When selling is the least of your worries

Around 700,000 people will confirm that trying to sell your house is pretty tough at the moment. Most people trying to sell their home have been confused by which agent to choose, what price to quote, what they can buy if they have to take so much less than theyʼd hoped? In May 2006 136,000 homes sold in the UK of which 12,781 were in London. In May this year there were just 62,000 in the whole country and only 3,000 of those were in London. At these levels things really can only get better.

But dealing with the stress of selling is actually not the biggest problem for around a fifth of all sellers this year. Because there are so few people actually putting their properties onto the market, a very significant proportion are made up of those who are only selling because they have to. These are the so-called ʻforcedʼ sellers, people who have little choice because they are in debt, getting divorced or because of the death of a partner or relation. These “three Dʼs” put extra pressure on everyone involved often because the
sale is reluctant and the result of a much more emotional event.

In recent weeks two old girl friends have found their worlds turned upside down. Each has decided, long after we all thought they should, to call time on their “sham of a marriage” and both now find themselves wandering through the emotional wasteland that often follows such massive decisions. Their lives have been shredded – first as they owned up to themselves that things werenʼt right, then as they fought to save the second most important thing in their lives (after their kids) and finally the ghastly period of having to
own up to their family and friends. The “Iʼm surprised you put up with him for so long” and the “maybe you expected too much” comments, the predatory advances of their girlfriends husbands, the look of pity – all the emotions, many often only in their minds, all screw with their grip on life. In both cases, each had to book summer holidays, hire and fire nannies and be responsible for the weekly shop but it is 15 years since either had to look after their financial security and that of their children. On their own now they have
to deal with solicitors, contractors and letting agents as they find somewhere smaller to live and with an estate agent who wants to sell the house that they never really wanted to part with in the first place.

The same tensions appear when a parent dies or if youʼve lost your job. The house you grew up in or that youʼve raised your family in has to be sold and a new chapter begun. There seem to be very few guide books on “the pitfalls of selling for beginners” and even fewer crash courses on “learning to deal with tradesmen and professionals for dummies”. Along with the grief, and often anger, there has to be room to think about the disposal of a significant financial asset. Bad enough to find your husband has been letting you down for years without also having to learn how to deal with an agent. Who is going to help find two
new homes from the proceeds of the sale of one – and do it in 2009 when the property market is on itʼs knees?

The most important thing to remember if you find yourself struggling with how to separate the practical elements of an emotionally turbulent event is that actually most people want to help. The chances of someone actually taking advantage of your situation is statistically remote but the best way to protect yourself is to get some good professional advisors. A lawyer will need to be paid by the hour but a proactive estate agent is paid only on results. Be clear with your advisors and come clean. Tell them everything and they can then explain your options and advise on a course of action. Itʼs up to you to decide if you want to follow the advice but friends can recommend trusty advisors, many through first hand

Remember, whilst many forced sellers are only in this position as a result of being let down by someone else, trust is something that can be rebuilt and, like riding a bicycle, learning to balance is something that almost everyone can do if they try hard enough. The world may seem a very dark and unhappy place just at the moment but unnatural though it may seem, placing your trust in professional advice is often the first step in finding the way out. With the practical elements of life sorted you can then get on with your life –
finding a new and funnier partner, a more rewarding job or in building the sort of home that your parents gave you – remember, the one that you never thought could ever be replaced.