Home is where the heartbreak is for GOMOs

Generic housing at Bella Vista housing development Photo: Louie Douvis On the hunt: The Reids have missed out on five places. Photo: Edwina Pickles

It’s a phenomenon fast becoming known in the property industry as ”GOMO”: Grief Over Missing Out.

Prospective buyers who pin their hopes on a dream home and are outbid at auction by competitors are increasingly slumping into a state approaching clinical depression, experts say.

“Some people put an enormous emotional investment in a particular place and fall in love with it before they’ve been able to buy it,” said Amanda Gordon, a clinical psychologist and adjunct associate professor at the University of Canberra.

“They invest a lot of time, energy and money into the search, having reports done, organising the loan, imagining themselves living there and putting off other things as a result,” she said. ”Then, when they fail to buy it, they are disappointed, distressed and can despair that they’re ever going to get anything. It can be like being left at the altar, and there’s a real danger then that they can become depressed.”

The housing market continues to heat up, with a record 784 Sydney homes under the hammer on Saturday and a clearance rate above 80 per cent for 15 of the past 17 weekends.

Agi O’Hara, a visiting lecturer in psychology at the University of Sydney, said it goes much deeper than would-be young home-owners feeling they’re entitled to purchase the home they want; it’s about the ethos of home-ownership being under serious challenge.

“For generations, it’s been a long-held assumption that people will automatically become home-owners but now some people are for the first time realising they might never be able to achieve that,” she said.

“It’s awful. They see it as a personal failure and become clinically depressed.

“It’s not just the young, either. It’s also older people who believed they’d have a house by the time they were 40 and their lives would turn out so differently as a result. We’re seeing more mature people too for treatment who, without a house, are depressed and fear that when they stop working, they won’t be able to afford rent, and could be homeless.”

Tim Reid and his family know exactly what it feels like to be continually knocked back in efforts to buy a home. Since Easter they’ve been looking for a house on the lower north shore, with the search growing more desperate after they sold their two-bedroom semi in August. Mr Reid, his wife Martine and their sons, aged six and eight, are living with her parents while they continue to make offers on houses.

“We’ve tried to buy five houses so far, paying for full inspections on three, then were outbid on two at auctions, two others went on pre-auction offers and we lost out on the fifth in a private sale,” says Mr Reid, who’s now enlisted the help of McGrath Lane Cove agent Brent Courtney.

“It’s pretty demoralising and frustrating, especially as we’d always planned to be in a new home by Christmas and this will be the first time in 15 years we won’t be in our own home. My wife’s getting depressed about it.”

It’s a similar story for first-home buyers David Astwood and his partner Bianca Harris, who started off looking for a two-bedroom apartment in Paddington and, nine months later, have now spread their hunt all around the eastern suburbs.

“It can be very depressing,” says Mr Astwood, 33, an advertising executive.

“There’s a lot of emotional purchasing going on which pushes up the prices.”

Australian Property Monitors senior economist Andrew Wilson said it’s unlikely to improve much in the near future. He said the market from $750,000 to $2 million was very hot, with most properties selling 10-15 per cent above the reserve price.

“It’s a Hobson’s choice for them – they can wait but it might not get any easier and there might not be the choice later, either.”

LJ Hooker chief auctioneer Graeme Hennessy said he was seeing the same people at auctions getting outbid in a market that’s the hottest he’s witnessed.

“You can see they’re getting desperate, and often get emotionally over-heated and very disappointed. They walk away dejected and probably go outside for a hug and cry afterwards.”

It’s not simply increasing numbers of frustrated home-owners being hit by depression over the house that got away, says psychologist Meredith Fuller, from the Australian Psychological Society.

“Buying a new home is about the promise of a new life, moving on, realising your dreams and fantasy of how you see your life in the future. Losing out is about losing out on all of that, being stuck in limbo and seeing your dreams receding. We can see how that can cause depression.”

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