The True Story of Selling a House in a Down Market

by heather

My house...for sale

So, we keep hearing all these stories about how bad the housing market is. Sales are down, foreclosures are up, and that lovely homebuyer tax credit so many people were banking on has expired. It’s grim.

If you’re trying to sell your house right now, then you know how rough it is. And I’m in the trenches too; I’ve had my house on the market over a year (see tidy green bungalow, on right).

In fact, as I write this I’m going back and forth with my realtor about lowering the price. Again.

I wanted to write this post to share some of the hard lessons I’ve learned while having my own house on the market for this long. If you’re thinking about putting your own house up soon, then it might help you avoid some of the knocks and surprises we’ve experienced along the way.

Lesson #1: Your House Can’t Be Too Clean

Really, it can’t. Over the past year I’ve become an expert cleaner, especially when it comes to cleaning last minute.

It can be easy to spend a fortune on cleaners when you’re manically cleaning your house every few days. But commercial cleaners are not only bad for your wallet, but they’re also bad for the environment.

What have I been using?

  • Vinegar
  • Water
  • Baking Soda
  • Lemons

That’s all I use for the whole house, including windows. I buy it all in bulk, and it lasts forever. I even clean the toilets with vinegar, lemon and baking soda. It works great.

Lesson #2: Fix Everything You Can

I could run through a long litany of things we’ve fixed since we put our house on the market. That includes putting on a new roof.

Buyers are looking for bargains right now. They want value. So make sure you’re not giving them any excuse to say no to your house. Fix everything you can to make your home look appealing to potential buyers.

Lesson #3: You Have to Come to Grips with the Fact That You’re Probably Going to Lose Money

This is by far the hardest lesson we’ve had to stomach. I can’t bear to tell you the loss we’ll probably take on this house, especially when we add on all we’ve spent on home improvements. It’s a lot.

I wish I had magic words I could say to make this part easier. But all I can think to do is to tell you how we’ve come to grips with it. Here goes…

A lot of people have told us how completely crazy we are for trying to sell our house in such a down market. Michigan is one of the worst states in the nation right now when it comes to foreclosures. And home values just keep falling. On the surface, it does seem crazy that we’re selling now.

But we feel, deep in our hearts, that it’s time to move on. We have dreams we want to accomplish. And we can’t do that in this house, in our little town. So, we’re listening to our hearts and getting going, even though the consequences are high.

I know we’re doing the right thing. And yes, it still stings to lose this money.

But you know what?

It’s money. We can make more. And neither of us are willing to “wait it out” for another five years until the market improves just so we can get a portion of our investment back. Our time is more valuable than that number. So, we’re jumping.

Whatever your situation is, whether you’re losing your home to foreclosure or your’re selling because you simply want to be somewhere else, believe in your heart that everything will be ok. I know that might sound naive, but I truly believe that life is what we make of it. Our worth isn’t determined by the profits and losses that show up on the balance sheet at the end of the day. Yes you’re taking a loss. But who knows what opportunities are going to be waiting for you once you make this step?

This loss might be the stepping stone to wonderful open door down the road. Believe it and you’ll see it.

Last Word…

Having a house up for sale in this economy is very much like running a marathon. At least it is for me. Patience, endurance and strength are all tested over a long haul race. At times, it’s not fun.

It’s all too easy to slip down into the dumps, especially when buyer after buyer walks through and doesn’t make an offer. My advice? Keep your chin up. Straighten your back. Square your shoulders. And take a deep breath.

Let go of that money you’re losing. Really, just let it go. If you don’t, it’s going to haunt you. So, keep your eyes facing forward.

Plan what you’re going to do when your house sells. Focus on the feeling of relief, or freedom, or whatever you think you’ll feel when it’s no longer your responsibility.

Do these things, and the process might go a bit easier for you.

If you have your house on the market right now, or you’re thinking of putting it up, I’d love to hear back from you. What’s your experience been like? Do you have any tips you’d like to share with me and other readers?


Scordo July 16, 2010 at 1:37 pm

Good post, Heather. I think many homeowners (especially the ones that have not see too many turns in market conditions) fail to realize that the first thing a home is is a place to live and possibly, thereafter, an investment.

heather July 16, 2010 at 1:39 pm

@Scordo- Great to hear from you! Funny, I just mentioned you in yesterday’s post. 🙂

Yeah, it’s definitely a wake up call when you put your house up. We bought this house as a “home” but then our goals and priorities changed, which is why we decided to sell. But people who did buy for investment are going through the same thing too.

Clare July 16, 2010 at 5:27 pm


Good luck with selling your house. I think it looks adorable.

I, fortunately, just sold my home in Austin, TX. Not only did I lose a lot of money, but I had to deal with endless aggravation from the buyers. I agree with you that you have to accept the fact that it’s a buyer’s market, and do what you need to do in order to sell.

Jenny July 17, 2010 at 4:41 am

The house is adorable. Someone is going to see it as their new home.

Dave Doctor July 18, 2010 at 7:14 pm

The down market could be here to stay and might get worse. I think property prices in Japan fell 80% after the bubble and most people still owe more than their house is worth, and the crash happened about 20 years ago.

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