Ocracoke Real Estate: The Grieving Process
By B.J. OELSCHLEGE
five stages of loss are denial, then bargaining, sadness and regret,
resentment and frustration, and, finally, acceptance and resignation.
I can hear you wondering why I would be bringing up the stages of loss
when I customarily write about real estate. The answer is that I am
coming to the conclusion that these five stages are applicable to our
current market and the players involved.
You might think that buying and selling real estate falls strictly in
the category of “business.” If you stop to think about it, all business
is about relationships. Successful businesses are ones which have
formed good working relationships with customers. People buy and sell
houses, therefore the human element comes into play.
The human factor plays a much bigger role than you might expect in real
estate. There are lots of examples. People don’t buy houses based on
the numbers or the details. The purchase is based on their emotional
response to the house. The numbers merely support the decision. When
advising a buyer about a contract price, I have heard myself saying
that the offer should not be so low as to offend the seller. The
strategy is to find a middle ground that keeps each party at the table
-- negotiating rather than walking away. In successful contract
negotiations, everyone needs to feel the win-win. This sounds more like
what you would expect out of a psychology class than a business deal.
We’ve had two years now during which the real estate market has been
moving into and through this recession. Sellers, myself included, have
for the most part been hard-headed when it comes to the discussion of
value for their property.
It might have been the spring of 2008 when I had a seller call me and
tell me that he wanted to sell his house fast because he had another
house, closer to home, that he wanted to buy. At that point in time a
small house like his would have sold conservatively for $450,000 to
$475,000. I told him that if he went in with a price of $425,000 and
expected to close somewhere between $400,000-$425,000, he could attract
some attention and possibly meet his deadline. The couple’s decision
was to stay with the current market value of $495,000. After sitting on
the market for a year, and with no sale in sight, the house was taken
off the market. As it stands now, that house might be lucky to sell for
The option to sell below market value and move on was lost. The hardest
part is that the below market value then was more than market value
Denial: the refusal to face unpleasant facts. How many sellers would be
further down the road had they not held on to the belief that property
values were static?
Bargaining: Ocracoke has seen property values escalating at a rate of
10-14 percent per year. We all know that the island is
and anyway my house has an incredible view of the water.
I am going to lump the next two stages of loss together. I keep
wondering why our sellers are holding onto their listing prices despite
our advice. I think that there is incredible sadness, resentment,
anger, and frustration at having missed the wave. The energy in the
market slipped past us as we bobbed, waiting for the perfect sale.
There must be another good wave out there, as we scan the horizon. I’m
starting to see now that it’s low tide and the wind is dying out.
I believe that when presented with a concrete offer, a seller will
finally accept the condition of the market and move on. A potential
buyer recently was more than disappointed by the lack of “price
reduction” in our market. Maybe this is because we are a second, and
not a primary, home market. But I explained that I thought our sellers
were holding onto the hope of a higher value, and that the old “bird in
the hand is worth two in the bush” would be the motivating factor for
Let’s breathe, accept where we are, and move on.
Oelschlegel has lived on Ocracoke Island for more than 30 years and has
worked in the real estate business for 26 years. She is a
with Ocracoke’s Lightship Realty and a real estate columnist for The
Ocracoke Observer. You can reach her by e-mail at