5 Stages of Grief in a Short Sale

Real Estate Broker/Owner with Exit Strategy Realty




 As a former Social Worker I am reminded of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross book "On Death and Dying' and the five stages a terminally ill patient goes through when informed of their life threatening illness.

The five stages she identifies in her book are:

  • Denial ( this isn't happening to me!)
  • Anger( why is this happening to me?)
  • Bargaining ( I promise I'll be better person if...)
  • Depression ( I don't care anymore)
  • Acceptance ( I'm ready for whatever comes)

As I reviewed these five stages and relate them to Sellers I have worked with or am currently working with I am drawn to how these same stages are exactly what sellers go through when selling their home in a short sale.

Stage 1 Denial:

Many sellers who are falling behind in their mortgage payment often do not get help or seek help because they are in total denial. They often think nothing is going to happen to them even after the bank has sent them the Notice of Default letter.

Stage 2 Anger:

This is a very difficult stage. Many homeowners remain angry through the Short Sale/Foreclosure process. Reports of homes being trashed and appliances missing are usually the signs of people who have a lot of anger and direct this anger onto the property.

Stage 3 Bargaining:

This is the stage where sellers exhibit a lot of ambivalence. They do not want to loose their home and will do almost anything to keep it. Some sellers will contact their lenders and try to negotiate a loan modification while you are doing a short sale. You have to be aware of your seller in this stage because they are very vulnarble and will sabotage any efforts you have initiated because they have not truly accepted the need to sell their home.

Stage 4: Depression:

Sellers in this stage just stop caring about the house and will withdraw from you as their agent. It is important to maintain contact with your sellers during this stage and give them support and assure them that what they are doing is in their best interest.

Stage 5 Acceptance:

This is when you see your seller come out of their shell and begin to prepare for a life after the Short Sale.

Posted by


Jack Lewitz Broker Owner


 Email Jack Today: jacklewitz@sbcglobal.net

 Call Jack Today ! Cell: 708-309-5334 Office: 847-674-6710

Comments (94)

Kathy Opatka
Serving Ocean City, MD, & The Delaware Beaches


This is a very good analogy!  It is exactly what the Sellers go through.  I just wish they'd skip a few steps and call me SOONER!

Mar 03, 2010 03:55 AM
Gene Riemenschneider
Home Point Real Estate - Brentwood, CA
Turning Houses into Homes

I think you have it right on.  It can probably apply to other people that have to sell to, like age or health reasons.

Mar 03, 2010 05:12 AM
Tammy Vertrees
Pacific Home Brokers Inc - Murrieta, CA
Real Estate Consultant

Great post, Jack, thank you!

Mar 03, 2010 06:06 AM
Timo Yannopoulos
Platinum Realty Licensed in Missouri - Kansas City, MO
Buying and Selling Kansas City Homes

I believe that most of home sellers do not see the problem arising early enough.

Home sellers don't know the reality of the RE market and what all the steps and hurdles they have to go through a short sale. No matter what I always try to briefly inform home owners about the short sale and let know that a short sales may be a rescue from a foreclosure. I also advice them that it needs time to complete and must have all the paper work ready. Just in Case.

It is like an early diagnosis.

CRS, GRI, e-PRO, Diversity

Mar 03, 2010 06:10 AM
Jamie King
Hoty Enterprises, Inc. - Huron, OH
Sandusky, OH

Jack, I really enjoyed your perspective. So true!

Sad to say, but I have a seller about to close on a short sale that is losing his house partially because he lost his spouse to cancer and subsequently her income. Talk about a double whammy. Just breaks my heart. To add to his misery, his only son, moved out of the house because he couldn't bear to be there when the house sold. The son is upset over losing the house where all his memories of his Mom are. Sometimes life is just not fair.

Mar 03, 2010 07:31 AM
Stephen Arnold
HomeSmart Elite Group - Scottsdale, AZ

Jack-  I think that the views that you have shared with us are true on many fronts!!  There are some amazing parallels!

Mar 03, 2010 08:30 AM
Sanna K. Thomas
Sellstate Next Generation Realty - Ocala, FL
PA GRI, E-Pro, SFR, AHWD, LH Ocala Florida Luxury

Thanks for sharing. Most people do feel better when they give up the burden of trying to make ends meet. Once they list the home they are at least taking control of their lives and moving forward, rather than going around and around. I have a tough time  watching, so many people in stress.  

Mar 03, 2010 10:07 AM
Risa Liebster
Ramsey-Shilling Associates - Los Angeles, CA
Toluca Lake Real Estate

Jack, this is great. If one looks at the diagram of the stages of grief, stage 6 is "return to meaningful life". Always remind your grieving short seller that there IS life after they must sell their home. While it can be frustrating and challenging for agents, remember why we do this. If you can help someone successfully move past this difficult time in their life, they will be a client for life once their situation changes.

