. I feel that when I do this and things do fall apart feelings are less heightened then if I hadn’t.

It also depends on what goes wrong. Many times I can re-negotiate or save the deal. I can possibly go with a back up offer. I love negotiating and problem solving. Even if a client is upset or emotional at first, if I can be the “hero” in my client’s eyes and “save the day”… well…  it’s a great feeling.

SH: As a psychotherapist I work with families who are often in conflict. For example, a divorcing couple who needs to sell their home or adult siblings whose parent have passed and they have to take care of the estate. Have you found these situations problematic from a realtor’s point of view?

KA: I have gone through this MANY times. Maybe it is just my personality but I handle it just fine. I think I was born for this job. The divorce and family trust situations are tough but I use my emotional intelligence and empathy to listen to the client. By listening you can also get a sense of which seller to contact.  

There may be one in the divorce who is less emotional with selling and you can go to them first with an offer or re-negotiation. With a trust you may have one sibling that is more practical and less emotional than the others. I go to them for the business items while I talk to the other siblings about how they are feeling about the process.

I believe that if the client feels heard and knows that you care about them and their well-being and not just the sale, they feel better about the entire process. I truly care about people and my clients and I believe that is why these tougher situations go fairly smoothly when I am the Realtor assisting them.

SH: When my wife and I bought our home you asked us to write a letter to the sellers (with our final offer) telling them why we wanted THEIR home. I never knew this was a thing. Do those really have an impact?

KA: Yes!  I strongly encourage buyers to write a letter. I even provide a “sample” letter that a buyer wrote years ago with some very personal items removed for sake of anonymity. I am not a writer myself so I feel the sample helps many buyers get an idea of what to write. The buyer wants to tell the seller how much they love their home, how they can see themselves there for years to come, and how they can’t wait to continue to take such great care of it like they have.

Even I wrote a letter when I bought my own home last year.

This is especially important if there are multiple offers. It makes your offer stand out from others. If the offers are all very close and yours stands out and pulls on the seller’s heart strings a bit…  more often than not, it works. From a seller perspective, when my sellers read them, they have a hard time rejecting the offer. If they do reject it (say due to a higher offer or a cash offer), they always keep the personal letter offer as a backup just in case something falls through.

Kelly Aulph Realtor

Thanks so much to Kelly Aulph for taking the time to answer these questions about some of the psychology and stress involved in buying and selling homes. I was struck with some of the overlap she described between being a good realtor and a psychotherapist. Both involve a lot more than just knowing facts and processes. Ultimately, they both also require a personal and empathic connection to the people we work with.

Do you have a stressful home buying or selling experience that you successfully navigated that you would like to share? Please do so below!