Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Selling Your Home at the Holidays: To Decorate or Not?

Staging your house for sale during the Christmas season? What, are you a glutton for punishment?
Seriously, selling a house over the holidays is the ultimate challenge. Can you really strike a balance between successfully marketing your home and keeping your family life as normal as possible?  When you promise your children that putting your house on the real estate market is not going to ruin Christmas, did you consider what to do about decorating the house?
Fear not. You can still deck your halls and make them real-estate ready and presentable to potential buyers.
The best advice I’ve found is from Realtor Janet Elvington in Florence, South Carolina. Here’s her super short video with some tips on how to best present your holiday decorated home to buyers.

“Holidays can be personal on a lot of levels, but you want to make sure your decor is neutral,” advises Amy Powers, owner of Accent Home Staging & Interiors of Atlanta, in an article. “You want to romance your buyer, not invite them to your Christmas party.”
HGTV offers these tips for decorating your house for sale:
Clean and stage first – Before you decorate, get rid of clutter.
Think cozy – A few subtle touches like a bowl of pinecones, an evergreen wreath, or a pot of cider simmering on the stove can put buyers in the holiday spirit without taking away from your home’s best features.
Complement your palette – Instead of slapping on anything red and green, choose holiday decorations that match your current decor. If your living room is a pale blue, skip clashing reds and choose the white snowflakes or silver candles and wreaths. If you’ve got an earthy color scheme, use cranberries, natural greens and golds.
Accentuate the positives – Subtle, minimal decorations at just the right places will help draw buyers’ attention to your home’s best features. Dangle mistletoe in that arched doorway, or place a menorah on the ledge of that beautiful bay window.
Don’t overdo lights – Sure, we associate the holidays with things that light up. Just keep it to a minimum, both indoors and out.
Now here’s one from me: Keep your buyers in mind. When selling our homes, we all want buyers to be able to picture themselves in our house. Display your most neutral decorations – things that most everyone either has or would love to have – to show buyers how the house would look if they were spending the holidays in it. If you have the perfect spot for a Christmas tree, put it up and decorate it. Buyers will love knowing that their tree will look equally as lovely in that same spot.
So it’s agreed: Holiday decor can add to your home’s beauty, as long as you don’t overdo it. Even the classiest decorator can get kitschy around the holidays. And we tend to cram our Santas, angels, carolers, Christmas trees, snowmen and all the accompanying glitz wherever there’s an inch to spare. But the year you are selling your home is the year you should take a break from that. You may find you like it!


If you like Diane's humorous take on moving, you'll love her book Home Sweet Homes: How Bundt Cakes, Bubble Wrap, and My Accent Helped Me Survive Nine Moves.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Mover Beware

If the 2016 presidential hopefuls aren't depressing enough for you, I suggest you look into some of the moving scams going on. People looking to steal your money and your belongings have been around for a long time, and despite wary consumers and industry safeguards, they seem to be still flourishing.

Moving scammers' MOs vary, from outright driving away with a truck full of your possessions never to be seen again, to taking deposits, never showing up, and then disappearing into the night.

In all my moves, I've never been outright scammed. I did get burned by some broken promises, a moving contract with vague language that didn't meet my expectations in the end, and a process for filing a claim for a broken lamp that was impossible and not worth the hassle. I learned quickly that some movers and relo companies can be super helpful and accommodating until your move is technically over and the bill's been paid. But if you try to follow up after the move? Not so helpful or accommodating.

I'm lucky. There are people who are victimized every day by disreputable moving companies and people falsley claiming to be movers. keeps a list of stories in the news about people who have been robbed blind by fake - and in some cases real - moving companies.

There's the woman who paid a deposit and got the run-around by a company that never intended to move her. The active duty soldier whose belongings were sold by the moving company while he was deployed. Belongings that are lost and uninsured. And lots and lots of unlicensed moving companies.

