Facing a Major Life Transition
We sold our house and bought another.
Impossible to put the ever-escalating anxiety, nerve-wracking worry, overwhelming panic and threatening despair associated with the seven words above into words and onto paper.
Why does it have to be so complicated to sell a house and buy another?
Here in France, it is a confusing and cumbersome process. First, you have to make up your mind to sell. Since every time you buy a house, you have to pay 10% on top of the asking price in fees and taxes; it is not a decision to make lightly. Let’s assume you have thought things over carefully and have made up your mind to sell. Now you have to find a buyer. Easier said than done. Here in the south of France, it can take months, even years to sell your house. Some of our friends have had their houses on the market for 2, 3, 4 and even five years.
Oh, happy days! You manage to find a buyer, and he makes an offer of less than 10-15% of the asking price. You do not start to stress yet, because this is not the first time you sell a house in France and you have added 10-15% to the asking price to cater for this eventuality. Now the diagnostics immobiliers have to be done. Take out your cheque book, because this is going to cost you a lot of money. Now you can start feeling anxious because if the expert finds termites in your 200-year-old beams, you will either have to have your beams treated (at great expense) or you will have to lower the asking price.
So you worry about this for a few days. Finally, the expert shows up, does all the tests, and after you have paid the exorbitant fee, he releases his report. You have termites, but they are not active. Probably haven’t been for decades/centuries. You advise the buyer and bite your nails for a few days until it becomes clear that since he has already gotten you to lower the price of the house by 10-15%, he is not going to insist that you termite-proof your house.
Next, you and your buyer have to sign a compromis de vente (provisional sales agreement) in the presence of a notaire (notary,) but all the notaires nearby are fully booked for weeks. The first appointment you can get is a month away, a month during which the buyer can change his mind about buying at any time. You ring every notaire you have ever had dealings with until you eventually manage to get an appointment two weeks away.
In the meantime, you have been househunting. You would think that it would be easy to find a house to buy in a buyer’s market. You would be wrong. There are lots of houses for sale, but since you are the much-maligned owner of 5 opinionated horses, you need a house with a bit of land. Not just any land either. It needs to be pasture, not wood, and it needs to be attached to the house, not 5 km away. It also needs to be reasonably flat. In addition, it would be nice to find a house with some character that has not been renovated to death or a house that is not falling to pieces because of the diligent attention of said termites. French farmers covetously hold on to their land and will not be parted from it unless offered a small fortune in compensation. In France, houses are not routinely assessed by surveyors before purchase, so it’s caveat emptor (buyer beware) and good luck to you. Also in France, artisans (carpenters, plumbers, electricians, plasterers, etc.) have to guarantee their work for ten years, so any renovation you will need to do is going to be costly.
Let’s assume that you do find a house. Once again, you need to find a notaire, and you need to get a buying appointment to sign a compromis de vente as close to your selling appointment as possible so that you do not find yourself, with your five displeased horses, on the street in three month’s time. Three months, because that is how long it takes for the notaire to process the sale, before you can sign the final acte de vente (final contract.) In these three months, your buyer applies for a mortgage. If he doesn’t get his mortgage, the sale falls through, and you cannot buy the house you wanted to buy.
I have bought four houses in France so far, I know precisely how hair-raising an experience buying and selling property in this country can be. The last time was four years ago. We were “homeless” for 15 months. 15 months of having the horses at livery, at great expense. 15 months of renting and living in temporary accommodation, the shortest period we stayed in one place were two weeks, the longest, three months.
So you might wonder why we decided, yet again, to step onto the buying-and-selling emotional rollercoaster.
Dealing with a Major Life Transition
Let me assure you, if we could, we would never have moved again. I am, however, much less stressed this time around, because of the valuable lessons I learned four years ago. During those 15 seemingly-endless months of insecurity, I developed a couple of coping strategies that kept me from losing my marbles. One of these was a stress management strategy that I had already been using for several years. The unrelenting stress of those 15 months forced me to fine-tune my approach to such a degree that it became more-or-less failproof. I am so convinced of the effectiveness of this strategy that I wrote a book about it called Embracing Change – in 10 Minutes a Day, just in time to help me cope with the strain of going through the selling-and-buying mill again.
