Mom's Rage Against the Machine

I am loving the Facebook posts. My girlfriends from high school, my girlfriends from college - I am LOVING their Facebook posts.

This happens to be the current Facebook chatter with my college friends. Go Canes!

L's Post: "At what age does the Valentine's madness stop? It was a pain in the ass to wrap this up." (L shows a picture of a gorgeous shoebox that she wrapped and decorated for her son's Valentine Cards.)

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One mom comments that they had a mailbox decorating party. She posted a picture of a bunch of girls sitting around a kitchen island.

God. Why the f*ck do people have to over-mom it?

God. Why the f*ck do I care so little?

L's mom comments but it's in Spanish. I can't decode part of it but I'm pretty sure it says something about first world problems. L's parents don't play around. When we were in college, L's dad took a scissors to all her credit cards. I know what you're thinking. You're thinking that has absolutely nothing to do with this story and you're right. But I never miss an opportunity to tell it. It's been 25 years and I still laugh about that.

C, whose daughter is in Catholic School, comments: "I'm happy it's also Ash Wednesday because she has to go to school in full uniform. I'm over the box, but I'm also over the dress down days and the dress red days."

Whoa. I never thought about how much easier it would be to get out the door in the morning if M had to wear a uniform.

At this point I have to reveal that I didn't make a mailbox.

L: "I thought you were joking about the Safeway bag."

Me: "I really wasn't. We don't have anything."

And I have a feeling that I'm going to be sorely regretting this later. But M wasn't talking to me tonight. Another of my college friends, the Cheese, was in town for the day. She came over to our house for a few minutes before heading to the airport. M was playing on the floor when a fart snuck out. We all laughed. Then M decided she was mad that I laughed so she was pretty rude to me for the rest of the night despite my 14 apologies and attempts at assurance that everyone finds farts to be a source of comedy.

She wasn't having it.

And now it's approaching midnight. I'm thinking maybe I'll just hand her the Safeway bag tomorrow and that can be her mailbox. Or I'll go to school with Chubs for the breakfast they are hosting and just let Real Estate Dad deal with the school and mailbox thing. FFS, I bought and wrote out all the Valentines. I'm did my homework.

I never thought I would be back to counting down the days until school was over but here I am again, counting away. Can't wait until it's over so the "homework" will stop.

X-Rays and 100 Days

It's been eventful here around the Real Estate compound. Chubs somehow twisted her ankle and we ended up in the ER in the middle of flu season. The older I get, the less of a night owl I am, and this post-midnight visit was no exception. The last place I wanted to be was in the waiting room of the ER, with the harsh florescent lights shining down on me like I was under interrogation.

Wait. let me rephrase. The last place I wanted to be was in the waiting room of the ER with the harsh florescent lights in the middle of flu-season and everyone was wearing masks and one poor guy was visibly GREEN. I felt horrible for him, he was clearly in major pain and yet, he and his companions were making sympathetic faces at Chubs. Please. Chubs was riding her scooter and then dropped it right in her own path where she promptly forgot about it, then even more promptly tripped over it. You're GREEN!

The processional of doctors and nurses came in to ask what happened. I never understood this about hospitals. Don't any of them talk to each other so we don't have to repeat the same story? And besides, the answer to "How did she get hurt so bad that she can't walk" was "I don't know because I wasn't watching her."

Anyway, they had to do x-rays. She was a champ. She just covered her eyes like she did when we went though the Haunted Mansion at Rehoboth.

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The x-ray didn't say much, other than that Chubs's body composition is 5% bones, 5% blood and 90% chocolate. I have failed as a mother.

Speaking of failing as a mother, today was the 100th day of school. Apparently this is a "thing" where the kids dress like old people on the 100th day of school. Do. Not. Comprehend.

Anyway, I was zero help on this. I had Lasik so we have no glasses in the house to loop on a chain. I try not to own moo-moo's and bathrobes. And M has blonde hair so this whole baby powder in the hair wouldn't have done much.

