I adore New Year’s. I love the opportunity for a ceremonial replay of the year and summary of all the wins, fails, surprises and lessons that took place.
Even more, I adore the fact that I have the rare chance to press pause, giving me the rare mental and energetic space for some deep thought and dreaming, and some cosmic churning up of big visions, dreams and plans for the coming 12 months — most often, a vision that is more likely to happen because it is enriched from its birth with the lessons of what did and didn’t work the year before. It’s a symbolic fresh start, reset button and launchpad, all in one.
But my own New Year’s process this year made me wonder: What if we could also reset our national mindset around real estate? Clearly, the market has done an epic reset of its own, sweeping toxic mortgages off of Wall Street and unsustainable home loans and unaffordable homes right out from under the families who lived in them, on Main Street (and thereabouts).
But that’s not what I’m talking about — I’m talking about the sea change that might occur if America set widespread real estate resolutions less from a place of transactional tasks, like buying and selling, and more from a place of learning from the housing angst we’ve experienced nationwide for the last few years and the intention to transform the dysfunction in our overall experience of real estate. Then, we could drill backwards into a more detailed list of tasks and internal work to execute this sweeping change.
Here’s what I mean. Every day I get notes, Facebook pings, and even text messages from buyers, sellers, homeowners and renters who are living in terror around their housing situation. They are fearful of foreclosure/being upside down/their landlord going into foreclosure/being stuck in their homes, among other things.
Two things I know about fear: (1) we fear what we don’t understand, and (2) studies show that uncertainty in humans causes a vastly greater degree of distress than being certain that something bad will happen.
If, in 2011, we want to resolve to eliminate fear and uncertainty in our real estate situations, we can then work back to get educated about whatever subject it is that is causing us angst. Even knowing what the foreclosure process looks like, if you’re facing it, beats not knowing.
Also, facing or completing outstanding obligations, like the delinquent property taxes that so many homeowners currently face, is the sort of resolution that can resolve a deep level of anxiety that many people are living with. Many tax assessors will set up a long-term payment plan; just putting that in place is a worthy resolution.
Creating order is another one of those resolutions with the potential to truly reset your experience as a real estate consumer. This one is delightfully like a semantic Rorschach test — what it means to you will vary based on the transformation you crave and need; it might mean organizing your physical residence or creating an orderly system of tracking and managing and paying your housing expenses — from rent or mortgage to property taxes, expenses and utilities.
As part of my own personal pre-New Year’s endeavor around order, I challenged myself to eliminate 200 items between mid-November and the end of the year — I actually donated around 206 books and items of clothing.
That simplification created space and order in my shelves and closets — which opened up some alternative uses of my space at home to much better suit the activities I want and need to do in that space. I didn’t need to remodel — I needed to purge!
I think a critical mental resolution around real estate that many of us could stand to set, given recent history, is to live in financial honesty and integrity when it comes to our homes.
This primarily entails:
- Flat out not spending what you don’t have.
- Avoiding credit card debt to furnish, fix, pay for or maintain our homes (if you can pay cash for all that but have to charge other things as a result, that’s the opposite of financial honesty).
- Avoiding spending more for rent or a mortgage than we can truly afford — so yes, this may mean getting real with yourself about your income and expenses and doing math about what you can truly afford. It may mean getting a roommate, or a second job, if you’re overextended, or even tearfully making the decision to sell a home or scale back your dream home’s purchase price.
Remember that old saying, "The truth hurts"?
While it might smart in the short term, over the long term, financial honesty in the realm of your housing costs, order in your home and your home finances, and getting educated and completing any incomplete obligations that are creating fear, anxiety and uncertainty all hold the potential to be true resolutions that will last far beyond 2011.
Tara-Nicholle Nelson is author of "The Savvy Woman’s Homebuying Handbook" and "Trillion Dollar Women: Use Your Power to Make Buying and Remodeling Decisions." Tara is also the Consumer Ambassador and Educator for real estate listings search site Trulia.com. Ask her a real estate question online or visit her website, www.rethinkrealestate.com.