Don't become one of the victims in these stories. Do your research, know your moving company, and make sure it's legit before you sign or pay.
Some tips:
  • Ask for references. A legitimate moving company has a binder full of past customers who would be willing to vouch for them. Follow up and call them. Ask specific questions about their move and how it was handled. Your real estate agent is also a great reference for good movers.
  • Google it! First, you'll find a physical address for the moving company, if they're real. Second, you'll uncover praise and pans from past customers.
  • Don't give a deposit. Real estate expert Barbara Corcoran advises that reputable moving companies will never ask for money up front before your move is tackled.
  • Know what the moving contract's insurance will cover and know what your belongings are worth. If there is a catastrophic or even not-so-catastrophic loss, you need to know that insurance will cover it. If you're unsure, get additional insurance.
  • Be sure your moving estimate is based on weight and not cubic feet. Industry rules require that weight be proven, while cubic feet can be falsely inflated by the company.
And lastly, remember the golden rule of smart consumerism: If it sounds too good to be true, take a pass. Moving is no time to eke out small savings. Your move is important enough to require a trustworthy moving company.


If you like Diane's humorous take on moving, you'll love her book Home Sweet Homes: How Bundt Cakes, Bubble Wrap, and My Accent Helped Me Survive Nine Moves.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Who Needs an Old Fashioned Transition Toolkit? This Modern Girl

Sometimes you just have to suck it up and admit that the old school way is still the best way.

Just as people today in their 20s and 30s are getting inspiration from Zig Zigler, and improving their attitudes with Dale Carnegie, I had a big YES!  moment from reading about Virginia Satir's transitional phases, a model she put together in the 1980s.

It seems when faced with a big life transition - like moving, divorce, new job, emptying or populating nests - we experience and process the change the same way we always have.

Why is this important to know? Because when you're going through your next transition - God love ya - you'll recognize what stage you're in and find some reassurance that you're not on Step 2 out of 4,568.

According to Satir's model, there are only six phases and while some of them might take some time, especially if you stumble and bumble and fight the transition tooth and nail, you will survive them and make it to the finish line. That's the hope anyway.

Think back on a transformational moment in your life. You probably went through these six steps - some more painstaking, drawn out, and laborious than others perhaps - but I bet you'll recognize all six. Because I've moved so often, whenever I have to look back at an example of a life transition, I go to one of my many relocations. I'm starting to see a pattern here.

Stage 1: Late Status Quo

This is the uneventful present, where things are going along just as you expected. But this is called late status quo for a reason. Although you don't know it yet, your precious status quo is about to blow to bits.

For me, this stage is where I start considering starting a big community volunteer project or applying for full-time jobs, thinking I'm now rooted into my new community. My husband wouldn't move us now, for goodness sake. I can finally sit back and enjoy the completely painted and decorated house, the fence that we just had installed, and the fruit trees we just spent a fortune to have planted. Life is good. I love the status quo. Status quo and I are going to get a room.

Stage 2: Foreign Element

Here, an unexpected event occurs. You get a call from your lawyer. Or your doctor. Or your boss's boss. Whatever it is, the foreign element tells you instantly and urgently that everything has changed.

Red lights and sirens are going off in my head and I'm short of breath. And I have a headache from banging my head repeatedly on the washer. I conspire with the kids to have us all run away from home and live with one of their friends locally. I'm not eating a lot in this phase, but I am drinking. A lot.

Stage 3: Chaos

Your life has been turned upside down. All that you thought you knew has to be reconsidered. Your future plans are probably in jeopardy at some level or another. And while this stage is very unpleasant, it gets your mind working, reanalyzing everything, and processing what's going to happen next.

What's going to happen next is that I'm going on a rampage. That's what's going to happen next. I'm spending half the day on the phone with relocation coordinators, real estate agents, appraisers and my kids' guidance counselors and the other half of the day trying to decide why the eff one of Ohio's airports is in Kentucky. In closing out our current town, I'm cramming all the fun we forgot to experience into our last few weeks, but at the same time trying to hate it so we can leave room in our hearts for our new place, which has all different cool stuff. Stuff we know nothing about.

Stage 4: Transforming Idea

You have an a-ha! moment. All that chaotic thinking results in something clicking into place. You find a way forward and you start to think about how to make that happen.

For me, this stage means suddenly remembering all the things I can get out of, now that I'm moving. Sure, I'm sad that I can't run for school board, but I also can't be treasurer of the PTA anymore or any clean-up committee at all. Nor will I have to figure out a solution to that kid next door and his obnoxious basketball dribbling 20 hours a day. I start to check problems off my list.