She went to school in her usual Old Navy garb.

I kind of never realized how much work school actually is. For the parents, I mean. And I'm only at Kindergarten in this house. Argh. I guess this is why Summer Nanny had to come back already. She started in January, just so she can make sure she's here when summer arrives I bet. We're glad she's back. Maybe I can task her with these random school things that cause work for us.

Museums "Off the Mall"

We definitely got a taste of spring this weekend. I was bopping around in the car, windows down, showing houses, rescuing corgis and playing outside with kids. It is weekends like the one we just had that remind me to be a tourist in my own city every now and again. It must have had the same effect on some out-of-town friends. Some of them began buzzing about their upcoming spring trips, coming to DC to see the cherry blossoms and do the tourist thing.

Photo by David Dibert

Photo by David Dibert

For the locals, the phrase "going to the mall" doesn't mean buying new jeans and hanging out with their friends. The mall is the place where Abe watches us and where our tax dollars go to work. Well, not all of our tax dollars considering the current government shutdown, but the rest of our tax dollars. What do I mean? The museums on the mall are Free. FREE! Did I say FREE? Perhaps this is why busloads of school kids dump off here all through March and April. As a junior high school kid, there was nothing I wanted to do less than go to a museum. But as an adult, sqeeee! Fun!!!!

If you are here for a while or want to get off the beaten path, there are a ton of museums -  some free, some costing a few bucks, but definitely worth a visit.

Folger Shakespeare Library
If you are a fan of Willie Shakes, this is the place to see. Hosting the largest collection of his written works, the Shakespeare Library is also home to the Folger Theatre which hosts Shakespeare inspired plays. Tours of the museum are free but operate on a schedule. Monday to Saturday at 11, 1 and 3 p.m. and Sundays at noon and 3. There are a number of other tour options that are available as well. Located on "the Hill" the Folger is at 201 East Capitol St NE. The location allows you to do the classic Brunch on the Hill before you go visit Willie.

Smithsonian Postal Museum
Stamp Geek? I won't judge. I married one. Though our toddler took care of his collection in one giant tear of destruction - literally a tear of paper that cost the equivalent of a semester (for her) at college. Good thing Real Estate Dad is chill because after wincing for a few minutes, he laughed. "Well, at least she had fun."

It's safe to say if she ripped my Guns N Roses VIP Tour Book or flushed Slash's guitar picks down the toilet, she probably wouldn't be here to tell about it, but, hey. To each his own.

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The Postal Museum is free, and it has all sorts of things besides stamps. There are exhibits that show how the mail influenced our lives and kept us connected, and exhibits about the transportation of mail and how that has evolved over the years. You can also learn about the oft-cited "Pony Express!" The Museum is located at 2 Massachusetts Ave NE, which probably doesn't mean much to you, but it's right next to Union Station. What that DOES mean is if you happened to be on some trip via train, and you had a train change here in DC, you don't have to go postal waiting for your connection. You could hop over to the Postal Museum for a bit to kill some time. (See what I did there?)

Newseum
This is a pretty relevant museum to check out in light of the current battle of politicians and journalists. It's no secret some journalists don't let the truth get in the way of telling a good story (looking at you Brian Williams.) No matter what side of the aisle you're on (or if you're in the back cracking jokes with me) there is a ton to see here. How freedom of the press and cutting edge journalism have shaped our lives is immense. Lots of ground to cover so don't wear stilettos. Extra Extra - They are open during the government shutdown! And they are currently offering a discount on their tickets which run $24.95 for adults but are now 15% off, running you a cool $21.21. The bonus is you get to enter a second day free!.

Holocaust Museum
Just at the end of 14th Street, after you pass the Mall and the Monument, and are just about to get to the bridge that takes you to Virginia, the Holocaust Museum is one of the last buildings on the right. The exhibits include artifacts, photos and video to retell the history of antisemitism and the impacts on populations of people. This isn't for the faint of heart, but the museum does have an exhibit for younger visitors - the retelling of the experience from a child's point of view. Bring your tissues.

