Grammy loves to host everyone, but she may not love the work and expenses that go with it. Here's how to pitch in.

The holiday season is right around the corner, and Grandma can’t wait for everyone to visit. Nothing brings her more joy than being surrounded by her family for the holidays.

Although Grandma says that she doesn’t mind celebrating the holidays at her home, preparing for family to stay may not be easy on her.

Here are four tips that’ll help Grandma stay stress-free while you are in town.

Have an honest talk

Do you know what a successful family weekend looks like to Grandma? What will make her happy during your visit? Finding out may take some prompting.

Grandma will insist that she’s fine, and doesn’t need anything other than your company. So take a proactive approach: Ask her what she plans on doing for the upcoming family stay. Once you find out what she envisions, take the initiative to make that a reality.

Create an itinerary for your family to reference. This will help convey Grandma’s hopes and expectations to her guests.

The itinerary will let your family know what to expect each day of the visit. Then, each guest will know where they can pitch in, or when to go off on their own to give Grandma a breather.

No matter how your family goes about this, communication is paramount to prevent misunderstandings and hurt feelings.

Arrive early and bring your own linens

Whether you’ve got a big or small family, cleaning is a time-consuming task. Grandma probably plans to do a lot of cleaning before you arrive.

Guest rooms need to be aired out, and the beds need new sheets. Fresh towels need to be put out. But she’ll never admit that the work is too much for one person to handle.

Offer to come a day early and prepare the rooms for everyone’s stay. The more help Grandma can get, the better. Bring extra sheets, blankets, and towels. This way, the laundry won’t pile up for Grandma when everyone leaves.

Divide meal duties

Preparing dinner isn’t just laborious, it’s expensive. Don’t let Grandma do it alone.

Ask her for a list of groceries that she’ll need to feed the family. Then, ask your relatives and family members to chip in toward the cost of the groceries.

Flying across the country? Ask Grandma if you can go to the store with her once you land. You can offer to pay and help carry items from the car. Grandma will be relieved knowing she won’t have to surrender an arm and a leg to foot the bill.

Once the groceries are in the house, give Grandma a hand in the kitchen. Cooking alone for a holiday meal is an exhausting task.

When everyone’s able to pitch in, it’s much easier on Grandma. And cooking is a good way to bond. Helping Grandma with the cooking won’t just make her happy, but will benefit everyone since the food will be ready faster.

Tidy up at the end of your stay

When it’s time for visitors to go home, Grandma is left with a mess to clean. Fortunately, there are several ways you can make the cleaning process easier for her.

Start tidying up after yourself the day before you plan to leave. Toss out any trash, wipe down surfaces, and begin gathering your things together. Grandma will have less to clean if you don’t leave a huge mess when you’re rushing out the door on the last day.

Ask the rest of your family to set aside some time to help clean up before departure. Cleaning will become a 30-minute activity instead of a three-day event for Grandma.

Does Grandma insist that no one lift a finger? Get creative and send her off to lunch or the movies with some friends. While she’s gone, donate some good old-fashioned elbow grease.

Give everyone in your family a job to have the house clean by the time Grandma comes home.

Leave Grandma smiling

Holidays and family go hand in hand, like milk and cookies. Nothing makes the holidays better than being able to celebrate together.

Stay in the spirit of the holiday season — make sure your visit didn’t leave a bitter taste in Grandma’s mouth. If she has to spend hours cleaning before and after your visit, on top of footing the food bill, she may not want to host next year’s dinner.

Leave Grandma with a smile on her face by being conscious of yourself and your mess, and pitching in whenever you can. Holidays are meant to be spent with family — not cleaning up after them.

Related:

About the author

Arar Han

Arar Han is a certified Aging in Place Specialist and co-CEO of Alert-One. Arar holds a dual degree in Philosophy and Human Development from Boston College, summa cum laude and an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business. Alert-One is a personal safety technology and consulting firm dedicated to helping seniors live safely and independently. Follow Alert-One on Twitter and Facebook.

Ready for a revamped bathroom space, but nervous about taking on a big renovation project? These easy updates can give you a whole new look on any budget.

The bathroom is probably the best room in the house for a mini-makeover. When you realize how dramatically, quickly and inexpensively you can completely update the space without an actual renovation, you’ll wonder why you’ve waited so long.

Before you dive in, take a minute to consider what you’re going for in terms of style. Your bathroom should be a peaceful, relaxing space. Are you more soothed by rich, dramatic tones and style, or are you going for a more simple and serene spa-like space? Once you know what you want, take a look at these simple tips for getting the bathroom upgrade you’ve been dreaming of.

