Buying a house is more stressful than COVID, divorce and driving tests. Here's why

by Hannah Millington, Yahoo Life UK reporter

Buying a house has been ranked as life's most stressful event for Britons, even above the challenges of COVID, Brexit and divorce.

Some 85% of recent homebuyers experienced some degree of stress when moving home, while 27% said the process was 'very stressful', a new study has found.

Buying a property came number one in a list of life's most stressful events, when competing with COVID, Brexit, driving tests, having a child, school exams, job interviews, divorce, redundancy, getting married, being arrested and a marriage proposal.

More than a quarter of respondents (26%) showed there was a real emotional cost to moving house, with 14% disclosing that it made an existing mental health condition worse, and 12% saying it caused their mental health to deteriorate, according to a survey of 1,901 recent UK homebuyers commissioned by Stipendium.

Homebuyers shared what exactly stresses them about the process, with uncertainty around when the purchase would complete given as the top reason for feeling anxious.

The second most stressful aspect reported was the total time it takes to buy a home in the UK, followed by the knowledge a transaction could collapse at any point until the sale has completed.

It seems the relationship with industry professionals needed to buy a property can also put homebuyers through it.

Many were stressed over being left in the dark by those facilitating a purchase and not being able to contact them to get an update.

Other stressors include the hidden costs of purchasing, the negotiation process when submitting an offer and the size of the financial commitment undertaken when committing to a mortgage.

Why do we find moving house so traumatic?

"We’ve lived through some pretty stressful events in recent years whether it be the political uncertainty caused by Brexit, or the unprecedented events of the pandemic which were a lifetime first for many," says Christina Melling, CEO of Stipendium.

"However, from research we know that the process of purchasing a property remains the most stressful experience, more so than COVID or Brexit, as well as other major life events such as marriage, childbirth and even redundancy."

Suggesting why we struggle with the upheaval of moving, she adds: "This is hardly surprising as we’re a nation of aspirational homeowners and so despite our gender, political alignment, age or relationship status, buying a home is something we’re all likely to experience and something that is likely to increase our stress levels when we do."

While the devastation caused by COVID is undeniably an event unparalleled to any other, it seems buying a home is a stress that has been shared by so many for as long as we can remember, perhaps more so in recent years. COVID was ranked as the second most stressful event, followed by Brexit.

Dr Marianne Trent, clinical psychologist and creator of The Feel Better Academy, also analyses why buying a home causes so much aggravation and how people can better look after ourselves throughout.

"The actual process of buying a property, either to move into or to invest is often the end result of many months and even years of deliberation," she says. "We might have been in a contemplation stage in our ‘stages of change cycle’ for so long that by the time we want to take action, we just want it done as soon as possible."

She adds: "Purchasing a property involves lots of steps which are beyond our immediate control. This can lead to people experiencing stress with seemingly no pressure release valve available."

In terms of why it might be more stressful that other common stressful events, like driving tests and having children, which came fourth and fifth, she highlights the type of strain it causes.

"I think it is the chain aspect and the expense of many of the steps which crank up the pressure on the stress scale," she explained.

"With events such as driving tests and job interviews it is only really our own merits and abilities we need to consider. With booking aspects of weddings it is more of a transactional process. There might also be excitement around to bolster the stressors involved with these events. No-one really gets that excited about spending money on damp and roof inspections even if it is a dream home you’re trying to purchase."

What are the signs of stress and how can it be better managed?

"Stress might involve suddenly realising you’ve been breath holding," says Dr Marianne Trent. "It could feel like having tight neck, back and shoulders. It could lead to digestive difficulties and broken sleep. It might also include intrusive thoughts and difficulties concentrating on other topics."

While there's no way to avoid it, there are ways we can deal with the pressure it causes, to protect our mental health.

"Try to do activities you enjoy, eat and sleep well and try not to drink more alcohol or smoke more cigarettes than you usually would," advises Dr Trent.

"Talk to people if you are feeling overwhelmed and try to take back any control that you can, for example by replying to emails and letters promptly, and chasing up with people if you’ve not heard back from them within a reasonable time frame."

It's important to remember that of course not everyone is in a position to be able to afford to buy their own property, which in itself is an increasing concern for the younger generation.

Dr Trent acknowledges this: "It perhaps feels a bit like a 'nice problem to have’ kind of situation, especially with energy rates and food expenses currently being so high."

If and when your time comes, she also has a few words of reassurance. "You’ll have people around you who will understand just how stressful it can all be which is incredibly validating."

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