National Building Museum
To a real estate chick like moi, this place is fun. It's right by the Courts in DC so if you've ever had jury duty, you've been here! It's not free, but at $10, it's almost free. The museum is really family-friendly - They have a cool play place for the kids which runs on an hourly schedule and a Play/Work/Build area where kids can toss around big foam blocks. They currently have a couple exhibits including "Housing for a Changing America" and "House and Home" which is about - you guessed it - what makes a house a home. There are some cool exhibits coming up as well - "Secret Cities" and "Evictions."

There are dozens more but we can cover those in a future installment. Right now, you have a lot to keep you busy!

 

 

 

Alexa, How Do You Pack a Bag Near Toddlers and Grandparents?

Here's something no one tells you about kids. You absolutely cannot pack for a vacation when they are within 5 miles of the suitcase.

I have yet to devise a system (other than handcuffing them to the back door) to prevent things from being removed from the suitcase. Back when I was an amateur, I would arrive at our destination only to find that the underwear I packed was missing but now we had a toilet brush and 7 boxes of tissues, should we need them.

I become my own version of TSA now while packing. I watch the bag like a hawk to make sure nothing unnecessary goes in and nothing necessary comes out. If I even saw a tiny hand near the bag I swatted it away.

This past weekend, we headed north to see the parentals and my brother. I, of course, had to work. Because this is my lot in life. The second I get in the car to go anywhere out of town, two things inevitably, always, without fail, happen:

1) It begins to pour rain. (Torrential storms cued up for real when I hit the South Bronx.)
2) Someone needs to buy a house.

There is no cell signal at my parent's house. But if you sit by the front door you can get one bar and make a call if you don't move your head too much. Since it was 20 degrees, going outside wasn't an option. I'm talking to my client's lender to get the final info I needed to put in the offer and in the kitchen, my brother says, "Alexa, what's the weather?"

Allow me to digress about Alexa. Two or three years ago, the very same brother told me that this was the next big thing and I should buy it when my chance came up. Since I'm a whore for anything Amazon, since he's usually never wrong about these things, and since I am also, apparently, a sucker for getting in on something exclusive, I bought it.

Ours is defective. No. I take that back. Ours sucks.

Me: "Alexa, what's 2 plus 2."
Alexa: "You wanted to hear songs by Lionel Richie"
Me: "ALEXA WHAT IS 2 PLUS 2?"
Alexa: "Playing songs by Lionel Richie"

I mean, it's like this all the time. If I didn't occasionally ask her to blast Guns N' Roses on those rare moments when I'm home alone, I would smash her head like Telly Savalas did to Talking Tina. (If you haven't seen that episode of the Twilight Zone, you are missing out.) There are times when Real Estate Dad and I are watching TV and Alexa will just start talking. Sometimes she tells herself jokes and then gives the punchline. I don't get it. I'm also 99.9% sure she is listening to us and reporting to google.

Back to the parentals. I'm trying to get a contract done there's my brother, asking Alexa stupid things I can answer because I JUST CAME IN FROM OUTSIDE! I know he is trying to prove to me how useful Alexa is. Clearly he hasn't had to contend with the likes of ours which failed out of 3rd grade Alexa-School. I start screaming at him to make Alexa shut up because I can't hear anything. And the loan officer I'm speaking with starts laughing hysterically.

"You must be talking to your brother?"

Aren't all family gatherings like this?

And then, Monday came and it was time to drive back to DC.

We stayed in a hotel. So we checked out of the hotel. We go to the parentals and there are several tiny shopping bags, waiting by the front door for me, filled with all sorts of things. And this, my friends, is where it all goes downhill.

"Here are the paintings you wanted. Oh, do you want these blouses? Just cut the shoulder pads out. These flowers are for the girls, they asked for them so I made them for them, they can keep them in their room. Do you need a thermometer? How about these calculators, can't the kids use them for school? What about the donuts? Here, your brother got these for the girls."