Paint

This is obviously the place to start, since doing it yourself results in such fast and dramatic change. For the simple and serene look, choose soft and soothing tones to give you a greater sense of space and light. If you’re looking for a rich, dark hideaway, choose warm saturated tones to strike the right mood.

Hardware

Now choose drawer pulls that keep the style makeover moving forward. They’re available in all styles and at all price points, and this is another big change you can make on your own. Typically, a nickel or stainless finish goes best with the spa look, while oil-rubbed bronze tones will add the richness you’re looking for in a sophisticated atmosphere.

Storage

Because our bathrooms are also spaces that our guests may see, keeping them clutter free is essential. Organization is also important for keeping stress on the other side of the bathroom door.

A quick and functional fix here are simple storage cubbies. Stash toiletries, makeup and other beauty and grooming equipment in small caddies that you can pop out and put away easily.

Lighting

Good grooming requires good light, but when you’re just looking to slip into the tub and relax, you want something softer. Start your lighting makeover with a simple dimmer switch.

Replacing the vanity lighting fixture is easier than you think, too. To keep the job a simple and quick one, simply choose vanity lighting that covers the same space the original fixture did. You can maximize your options, though, if you tackle the lighting when you do the painting.

To take it up one more notch, consider a dramatic piece of statement lighting such as a chandelier or pendant that adds a sense of style.

Shower, sink and tub faucets

Now we’re moving into the updates that really make the space feel new. Look for sink fixtures that offer a little more height over the bowl and length extending into the bowl for the most functional effect.

Then, upgrade to a new showerhead that makes your morning feel anything but routine. A handheld showerhead that ties into the shower arm and can extend from the wall via a hose is another indulgent and functional option.

Mirror and medicine cabinet

Most standard medicine cabinets are not much to look at, and there are now plenty of options that will your replace your current cabinet. A simple beveled mirror version with a plastic wipe-able interior can update a rusted metal version.

But another simple fix if you don’t want to replace the whole cabinet is to build a simple picture-style frame right over your basic wall mirror. Just choose the frame according to the style you’re going for, and make sure the surface is moisture resistant.

Towel warmer

Even if you don’t have the most spacious bathroom, this is an amenity worthy of serious consideration. In case you think you just can’t spare the space, you’ll be glad to hear that they also come ready to plug-in or hard wire and hang on the wall.

Source: Zillow Digs
Photo from Zillow listing.

The final touches

New towels and a fresh bathmat can change the appearance of your bath space with little effort. Pick a monochromatic color scheme to dry off in style, or go all white for the spa-like aesthetic.

For a little added detail, consider monogramming your towels with your initials or “His,” “Hers” and “Guest.” This added touch will make all your efforts well worth the time and consideration of your bathroom update.

Related:

Originally published April 15, 2015.

Top image from Zillow listing.

About the author

Kerrie Kelly

Kerrie Kelly is a Northern California interior designer and the founder of Kerrie Kelly Design Lab.She is an award-winning interior designer, multimedia consultant and an author of two books: “Home Décor: A Sunset Design Guide” and “My Interior Design Kit,” with Pearson Professional and Career Education.
 
 
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How to beat Kevin McCallister at the 'Home Alone' security game (with advice from actual experts).

Living alone has its benefits. No race to the bathroom to get ready in the morning. Sole control of TV and takeout choices. A pants/no-pants policy, as you see fit. But there are also some drawbacks, security not least among them.

The number of people living alone is on the rise. “The most recent [census] reports show that around 14 percent of Americans live alone,” says Sarah Brown, a security expert at Safewise, “and it’s been increasing more each year.”

It’s mildly depressing and a tad unfair, but the fact is, when you’re living alone, you’re often seen as a more vulnerable target for home invasion. And it makes sense: when you’re solo, it’s you versus intruder(s), no best friend, roommate, or partner — who’s also incidentally a Jiu-Jitsu champ — to help defend your turf.

Most people don’t have the time to set up an elaborate “Home Alone”-style party every night in an attempt to deter criminal activity. But everyone should make time to gather expert security tips for living alone.

So whether you’re loving the freedom of solo domestic life or bunking with seven of your best friends, here are a dozen ways to make it safer.

Light it right

Lighting is a huge safety factor — just get it right. “Outdoor lighting is a huge deterrent for intruders, or even just people snooping around,” says Brown. “But don’t leave your lights on for 24 hours a day. It can actually attract burglars to leave your lights on during daylight hours.”