It is a very simple strategy, as the most effective strategies often are.
I discovered, a long time ago, how efficient daily expressing how grateful you are for what you have can be to counteract stress. It is challenging to remain stressed out of your mind when you are focusing said mind on a breathtakingly beautiful sunset (some of the very best ones materialise unfailingly every summer’s evening here in the south of France.) Or on the pure exhilarating pleasure of a walk through a fragrant, thousand-year-old oak forest. Or on the mindblowing, entirely addictive aroma of freshly baked French bread, cordially being pumped onto the pavement by your favourite patisserie. Or on the mind-shattering taste of that first spoonful of decadently delicious dark chocolate mousse, that melts in your mouth so profoundly satisfyingly that your taste buds promptly start trumpeting Handel’s Hallelujah chorus.
3 Stress Management Strategies
Strategy no 1: Enriching Gratitude with Generosity
During those 15 months, I discovered that expressing my gratitude daily, in a gratitude journal, is not enough. Gratitude should not only be about passively listing the people/places/events/experiences that you are grateful for, it is much more effective in helping you cope with stress if it also has an active component.
You will deal much better with stress if you do not only count your blessings but if you also share them.
When we are forced to handle a stressful situation, we tend to zoom in on our own difficulties, and we become blind to the problems people around us are facing. I discovered that not only does helping others with their problems take my mind off my troubles, no matter how overwhelming, but it helps me feel less stressed and more able to cope with whatever disaster comes my way next.
Strategy no 2: Concentrate on the Here-and-Now
Forget about what might go wrong tomorrow. Stick around in this never-to-be-lived-again moment in time. I have also discovered that worrying about everything that might go wrong in the immediate, intermediate and distant future is not only an undeserved indulgence but a complete waste of time. While I am worrying if our buyer will get his mortgage or if the owner of the house we want to buy will accept our offer, life in all its glorious abundance is happening right here, right now. Do you remember “Hakuna Matata?” I chose these two words to be my motto during this possibly-sanity threatening transition. So far, so good, as far as I can gather. I am holding onto the remnants of the sanity I have left after buying and selling four times before. As soon as I realise that I have started worrying again, usually about some totally trivial thing, I sing my motto softly to myself. I focus my mind on the delicious sensations I am experiencing right now. Luckily it is summer in the south of France, was it winter, I might have found it a bit harder to be serenely mindful.
Strategy no 3: Nurture Friendships
Whenever you find yourself in a stressful situation, for whatever reason, you need your friends. To help you navigate a stress-induced storm, you will need friends who you can depend on. Friends who will be there for you at 03h00, who will drop everything and rush to your side when you need them, who will listen to you attentively for hours without interrupting but who will give excellent advice when asked, who know you through and through and have your best interest at heart: loyal, compassionate, understanding, trustworthy and dependable friends.
Where would you get friends like these? You make these sort of friends by being this sort of friend. By putting your friends first, by making time to help them with their problems when you barely have time to handle your own, by supporting them through the best of times and celebrating with them during the best of times. It takes time, energy and devotion to cultivate friendships like this, so now would be a great time to start.
So this time around, the fifth time I am buying a house in France, I am much better equipped to handle the trials and tribulations that have come my way. The process has not been entirely stressfree, so far, but mindfully reminding myself every day of what I am grateful for and paying attention to how I can help those around me, has helped me cope with the worsts of the trials and tribulations that have come my way, without losing my will to live.
My book about coping with change, as in major and minor life transitions, with gratitude and generosity, is available on Amazon.
I have also created a “Coping with Change Checklist and Cheatsheet” and a “10 Steps to Instant Self-Confidence” Guide that I share with the subscribers to my mailing list. Claim your copy here.
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