Then there's me. "What paintings. No one wears blouses anymore. The girls don't need fake flowers, they have enough junk. We have a thermometer. No calculators - they're 3 and 5, they can't even write much less use a calculator and no the donuts are stale and they don't need the sugar for a 5 hour ride back home and I specifically told every one of you in October no more stuffed animals because the girls are overloaded."

I couldn't move fast enough. Most of that stuff ended up in bags anyway. Every time something else was dumped on me, it went into a little bag. What. The. F. I was unpacking tiny bags and tossing crap back in their house like a game of hot potato.

And then I said what I always say when I'm 7 minutes out from leaving.

"If you don't stop dumping stuff on me every time I come here, we're not going to come back again."

But we'll go back this spring. We always do.

 

Hackers are the New Silent Party in Real Estate

Also Published on The Huffington Post

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When you buy a home, there are three main parties who bring you through the process from contract to closing. One is obviously your agent. The second is your loan officer. They help you get the mortgage so you can buy the home. The third is the Title Company.

Well shoot, who’s that?

Most buyers are active in their search to hire an agent and loan officer. But hardly anyone ever knows who the Title Company is or how they play into the process. (Title Company, Settlement Agent and Escrow Agent are used interchangeably but they all refer to the same company.) They are responsible for running title to the property, ensuring that the property transferred legally and correctly from person to person and preparing the closing documents and deed to transfer ownership. They also collect and disburse money to/from the appropriate parties.

In the process all this money coming and going, hackers very slyly figured out how divert some of that cash into their accounts.

 

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Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

For decades, when buyers paid the deposit at the time of contract, it had been customary to write a check. Since checkbooks are about as popular now as princess phones, many buyers wire their funds instead. This is where hackers figured out a pretty perfect crime.

You’re the buyer. You receive an email from someone at the title company, introducing themselves as another point of contact, with wire instructions for your deposit. You wire the money to that account. And no one at the title company ever receives it. You actually wired it to a bogus account.

How is this happening that the hacker knows exactly when to email you during the appropriate point in your transaction?

We’re an industry that has moved online. It is a common daily occurrence for an employee at a title company to receive an email that says: “Attached you will find a contract for our new transaction.” Title Company Employee clicks the link, downloads the contract and the ball is set in motion for a new transaction. Except now not every single one of those emails is a legitimate contract.

Some of those emails with attachments now contain malware links. It can be an attachment. It can be a link within the email. It can be an unsubscribe link. Whatever it is, once downloaded, that software allows the hacker to infiltrate the user’s computer at the title company and see everything on which they are currently working. Then they can spoof emails to people actively engaged in a transaction asking them to wire funds to the account info in the email.

The buyers never realize this is not a legitimate employee and they wire their money.

And then it’s gone.

Local title companies report receiving multiple requests a day to download or click suspicious links. It has become almost impossible to discern which is legitimate and which is a hacker. The emails are in perfect English, there is no clue that would raise a red flag. The recipient would have no reason to believe they are about to send their money to a place where it will never be recovered.

How can we prevent this?

Old School, baby. We’re going old school. We have to do two things we thought we may not have to do anymore.

1) Pick up the phone and have a conversation with someone. Call the Title Company and confirm the wire instructions. Do not use the phone number in the email. Google them yourself (at least I didn’t tell you to look it up in the Yellow Pages) and call the number you find for them.

2) Write a check and hand carry it to the Title Company or mail it to them.

As we take steps forward with technology there is always a pitfall to dodge. Until this is figured out, or until the hacker(s) are caught, (don’t laugh! The Nigerian Prince was caught last week!) we need to go back to the tried and true methods.

Now, go find your checkbook. It’s probably under your fax machine.

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What's Trending in Home Design for 2018

Also published on the Huffington Post.

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See ya later white kitchens, don’t let the door hit ya on the way out!