The same goes for interior lighting. “It’s natural for people to have the lights off in the day and on at night. Anything else can be a signal that you aren’t home,” notes Brown.

Extra lights on when you’re alone at night can create the illusion someone else is there. (Just keep it to one or two rooms, because, you know … the environment.)

Go get gadgets!

Motion sensors and timers are cheap ways to create the illusion of more occupants, but there are other gadgets you might not have heard of.

David Nance, a personal safety expert and CEO of SABRE, recommends something like a TV light simulator. “This is a little device about the size of a coffee cup, using the same amount of energy as a nightlight, that mimics screen and light changes produced by a real HDTV.”

Meaning if you’re upstairs taking a shower, you can create the illusion that someone else is downstairs watching TV.

Make like Kevin McCallister

The “Home Alone” idea actually isn’t ridiculous. Nobody needs to know you’re alone. Things like lighting and gadgets can help, but there are also some simple tricks.

For women especially, “an amazing psychological and simplistic deterrent is to take a pair of men’s size 13 or 14 work boots and leave them in front of the door,” says “Security Sensei” Jordan Frankel of GlobalSecurityExperts. Another simple deterrent: “a giant dog’s water bowl.”

The principle applies when you’re home with a stranger, too. “Whenever you’re having someone over to repair your home, you should invite at least one other person over,” says Brown.

Another nod to the power of the pooch: “Even having a dog with you can decrease the likelihood that you become a target,” she adds.

Lock safety #1: Don’t make assumptions

We tend to trust locks implicitly. And when we move somewhere new, most of us don’t do a lock overhaul.

“Just like when you check into a hotel, they give you a key and most people assume ‘I’m safe. I can lock my door,’” says veteran security expert Chris McGoey, aka “Crime Doctor.”

“But you have no idea who has the keys. In an apartment situation, you’re also assuming your landlord has changed the locks, but that assumption is false in many cases. Landlords often don’t change locks. There could be 20 keys out there,” McGoey advises.

Hound the landlord once you move in, and make sure those locks are new.

Lock safety #2: Get reinforcements

You’re living single, you want a strong door — and a deadbolt often isn’t enough. “They’re designed to keep an honest person out, not a dishonest person,” says Frankel.

His company produces what they call OnGARD, basically a door brace that takes your standard door to the next level. “When the two pieces [of the door brace] are mated together, no one can kick in the door from the outside, because at this point the door can withstand up to 1,800 pounds of force.”

Lock safety #3: Don’t forget to actually lock it!

“Always lock your doors,” says Nance. “Even if you’re just running to get your mail or take out the trash. It only takes someone a split second to slip into your home or apartment while your back is turned.”

And whatever time you’re home alone, lock it up. “Nearly half of all intruders enter through the front or back door,” says Brown, “and that could be any time of day.”

Burglars pose a threat at all times of day.
Afraid of the dark? Remember burglars pose a threat at all times of day.

Up your window game

Frankel actually calls windows “the weakest link in your security plan.” He doesn’t recommend bars, however, as “they can be a fire hazard if you’re trying to get out.”

Instead, Frankel recommends installing “high-quality glass protection film,” which basically “disperses the shock wave” of someone trying to smash the glass to the frame itself. “And if the film fails, it’ll still keep the glass in a spider-web effect, meaning if they try to continue to get in, they’re going to be injured by something very sharp.”

If you’re living alone on a ground floor, a reinforced window is your best friend.

No security system? Fake it ‘til you make it

“A lot of burglars look for signs of heightened security before deciding on a target,” says Nance. And when you’re living alone, a security system is a great investment.

If you can’t afford one, you still have options. “If a security system isn’t in your budget at the moment, we still encourage you to display security signs or decals, as well as fake security cameras.”

“Signage is very important,” Frankel agrees. “A sticker is better than nothing. And even going a step further, you can get that kitschy signage that says stuff like ‘Forget the Dog But Beware of the Owner.’ If burglars want an easy target, you won’t seem like one.”

Use the Internet and social media wisely

You may be living single, but there are online communities that can keep you informed about crime in the neighborhood. Nance recommends you “check police blotters …. There are also a number of websites you can use, such as CrimeReports.” Community message boards are also a useful tool.

There are also online ways to be less vulnerable, like not bragging about your upcoming vacation, and the little-known option of opting out of Google Earth.

“I highly recommend this,” says Frankel. “Through Google satellites, every home in the U.S. could be visible to a burglar.” Basically, someone could theoretically case your place from far away with a laptop and a cup of cocoa.