Stage 5: Integration and Practice

This is where you try out that transformative concept, weighing the pros and cons, and test-driving ideas until you find the one that fits. This stage can be discouraging, especially if you are new to life transitions and are feeling your way. But you'll keep up the trial-and error until you get to the final stage.

Stage 5 is the rollercoaster that is moving. One day you're ecstatic about having a swimming pool in your life and the next day you're crying in your p grig over going from a house with 12 walk-in closets and a finished basement to a house with one storage closet that also holds your washer and dryer. "I can do this! This is going to be great!" you tell yourself. "I'll be the swimming pool lady. I won't be the lady that has 36 of everything anymore. It'll be great, right?"

Stage 6: New Status Quo

Aaaah! As you get used to your new approach or outlook, you settle into a comfortable peace.

Stage 6 is my favorite. Sometimes Stage 6 doesn't come for a couple of years. But eventually, I start to love my new house. I've gotten the whole dang thing painted, organized just the way I like it. The fence is up, the dog has determined that she can, in fact, walk up stairs that are not carpeted, and the home décor is finished. I'm looking for a long-term volunteer project and am thinking of applying for full-time jobs.

Oh, status quo,  my love, don't you dare. Don't. You. Dare.


If you like Diane's humorous take on moving, you'll love her book Home Sweet Homes: How Bundt Cakes, Bubble Wrap, and My Accent Helped Me Survive Nine Moves.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Lost Blankie? There's an App For That!

I had a nice email exchange with Morgan McReynolds, a guy whose child's blankie was lost in a big bunch of moving boxes. He survived.

We never lost a blankie in a moving box, but that might be because my kids rarely let go of physical contact with their blankets (named "Nemma," "Bip," Baby" and "Ammol Bankie") especially during a stressful move.  We lost "Baby" temporarily twice, once in a hotel room in North Carolina, and once in a hair salon that was dangerously close to closing for the weekend before I could get there to rescue it.

As a parent, those kinds of incidents scar you.  You might forget their teachers' names or how much they weighed at birth, or even which of your kids is allergic to avocados, but you'll take a lost blankie story to the grave with you. I can see me at 105: "I don't know my own name or whether I have a body below my waist right now, but I remember July 17, 1992, when we had to drive 50 miles back to the Comfort Inn outside Charlotte to root through the bed sheets to find Baby."

So when Morgan told me the result of the Blankie in the Bottom Moving Box Crisis of 2014 was that he started a company  that helps to better label, track, and organize moving boxes by contents, I was like: "Well done, Dad. Well done."

SmarterBoxes is Morgan's way of paying it forward and proving that you wouldn't wish a lost blankie on your worst enemy.

When he first told me about SmarterBoxes, I immediately thought of all the moving box mislabeling mishaps I've experienced or heard of. I told him about my sister Pam, who couldn't figure out what was in the box the movers had labeled "RIEF."  It was a Christmas wreath. Morgan and I got a chuckle out of that one and then he told me the blankie story.

Morgan's family move involved home renovations, temporary living, and storage, the triple threat of relocation. I don't know what kind of IQ is required to correctly put everything in the boxes that are going to the right place during that kind of move, but I know I don't have it. And apparently neither does Morgan. Because he couldn't find his son's blankie.

"(It) was in the box at the bottom of a stack of boxes four high and about four rows deep. It was the last of about 40 boxes that I opened and moved to find where it was . . . at about 1 a.m..  Brutal," he wrote.

Tell me about it.

You tell your kids again and again that moving will not ruin their lives and then some freak packing accident goes and does just that.

SmarterBoxes is cool. Here's how it works

Instead of writing on each box with a marker, you use SmarterBoxes' labels, which have scannable codes. You record each coded box on the SmarterBoxes app with what's inside each box.  You can enter descriptions of what's in the box , take photos of the contents, or both. You can enter where the box is coming from and what room it's going into in the new place. For unpacking, the app will tell you what priority each box has, and - most importantly - which box holds that precious item that someone in your family can't live without.

So when your 13-year-old comes to you on moving-in day and Valley-Girl-whines that her earphones are lost forever and she might as well just join the Navy or become a nun, you can check your app, search for  Hillary's earphones and be the superhero of your family's move.