Various sources are calling the 2018 trends in home design and the white kitchen is allegedly falling out of favor. What are all the contractors in DC going to do? Dollars to donuts, I’m sure there are several million white cabinets sitting on various palettes, waiting to be delivered to one of the many homes being built or flipped in DC. There’s always a trickle-down effect with these things. Take, for example, how we actually got to this white cabinet phase in the first place.

HGTV first became mainstream around the early 2000’s, thereby coining that gem of a phrase: “house porn.” At that time, there was a specific lineup of kitchen choices. Remember black appliances and Uba Tuba granite that had to be sealed every year? Me too. I did love those wood cabinets though. Dark wood, light wood, made no difference to me. I shared an office with the woman who sold the options and upgrades at D.R. Horton and I could have listened to her discussing cabinetry and flooring choices for days.

Black appliances didn’t have so long a run, but wood cabinets ran the gamut from light to dark with neither being declared a winner. The truth was, the specific color choice of the wood was about personal preference. Where the trend came into play was with the style of the doors, which changed over the decade-plus. We saw raised-panel, partial overlay doors early in the trend and full overlay with more of a shaker or minimalist style.

Then one day, some brave soul knew it was time and they pulled the trigger on a white kitchen. There were definitely non-believers (me.) I was convinced I fell asleep and woke up in one of my mother’s Florida house hunting nightmares where she was looking for a clean white Florida kitchen. I was ready to get dinner by 5:00 to catch the early bird.

 

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I finally came around. Look, I admit it. It’s just like that time I worked at a certain lingerie store at the mall 25 years ago. I kept rehanging the same floral robes over and over for months. By the time there was just one left I was thinking, “Hmm, that robe with the pink roses all over it is pretty.” (It wasn’t.) Same thing applies here. Show enough homes with the white kitchen and suddenly you’re doing white in your own kitchen remodel. (I did) and walking out of houses that don’t have the white kitchen. (It was a very catchy trend.)

Enough of that.

Honorable mention for another thing going by the wayside is the “bar cart.” Bar cart? The only person I have known to have a bar cart was Don Draper.

So what’s trending in home design?

Well, by process of elimination…if white cabinets are out, what we have left is either wood or colorful cabinets. And yes, those are the things being shown in kitchen design now. It seems people will be taking a paintbrush to their cabinets and going all sorts of deep. Very bold colors are making the rounds – navy, greens, deep reds. And the light wood look is back.

 

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Another incoming trend worthy of a giant gasp is what’s happening in flooring. Hardwood floors are still safe, but there are other flooring choices garnering some attention. Zillow calls it “statement” flooring; HGTV went straight to “terrazzo.” (If you have totally turned off of HGTV the television channel, let me assure you that HGTV Magazine and the HGTV Website are pretty awesome.)

You can also see at that link above that HGTV shows a colorful kitchen in sage, as well as mentioning “statement ceilings.” I’m a fan but within reason. If anyone tries to pass off a popcorn ceiling as trendy, they will be in a lot of pain when I’m done with them.

[Important note: No contractor with half a brain cell will ever agree to remove the popcorn ceiling because of the intensive labor involved. They all just offer to put drywall up in place which is a stupid but “lesser of two evils” option in their eyes. After striking out with every contractor in town, I couldn’t take it anymore and decided to do it myself. Just because I didn’t hire someone doesn’t mean I didn’t pay dearly. It cost 3 days and a broken back to get that popcorn ceiling down. They should be outlawed. I can’t even look at them without vomiting.]

HGTV curated their list from the Pinterest 100, which tracks trends in “saves.” HGTV also mention trends in oversized art, mixed metals and plants, as well as the “Spa Bathroom.”

Weren’t spa bathrooms always on trend?

Well, have at it peeps, there’s some cool looking house stuff coming down the pike!

Five Secrets to Identifying Sloppy House Flips

Also published on the Huffington Post

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We’ve all been there - walking around that gorgeous house that’s finally for sale. Months of construction, preceded by years of abandonment, preceded by decades of neglectful owners and it’s been spruced up and is ready for a new owner. As you exchange the winks and nods with your partner, or friend, or mom – whomever you brought with you for validation, you know this is the one on which you want to submit an offer.

