Stop Stressing: Market Anxiety Overload

Is uncertainty in your market stressing you out? Experts discuss top anxiety triggers for real estate pros, including the common fears of not making enough money or losing clients, and provide action plans for relief.

May 1, 2008

Sellers aren't the only ones stressing out. As home sales slide and financial markets roil, it’s easy for you to let anxiety get the upper hand.

“Real estate practitioners are faced with threats to their income and livelihood,” says psychologist Alan Keck of Altamonte Springs, Fla. “They’ve also seen increased competition because more people have entered the business in recent years. Moreover, many are financially overextended.”

But rather than being paralyzed by worry or fear, you can ease anxiety by taking concrete actions tailored to today’s market realities.

Anxiety trigger 1: Fewer clients and transactions.

Market to a new niche. Emily Link, ABR®, CRS®, a practitioner with Keller Williams Realty, Thousand Oaks, Calif., has weathered three major downturns in her 28 years in the business. To keep sales moving during the current sales slump, Link refocused her marketing on first-time buyers. In March, she launched a series of first-time buyer seminars, and she’s tapping more online outlets to increase her name recognition and get greater exposure for listings. She promotes properties on Craigslist in Ventura and Los Angeles and uses the real estate Internet marketing company Z57 to get her listings syndicated on more than 15 real estate search engines. Another option some practitioners may want to explore is working REOs. (For more, see Mastering Foreclosures.)

Up your contact rate. Even though sales are slower, NAR is projecting some 4.9 million in existing-home sales for the first half of the year before an improvement to 5.8 million in the second half. Get a bigger piece of the pie by increasing the number of contacts you make each week. Determine how many appointments you need on average to secure a listing. Next, develop a schedule to make that many contacts each month.

Cindy Wilson, a salesperson with Koenig & Strey GMAC Real Estate, Chicago has ramped up her client contact. New prospects receive hand-written notes; Chicago Cubs magnets and schedules are in the mail to her sphere of influence; and she stays in regular contact with lukewarm prospects. “It takes persistence to turn a lead into a client,” she says. “I wrote notes and made calls at least monthly to check in and keep in touch, not push.” That was the strategy that finally landed Wilson a listing with someone she met nearly six months ago. (For more prospecting tips and ideas, see “Prospect for Profits”.

Resist putting on the pressure. Even if you’re desperate to close a deal, ratchet down any pressure you’re tempted to exert on reluctant clients, says Jana Martin, a psychologist in Long Beach, Calif. “People can sniff out desperation pretty quickly,” she says. “You want to put aside aggressive tactics.”

Re-educate yourself. Ann DeFries, CRS®, sales manager of Balistreri Realty, Boca Raton, Fla., and 2008 president of the Women’s Council of REALTORS®, urges practitioners to improve their businesses by gaining broader skills, especially if they first entered real estate during the go-go years. “In our office, we’re stepping up education on basics such as business planning, negotiating, market analysis, building rapport, and writing contracts,” she says.

Anxiety trigger 2: Shrinking income.

Spend smarter. Analyze all your marketing and business costs, and then eliminate those that don’t produce business benefits. For example, Link opted for a cheaper — and turns out more feature-rich — contact management program and cut marketing costs by temporarily shelving a glossy promotional magazine. Though beautiful, the magazine wasn’t giving her the best results for her money. Just those two cuts save her $110 monthly. (For more on projecting and controlling expenses, see “Budget for Success.”)

Cut your personal expenses. Take some of the pressure off yourself by reducing your personal expenses wherever possible. Put off buying a new car for one more year; eliminate travel costs and explore a vacation spot closer to home; eat out less often. For more ideas, see “Save Money Now” or tap into additional saving tips from

“We’re not a generation used to delaying gratification, but people are going to have to make some changes,” says Nancy Molitor, a Wilmette, Ill.-based psychologist. Her suggestion: keep the fun, cut the costs. “The challenge is to still have diversions, but find ones that are less intense and exuberant than people have gotten used to,” says Molitor.

Anxiety trigger 3: Buyers won't buy because they think home prices will keep falling.