“Contact Google and have your home removed,” Frankel advises. The image of your home will remain, but appear blurred.

Know thy neighbor

Just because you’re on your own doesn’t mean you have to be alone.

“Always get to know your neighbors,” says Brown. “The more people invested in your lives, the more likely they are to report an incident they see, to call the police if you need help, to watch your house while you are on vacation, or even to let you back into your home if you ever get locked out.”

shutterstock_258939002
Chatting with the folks next door can mean you’ve got someone on your side in an emergency.

This assumes, of course, your neighbors themselves are trustworthy, and that decision often comes down to a matter of instinct and observation. Speaking of which …

Get your nose out of your phone!

Situational awareness is a great defense, but especially if you’re out alone — and heading home alone — it’s super important to pay more attention to your surroundings than your Instagram feed.

“Do an experiment for yourself,” says McGoey. “Go out in public and look at people. A lot of people have their heads down, looking at their phones.” Not paying attention makes you an incredibly easy target.

“Just paying attention goes a long way,” says McGoey. “Most victims never see the perp coming, and it’s one of the primary reasons they were selected.”

Psychology is half the battle

Even if you are a black belt, your individual mindset is an essential defense in solo security.

“Everyone I’ve ever interviewed in interrogation rooms, they all say the same thing,” says Frankel. “The person’s home they broke into, that person had the mentality ‘It won’t happen to me.’ It always happens to somebody else, until it happens to you.”

This isn’t intended to stoke the flames of paranoia and end all neighborhood block parties as we know it, but especially if you’re living alone, it’s important to have a certain amount of vigilance mixed in with your neighborliness.

After all, when you’re living alone, you’re your own best defense. (But a huge guard dog would be awesome, too.)

Related:

About the author

Emily Bell

Emily Bell is a freelance writer in the NYC metro area.
 
 

Is it OK to break up with your real estate agent? And if so, how can you gracefully end it?

Buying or selling a home rarely happens overnight, and it’s not uncommon for buyers or sellers to interface or even work with multiple agents. Best-case scenario, the right agent shows their face early, and the relationship (and transaction) is a huge success.

But it’s possible though that, along the way, you may find that your relationship with your real estate agent just isn’t working anymore. Maybe the agent is moving faster than you’d like. Or they’re not as available as you need them to be. Maybe they just don’t get you.

So what do you do? Is it OK to break up with your real estate agent? And if so, how can you gracefully end it?

The answer depends on whether you’re working with an agent as a buyer or a seller.

Advice for buyers

Real estate agents earn their commissions from sellers, and the money is split between the sellers’ and buyers’ agents. As a general rule, as a buyer, you won’t be asked to enter into a contractual or financial agreement with a real estate agent.

Instead, a buyer makes a (sometimes non-verbal) handshake agreement with the real estate agent. You’re basically agreeing to exclusively rely upon that agent. And that’s fair.

Agents often work hard and spend a lot of time engaging with buyers, watching the market, writing contracts, showing properties, reviewing disclosures, and so on. Imagine how they’d feel after spending months working with a client, only to be informed that another agent found them the home they want?

Before you shake hands, do your homework. Ask friends for references, and check out online agent reviews.

Going to open houses is a good way to meet and interview agents who work where you want to buy. Don’t jump in with the first agent you meet. Like any relationship, start slow and feel it out. It’s harder to break up with your agent if you have too deeply engaged.

If you’re not quite ready to be tied down, it’s better not to engage an agent until you are ready. Early on, a good real estate agent should read your situation well and provide the appropriate amount of attention as needed. They’ll act as a resource, and be available when you need them. Once the search kicks into high gear, agents and buyers will spend lots of time together and communicate 24×7.

If you do find that a relationship is not working, be honest and upfront before more time passes. Offer the agent constructive feedback about why it’s not working for you.

Advice for sellers

Since the seller pays the real estate agent’s commission, the brokerage requires the seller to sign a listing agreement upfront.  During the listing period, you’re contractually obligated to work exclusively with the agent and brokerage firm, specifically on the sale of your home.

In fact, even if you find a buyer on your own (such as a friend), the listing agent/brokerage firm is still due their commission.

Just as a buyer must do his homework, it’s even more important for a seller to do her research, given the commitment. Most listing agreements state that if the listing agent brings an offer at the listing price and the seller doesn’t accept it, the agent is still due a commission. This scenario happens sometimes when the listing agent and seller aren’t getting along.

