Photo: James Bombales

Shannon Stach and her fiancé recently put an offer in on a great Toronto home, one they could envision settling down and raising a family in. They lost the bid by a mere $2,500.

“We were shocked,” she says. “That was our first time in this process of putting an offer down.”

With almost 30 home showings under her belt and a wedding on the horizon, Stach, a registered social worker and psychotherapist, is getting a glimpse of what some of some of her clients experience during their home purchasing journey: FOMO.

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FOMO — the fear of missing out — is a form of social anxiety that is caused by being absent from events that are happening elsewhere. Prevalent among young people, FOMO is often associated with social media use, where users can constantly monitor what their peers are doing. The need to feel connected and involved in a common experience is a human instinct. Yet, some homebuyers are feeling the effects of FOMO — that they may never be able to participate in the dream of being a homeowner. Stach attributes this to high social expectations, especially for those like herself who are in the process of preparing for family life.

“It comes not only from perhaps family that are asking us, ‘When are you getting married? When are you going to have kids?’ I don’t want to have kids until I can have a home, and very often people can’t buy homes, so they’re missing this key point,” she says. “For women it starts to go to their heads. [They’ll say], ‘My biological clock is ticking, but I can’t buy a home. I don’t want to have kids in a condo.’”

Stach explains that FOMO, if left unchecked, can fester into larger psychological issues. FOMO victims might engage in impulsive spending behavior as a release from the financial restraints of saving for home buying expenses. First-time buyers may also experience negative thoughts or develop symptoms of general anxiety — irritability, sadness, chest tightness and heart palpitations. One American study conducted by Homes.com in 2018 found that one-in-three homebuyers cried from stress at some point in the home-buying process.

“I see a lot of people who then internalize this and get those feelings or thoughts of not being good enough or not measuring up to other people, which can create this whole downward spiral of that leading from the FOMO of not being able to buy a house to, ‘Well, I’m not good enough in my life,’” says Stach.

Steve Massaroni, a broker with Sutton Admiral’s The Brokers Group, has worked with his fair share of first-time home buyers. He’s seen first-hand how the unfamiliar process of house hunting can stress out hopeful homeowners.

“It’s an emotional roller coaster,” he says. “You’re doing all of this on top of work, plus kids. It’s all on top of your norm. For a first-time buyer, it’s something out of their comfort zone. Nobody likes being out of their comfort zone.”

To cover any “pain points” of the transaction, Massaroni rewards his clients whenever they overcome a first-time buyer milestone — a bottle of wine on the first offer signing, or a cleaner during the move-in day.

“I’m a real estate agent. I’m used to the buying, selling and moving. First time buyers — it’s their first time,” he says. “They’ve never done this before. They really need their hand held, to hear the plan, do some homework, figure out exactly want they want, make an educated decision.”

To prevent anxiety and minimize the effects of FOMO, here’s a few tips Massaroni and Stach recommend:

1. Make a top-5 list, but only hope to get two

Narrowing down what you want can help keep you grounded. When working with a client, Massaroni gets them to compartmentalize the things they must have in a home down to five items, but to only set their expectations so high.

“If they get two of them, then the house is good,” says Massaroni. “There’s no perfect house out there.”

Massaroni preaches that organization is key, so setting a plan for the future will help a first-time buyers envision what kind of home they’ll require for their yet-to-come needs.

“I try to get my new home buyers to do a one, five, and ten year life plan because that guides them in the right way,” he says. “If they say that they want to have a family or kids, or have pets, like a dog, they’re going to want to be close to schools and parks.”

2. Don’t take internal blame for an external problem

Keeping to your regular routine of eating healthy and exercising, Stach says, is an important part of practicing self-care in high-stress situations like home purchasing. It’s also crucial to be conscious of how you talk to yourself.

“Be really mindful that you not buying a home is not based on a condition of you not being good enough,” she says. “It’s really hard with what’s happening right now in our market, in our economy and in our society.”

Taking internal blame for an external problem will lead to emotional torture. New homebuyers should be careful not to take the onus for disadvantages in the real estate market that are beyond their control.

“This is the type of environment that we’re in. It’s a guessing game. You’re shooting blanks and you don’t know what’s going to happen,” says Stach.

3. Eliminate anxiety-inducing noise

If an auntie’s interrogation on your latest bidding war at the family barbeque is getting under your skin, it’s alright to change the conversation channel. Productive conversations of encouragement and support can be uplifting for a first-time buyer, but there should be limits if one is experiencing FOMO.

“I would say be really mindful of setting boundaries of how much you’re on your phone, how much you communicate to specific people,” says Stach. “If this time is really stressful for you and you are experiencing FOMO, you need to set boundaries and say, ‘This is one conversation that I’m not able to have right now. I can be happy for my friends, but I’m not ready to have full-on conversations about this process with them yet.’”

Massaroni recommends a more drastic approach — tuning out all together.

“That’s where first-time home buyers have to stop reading the papers and stop the the doom and gloom and stop going online and going insane,” he says. “Eliminate the noise.”

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