Curb the fear of overpaying. Use your expertise and local market facts to counter buyers’ anxieties about paying too much for a home. Wilson shows buyers a neighborhood’s pricing history to illustrate by just how much prices have become more favorable to them. Others, such as DeFries, remind buyers that housing is a long-term investment and not a get-rich-quick scheme. “You’re buying a dwelling, not a retirement program,” says Robyn DeLong, a practitioner with Lyon Real Estate, Citrus Heights, Calif. It’s also helpful to remind buyers that according to NAR’s Research Department, the value of the average home nearly doubles every 10 years.

Dispel the hope of timing the market. DeFries warns fence-sitting buyers about the dangers of waiting too long for more attractive prices and missing today’s low mortgage rates. NAR’s Research Division is projecting that mortgage interest rates will increase throughout 2008 and the first half of 2009. For more on overcoming buyer and seller objections, get some scripts to help you respond with “Say the Right Thing.”

Fend off buyer pessimism. NAR’s new advertising and promotional campaign, “Surround Sound,” focuses on educating consumers about the favorable conditions that exist for buyers.

Anxiety trigger 4: Sellers’ don’t want to lower prices.

Provide a true picture of today’s market. Some sellers are still clinging to the belief that they can sell a home for what a neighbor netted 18 months ago. In most markets, that’s just not going to happen. Wilson begins by acknowledging sellers’ disappointment, saying, “Though you’re not going to make as much as you anticipated, you have enjoyed this property as your home — a value that can’t be quantified.” In addition, she points out that the property they’re trading up to will likely provide similar joy and they’ll be getting it for a good price. She then addresses the new market reality by showing a detailed pricing history of condo units in the building and how selling prices have declined neighborhood-wide in the last year.

Show a little tough love. Sellers are understandably unhappy that their home may sell for less than it might have a year ago, but facing reality is what being an adult is all about. “If I can’t convince sellers with market data, I take a tough-love stance,” Wilson says. “I say, ‘you never actually had that money.’ That usually stops the argument.”

Provide a life preserver to underwater sellers. Owners whose mortgage debt now exceeds their home’s current market value present a special situation. Do your part to make a sale feasible by setting up a reference team of accountants, mortgage experts, CPAs, and lawyers who can analyze sellers’ financial picture and outline options. For more on short sales, read “How to Succeed at Short Sales.”

Anxiety trigger 5: You (and your clients) are faced with chronic negative press about real estate.

Counter a negative with a positive. Sure, negative stories on home prices are shaking some consumers, but instead of getting mad, take action. Use some of the same market statistics you’ve developed for your buyer prospects, and send them to your local media outlets. Offer to meet with reporters and explain what your local market is really experiencing. Also check sources at for information on the importance of home ownership in building long-term wealth. Finally, read “Winning the Publicity Game” for tips on working with the media.

Reduce media consumption. There’s a cumulative negative effect in hearing the same reports over and over. Your intellect hears one thing and your emotions respond to another. “The more your read, the more you think the sky is falling,” notes Molitor. Though you need to understand the world economy, you also need a realistic assessment of your personal economic situation. If your finances are OK, then a tidal wave of negative media should be less alarming to you.

Anxiety trigger 6: Feelings of helplessness and depression.

Focus on what you can control. “Real estate cycles are part of the business,” says DeLong. “I try to manage any internal anxiety I feel because if I don’t, it shows on the outside. Instead of saying ‘oh dear, oh dear,’ I’m focused on what I want and what I need to do to move forward and not spiral down.” She concentrates on the fact that the market is still strong for qualified buyers and investors and shares that message with prospects, past clients, and others asking about market conditions. “People make money in every market and there are opportunities if you look for them,” she adds. DeLong has also upped her networking at Rotary Club meetings and Chamber of Commerce events and holds more open houses to meet new buyers.

Resist false feel-goods. People often try to counter stresses by treating themselves to new clothes, vacations, or expensive meals when they’re down, says Martin. Instead these short-term solutions “just compound the problem,” she says. Similarly, avoid overindulgence in food, drinking, or smoking to quell anxiety. For more coping strategies, spend some time with the exercises in the “Reducing Stress” toolkit at REALTOR®.

While there’s no silver bullet that will turn a slow market into a hot one, using a few of our strategies will reduce your anxieties now and ensure that you’re ready to make the most of the next market upswing.

Elyse Umlauf-Garneau is a Chicago-based freelance writer and former senior editor with REALTOR® Magazine.