Just as you’re about to fall asleep that night, as visions of Home Goods dance in your head, that little nagging voice asks if you’re sure. You don’t want to buy a money pit. Everything seems shiny and new, but how do you know that it’s been done right? How do you know that behind the walls there isn’t a tangled mess of improperly run electrical wire, waiting to ignite? How do you know that the toilet lines are draining into dedicated waste lines instead of tapped into the plumbing line?

Home Inspectors are amazing, awesome and necessary partners in the process of homebuying, but they don’t have x-ray vision. They can only see what they can access, and depending on what’s visible and what’s been covered behind drywall, you may not get the whole picture.

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This doesn’t mean you can’t get a true sense of how good a renovation this is, but you have to look and listen harder.

You will be involved in the process from the time you place the offer to closing. There are many stops along the way where you communicate with the seller via your agents. Pay attention here and really evaluate how the other side behaves.

1) Is their lockbox clearly marked, easy to find with nice new keys inside? Or is a rusted mess with keys from the 1960’s that barely work? Bad sign if they couldn’t even change out for new locks or invest in a legitimate lockbox instead of one of the basic combination boxes.

2) Are they involved during the marketing process and demonstrate overall pride of ownership? The best of the best will even be at their own open houses so they can respond to potential buyer’s questions or requests.

3) During the negotiation of your offer, are they generally easy to work with, forthcoming with information and willing and happy to answer questions? Or do they give you flip answers for things? I recently asked a seller’s agent where the light switch was for a closet light that was always on. When he replied, “magic,” I didn’t laugh. Turns out they never put in a light switch. Can it be fixed? Sure. But it’s an indication of corner-cutting.

4) Is the backsplash crooked? This makes me laugh because I have used this for years as the example to clients who are apprehensive about purchasing “flips.” During our initial consultation I always said, “Is a crooked backsplash an issue? No, but it indicates a lack of attention to detail.” All these years of this generic example and last month it finally happened – there was the sloppy backsplash in a flip my client loved! It would have been so easy to fix, but they didn’t. This indicates more corner cutting.

Unfinished Backsplash; Outlet should be GFI as this is next to the sink.

Unfinished Backsplash; Outlet should be GFI as this is next to the sink.

5) Is the house clean and staged? I realize this sounds a bit elitist here but in Washington DC’s Real Estate Market the stakes are high. If there are leaves swirling around on the floors, a thick layer of dust on the counters and you have to jump over abandoned construction equipment, this seller/flipper is not in control of their asset. What else have they turned a blind eye to or left to chance?

The more houses I see the faster I get at the game of “Find this house’s crooked backsplash.” You will also notice your skills sharpening if you pay attention and if your Real Estate Agent points these things out to you as your tour homes.

Hire a thorough Home Inspector known for detail and don’t be afraid to bring in additional consultants (structural, mold) to evaluate the home and the condition of the renovation.

The School Thanksgiving Feast

M's elementary school does a cute little performance of all the Kindergartners and then we have a feast with our littles right after. The parents sign up for various food items. The person who signed up for plates and napkins was 15 minutes late which was mega-annoying. My excuse is that the corn, that I also signed up for at the last minute, wasn't cooperating.

I'm unsure how I managed this, but inside the pot where I was steaming the corn, there were frozen kernels and burned kernels. Only me. Pulled it out of the pot and put it in the microwave and that wasn't working either. It was a miserable failure. I took what was passable, left the rest on the stove and hoofed it up to the school.

(I mean, come on, who the hell can't cook corn???)

I caught the performance, and also got the plates there in time (and that stupid corn.) I saw M in her little Turkey Hat she made up there on stage with her "team." The team is made up of two other cuties who she seems to hang with the most, who thankfully, because it's all about me, have moms I totally think are awesome.