Mar 03, 2010 10:16 AM
Connie Winstead
Nancy Puder & Associates - Arroyo Grande, CA
San Luis Obispo County CA Real Estate Agent

Having just returned from my sister-in-law's funeral services due to pancreatic cancer and continuing to represent buyers on not one, but three short sale escrows, I can certainly identify with everything you are talking about in this post. 

I took a class on this subject years ago thru my church and found it so helpful.  However, I never made the connnectin between losing one's home and death, but it is a DEATH.  It's the DEATH of the AMERICAN DREAM (for the seller).  Their home represents home ownership, memories of the past and hopes for the future. 

But let's also not forget that it's often the DREAM of a new family ... a family that is now ABLE to go for the AMERICAN DREAM and make their own memories and plan for the future. 

And the beat goes on ................

Mar 03, 2010 02:32 PM
Joan Whitebook
BHG The Masiello Group - Nashua, NH
Consumer Focused Real Estate Services

Oh my -- there are similar emotions for the buyers who wait and wait and wait and wait... only to find out he 2nd lender won't agree even thought they will be wiped out.. just because they can stop everything.

Mar 03, 2010 02:37 PM
Juanita Perry

Great observation, Jack.  We as Realtors also go through those stages as we work with our Short Sale clients.  There is a lot of handholding because of the emotional roller coaster they are on.  Thnaks for posting!

Mar 04, 2010 09:51 AM
Doug Patterson
Park Place Real Estate, Broker-In-Charge - Winston-Salem, NC
CRS, ABR, Broker-In-Charge

Super comparison.  I've read that book.  It is certainly applicable here.

Mar 05, 2010 02:22 AM
Joy Carter & Jeff Booker Brother and Sister Team
Keller Williams Parkland/Coral Springs Realty-GreatFloridaHomes Team - Coral Springs, FL
Trust Your Family's Move To Our Expertise!

WOW!  What a GREAT Analogy!

Elizabeth Kubler Ross is a GREAT Author and you are GREAT Too for making the comparison to our business.

There already is a TREMENDOUS amount of grief in our business (that Sellers have NO COMPREHENSION & that is our fault and our job to educate them).

Gotta get to work  ;-)  Joy

Mar 05, 2010 02:15 PM
Karen Crowson
Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage - Rancho Bernardo, CA
Your Agent for Change

There may even be a sixth step.  Beyond acceptance, when then are then selling the house.  I have encountered more and more sellers who are so gracious to agents and buyers alike, in telling all they can about the house, and making the buyers feel comfortable.  Takes a special kind of person to do that, but they are out there, and I'm glad to have met them.

Mar 06, 2010 06:44 AM

It's so very difficult for sellers to overcome the emotional attachment they have to their homes - and not not just short sale clients.  Sellers who are moving for happy reasons often go through similar stages of "mourning" the loss of their beloved homes too, typically without even realizing it.   These feelings are often hard to recognize and even harder to understand because they're happy about the move they're making.  I believe the sellers who are unnwittinglyexperiencing these emotions are often the ones who sabotage their own home sale success by overpricing, making the home difficult to show, refusing to leave for showings, etc.


Mar 06, 2010 12:58 PM
Hannah Williams
HomeStarr Realty - Philadelphia, PA
Expertise NE Philadelphia & Bucks 215-820-3376

Jack..This is a wonderful post..i must thank Pat Kennedy again I would have missed it if not for her...


Mar 07, 2010 08:10 AM
Mark Hall
Realty One Group Cascadia - Vancouver, WA
Homes for Sale Vancouver Washington

Excellent post. Unfortunately in stage 2, they are often angry at their agent! Either to one who helped them make the purchase or the one with the listing. This anger can easinly be misdirected and cause a difficult transaction.

Mar 07, 2010 10:35 AM
Lisa Schlitz
Home Run Real Estate, Inc. - Wellington, FL
Realtor - Wellington, Florida Homes 561-214-3216

Hi Jack,


Great post-I usually see them at the Depression stage when I am showing their house to prospective buyers.

Mar 08, 2010 07:11 AM
Don Wixom
RE/MAX Executives Nampa, ID - Nampa, ID
"Looking out for your next move..."tm

Jack, great analogy!  I think I have a few clients in various stages. This really helps!  Thanks for the post!

Mar 08, 2010 01:40 PM
Matt Robinson
Professional Investors Guild - Pensacola, FL

Excellent post on short sale grieving process!  I've been teaching this same thing to my investing students for a few years.  This is the reason why we send a 6-part letter series to those in foreclosure, because sending just one letter usually catches distressed sellers in one of the other phases of non-acceptance.

Jul 17, 2010 03:17 AM