SmarterBoxes' company motto is "Improve Your Move." The company is based on someone who has been where you are, has experienced some of the mishaps of moving, and has figured out a better way.

And because Morgan and his family have been through stressful moves, they understand that a moving person is a person who needs a little sympathy.  "Moving is one of the biggest projects that people undertake in their personal lives, and we think that people going through something that significant need more than just an app," says the SmarterBoxes website. "So, we designed the SmarterBoxes service to offer 24x7x365 customer support – from real human beings.  Call us at any time with questions.  We know moving can be tough, and we want to provide a full-featured service that takes the stress out of your move."

What you need to know

Pricing: Between $2.50 and $50.00, depending on the size of your move
What's included: Labels, the Smarterboxes app, 24/7/365 customer support
More info: Call 844-HiBoxIQ (1-844-442-6947) or email


If you like Diane's humorous take on moving, you'll love her book Home Sweet Homes: How Bundt Cakes, Bubble Wrap, and My Accent Helped Me Survive Nine Moves.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Design Crimes: Here's Your Chance to Vent

Maybe it's because I've moved so much and have been handed houses that flaunted décor styles that were abhorrent to me. Maybe it was the triple-digit number of houses I've viewed in our numerous house-hunts.

Whatever the reason, I have seen some ugly ass homes.

And before you go all dental-hygienist on me, let me say this: I normally keep my opinions to myself. I'm not so vain that I think my tastes in home décor are better than anyone else's. I know that everyone's style is different. I just happen to know that fact intimately, because of the number of homes I've walked into.

So when my friend Mary Beth Breckenridge wrote a column about home design crimes, I was all over it. She called foul on furry toilet seat covers and their matching rugs. She threw a flag at fake foliage and vinyl brick veneer. And she called a lot of us out on throw-pillow profusion. "You shouldn't have to make a concerted effort to sit down. That's all I'm saying," she wrote.

You should all stop right now and read Mary Beth's column. Shoot her an email with your own design crime pet peeves. And then come back here and finish reading this, because I'm going to tell you why I now keep my décor opinions to myself.

We had just moved to Cary, Illinois, into a rambling farmhouse-type home that was perfect in every way for our family of five. Perfect in every way except for the window treatments. The ruffles-from-hell kitchen curtains were at least better than the magenta lace bedroom panels, which were better than the living room drapes, which were heavy floral and I swear made of boat-cover canvas. They stretched all the way across the picture window from one side to the other, blocking out all but a low sliver of light.

I loathed them.

So one of the first things I did after moving in was to call a window treatment guy. He came in, we chatted, he seemed really nice, and then we went into the living room. I guess I wanted him to know how desperate I was to get these drapes down and get something up that was more my style, so I started talking about why and how much I hated these drapes.

"Horrible" was mentioned.  Also "horrid" and "horrendous."  "Oh my god," I said several times. "What were they thinking?" I just kept going.

And when I stopped, I realized the window treatment guy was silently staring at the drapes.

"Now I know why this house looked familiar," he said quietly.

Yeah. I went on a five-minute rampage to the guy who had made and installed these drapes. I did that. That was me.

That's when I learned never to denigrate home décor, even if it's your own home, because you don't always know what other people are going home to.

Google tacky home decor and I bet you don't get to the second page before you see something that makes you say, "Hey! What's this doing in here?"

I once was showing my friend Rick around my house and mentioned that we were in the process of having everything painted.

"I bet you can't wait to get rid of this faux paint that looks like flocked shit," Rick said.

"Actually, this is one of the rooms that we already had done," I answered.

Awkward silence.

Even if you've learned the hard way not to disparage someone else's home décor, Mary Beth's column is one exception. Feel free to rant about wallpaper borders, dried flowers, and tchotchke knick-knacks. But don't say anything about the color orange. Have you seen Mary Beth's kitchen?


If you like Diane's humorous take on moving, you'll love her book Home Sweet Homes: How Bundt Cakes, Bubble Wrap, and My Accent Helped Me Survive Nine Moves.

Friday, July 24, 2015

When Moving Kids, Ignore the Advice

That's right. The best piece of moving advice is to not listen to moving advice.