After the performance, the three girls ended up at the same table with their mama's while I served some of the food for the kids. Then I joined M and her "team" to eat. When the girls were done they got up to run around and play but left behind the turkey hats. One of the mama's picked up her daughter's hat and read what was written on the feathers.

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Mama 1 reads the hat. "I'm thankful for God. GOD? That's weird."

Mama 2 and I laughed. Mama 2 picks up her daughter's hat.

"I'm thankful for God. What? What are they teaching them?"

We all had another good laugh. I leaned over to grab M's hat. I fully expected hers to say the same thing because M usually does what her friends do.

This is M's hat.

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Thanks for nothin, mofo's!

On second inspection, I noticed she actually wrote something, then erased it.  So she is, in effect, thankful for nothing. Well played, M. Well played.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Four Things to Do Now if You Plan to Buy a House This Spring

Also published on the Huffington Post.

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You are so close to that roasted turkey you can practically smell it. Cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, gravy, you are looking so forward to this. Planning to enter the turkey-induced coma for the next several weeks, stopping at some holiday shindigs along the way, and landing at New Years sounds pretty good.

Not so fast.

Do you want to buy a house after the new year? Lots of people do. Those people will be your competition when it comes time. If you do a tiny bit of prep work now, you can alleviate your future crush of stress and get ahead of the competition so that when the houses are listed, you can respond quickly.

1) Find a Real Estate Agent

This one is the easy one, but it also takes a bit of time if you want to do it right. You’re going to be making what might be the biggest purchase of your life. You should ensure that your team has no weak links. There are plenty of agents out there but you don’t want to be stuck with one you have to replace mid-game. Ask friends and colleagues for recommendations, check online reviews, and make a short list. Then you should schedule times to chat, pre-holiday, when many agents are winding down for the year and gearing up for next year. You want to look for many things in an agent. Responsiveness, industry knowledge, strong negotiating skills - all of that is a given. But there’s also an element to this relationship that’s a non-tangible, as in, do you “click.”

2) Call a Lender

This is the scary one for a lot of people. But it’s so necessary. Most people wait until they see a house they love online before they make the agent and lender calls. But it’s often too late. How? Because remember all those other buyers who did their prep-work already? They’re ready to write an offer while you’re still lacing up your kicks to go to the open house. If you have the agent interviews mentioned in Step 1, ask them for their recommendations as they usually have contacts who close without a lot of hassle. You aren’t committing to anyone – just starting a conversation. Get their list of required documents that you will have to provide so that you can start looking for those now. And get a sense of what you need to do between now and purchase time. There may be a mistake on your credit report, it happens to all of us. It’s important to know now so you have time to fight it out with the credit agencies and get it cleaned up in time for spring.

3) Clean out Your House

I love throwing things out. I’m not sure why I had to read that tidying book to embrace how much I love throwing things out but it’s one of my favorite things. Don’t be shy in telling people now what your after-holiday plans are to buy a house and to not inundate you with fake wreaths or give your kids with more stuffed animals they don’t need. Just say no.

4) Call Mama

Or Dad. Or your Great Uncle Earl. And drop the hint that you’ll be buying a house. If they plan on giving you any gift money, now’s the time to pony up. Parental gifts are subject to less rules than receiving money from other relatives so it’s not as imperative to actually get the money in your account, but just know the amount that may be coming your way so you can figure it into your search. Typically, money from people other than Mom and Dad has to “season,” meaning, it has to be in your account for a specified time period. Otherwise, the lender will have to “source” the deposit, which means Great Uncle Earl has to provide proof that the money left his account and you have to show where it was deposited to yours. Poor Earl will spend an entire day at the bank and asking them for copies of his withdrawals, then to the post office to snail-mail them to you and they may not arrive in time for closing. Trust me on this. Unless it’s Mom or Dad, get the money from whoever is providing it, now.

I know, that last one is tough. If there’s anything I know it’s the complication wrapped up in families with money. But it will be more difficult to track later on, so have the tough conversation now.