As if we’re not guilt-ridden enough when we move our families, we’re sure to do it wrong, no matter how much advice we seek out. I decided after the third time that I had to move a child in high school, I wasn’t going to be winning any parent of the year awards anytime soon.

I wanted to turn to my kids and say, “Hey, this isn’t my idea, you know. It’s all his fault!” and then point dramatically to their dad, who was, incidentally, gliding through our moves like an Olympic figure skater. He was smoothly adjusting to a new job, making eight new friends a day at work without any embarrassing cafeteria incidents, and he could put his hands on all of his ties, which was itself a miracle, because I couldn’t find a single bra except the bright red one that was two cup sizes too big.

The kids had nothing in school colors, nothing for the current weather, all the wrong notebooks, and were having a hard time keeping up with the movie theme days, pajama days, and Dr. Seuss celebration days, without doing it wrong. In fact, they and I were all struggling with doing it wrong. The local customs and culture were a mystery to us. We kept doing it the Illinois way in New Jersey, the New Jersey way in Kentucky, and the Kentucky way in Florida. We were always one state behind. The only way to catch up would be to quickly move back to a place where we had lived previously. And that wasn’t likely, because I couldn’t hear the word move without crying.

If you Google moving children you will see a lot of serious stuff. Men and women wearing suits, peering down over one shoulder, expressions of concern with a hint of optimism. Their names have strings of letters after them, proving that they are stupidly smart and qualified. At least one guy will have a stethoscope around his neck. All will be wearing glasses. So, of course, we trust them when they tell us how to move our kids.

I used to follow their every affected-accent word, until I moved my own children four or five times, and then started to develop my own set of tips. You know, tips that are based in real life with real parents and real kids.

The problem was the conflicting advice. From the beginning of the moving process, the Decision Phase, I kept hearing contradictions. Ask a simple question - like Should I move my kids in the middle of the school year or should I wait until summer? - and you get a schizophrenic answer.

“it is always best for moving during the summer period to start the children in school during the beginning of a new school year . . .” ~ Top Moving Companies, Guide to Moving Families

“By moving a child during the school year, you are enabling them to be immediately introduced to other children their own age. . . Schools help to facilitate introductions to other kids and activities as opposed to leaving that up to parents and children while in an empty neighborhood during a summer move.” ~ MSI Mobility, When’s the Best Time to Move With School-Aged Children?

“Summer represents a natural period of transition between grades and the perfect time to adjust to new surroundings and meet new friends. . . How could this not be preferable to leaving in the middle of things and coming in the middle of things?” ~ Ask Dr. Gayle, Best Time in the School Year for Children to Move? 

“(M)oving during the school year is usually much better for kids than at the beginning of summer, when they're more likely to be isolated and alone for weeks.” ~ Chicago Tribune, The ABCs of Home Moves During the School Year

“Experts agree that it's better to move during the summer.” ~ Great Schools, Necessary Moves: A Moving Survival Guide for Families Relocating in Tough Times.

The experts should settle this debate with a tug-of-war, a series of three-legged races or something equally entertaining for the rest of us.

Based on the nine moves I orchestrated with my family, I would offer the following real-life advice on when to move school-age kids:
  1. Ask the kids. Don’t get their hopes up that you’ll follow their wishes, but knowing what they would rather do will help you in your list of pros and cons.
  2. Make a list of pros and cons. (Duh.) Waiting for the school year to be over might separate your family for a while and that is a “con” that has to be weighed. As is the possibility of your kids spending the summer with no friends yet and nothing to do.
  3. Take into consideration credits that your child might lose if they transfer to a new school district mid-year. If she’s got a half year of German under her belt, but her new school only offers Spanish and Swahili, find out how a mid-year switch will affect her course credits.
  4. If you decide to move in the summer, get your kids signed up for some kind of day camp or class that will get them the social interaction they need to make their adjustment smooth.
  5. And if you choose to make the move during the school year, march yourself right into that guidance counselor’s office and be sure your child’s transition is taken seriously and he’s treated right.
  6. Know, that no matter which way you go, it will be wrong on some level. There is guilt in your future, so just start dealing with it now. You’re in good company.


If you like Diane's humorous take on moving, you'll love her book Home Sweet Homes: How Bundt Cakes, Bubble Wrap, and My Accent Helped Me Survive Nine Moves.