In most situations, if the listing agent isn’t doing a good job but there’s still time left on the agreement, you should simply tell the agent it’s not working out. A good, fair and honest agent will apologize for not meeting your expectations and will agree to release you from the agreement ahead of schedule. But that’s not always the case, and sellers typically respond by no longer agreeing to open houses or considering offers from the agent.

Sometimes, an agent wants to break up with the seller. Maybe the seller insists on keeping the price of the home too high or isn’t cooperating to accommodate showings. The agent simply feels she can’t be successful with the seller, no matter how much time she puts into the job.

If you’re a seller whose agent wants out of the agreement because you aren’t taking the necessary steps to sell your home, it’s best to let them go — and to give serious consideration as to whether you’re really ready to sell or not.

Related:

Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Zillow.

About the author

Brendon DeSimone

Brendon DeSimone is the author of Next Generation Real Estate: New Rules for Smarter Home Buying & Faster Selling. A 15-year veteran of the residential real estate industry and a nationally recognized real estate expert, Brendon has completed hundreds of transactions totaling more than $250M. His expert advice is often sought out by reporters and journalists in both local and national press. Brendon is a regularly featured guest on major television networks and programs including CNBC, FOX News, Bloomberg, Good Morning America, ABC’s 20/20 and HGTV. Brendon is the manager of the Bedford and Pound Ridge offices of Houlihan Lawrence, the leading real estate brokerage north of New York City.
 
 

Don't let anyone slip through the cracks.

When you’re preoccupied with important relocation-related tasks, it’s easy to forget about informing relevant people and institutions of your upcoming residential move and subsequent change of address.

But notifying specific organizations and individuals of your relocation is essential for ensuring a smooth moving process and preventing various hassles and troubles with your mail and accounts.

Here’s a checklist of the people and institutions you need to contact when moving.

Family and friends

Naturally, your relatives and close friends should be the first to know that you are about to move house. Informing them of your imminent relocation as early as possible will not only give you the chance to ask them help you move, but, if you’re moving far away, will also provide you with enough time to say a proper goodbye and plan for different ways to stay in touch despite the distance between you.

Current employer

Unless you’re relocating to a different branch of your current company, you should inform your employer about your decision to move and leave your job as early as a month in advance.

This way, the company will have time to find a new person for your position, and you will be able to put all the relevant paperwork in order without any hassle.

Remember that your old boss will need your new address to send you tax documents and insurance information at the end of the year.

Landlord

If you live in a rental home, you should carefully review your tenant rights and responsibilities contained in the lease agreement. You will probably be required to notify your landlord of your intentions to move out at least 30 days in advance.

You need to prepare a written notice that clearly states your move-out date and your future address. It is also a good idea to include a brief statement about the excellent condition of the rented property and to request your security deposit back.

Postal services

Changing your address with the United States Postal Service should be among your top priorities when moving to a new house, as it will help you avoid many troubles and inconveniences.

To have your mail forwarded to your new place before you’ve updated your address with individual organizations and companies, you only need to fill out a change of address request at your local post office or at the USPS official website.

Online services such as 1StopMove can also help you complete this process.

Utilities

To prevent service lapses and past-due bills you need to inform your service providers about your relocation plans. Arrange for the utilities at your old home to be disconnected on moving day, and have them reconnected at your new residence by the time you move in.

The utility companies you should contact when moving include electricity, gas, water, telephone, cable, Internet, domestic waste collection and other municipal services you may need.

DMV

When you move out of state, you’ll have to transfer your driver’s license and update your vehicle’s registration and insurance within quite a short time frame (10 to 30 days, depending on your new state).

It’s a good idea to visit the local office of the Department of Motor Vehicles at the earliest opportunity, inform them of your new address, and request all the relevant information about putting the required paperwork in order.

Government agencies

A number of government agencies should be notified when you’re moving to another state. Be sure to update your address with the local office of the Social Security Administration, the electoral register, and other relevant institutions.

The IRS

The Internal Revenue Service will need your actual home address to mail your tax return, fiscal notes, and other documents. All you need to do is print out and mail in the IRS’ Change of Address form soon after your relocation.

Financial institutions

To keep your finances in order, you must update your bank accounts and inform credit card companies, stockbrokers, and other relevant financial institutions of your new address either shortly prior to or immediately after your move.

Insurance companies

The insurance agencies that provide your life, health, and homeowners insurance policies should have your current address on file, as should any other organizations and individuals (such as your family attorney) who have dealings with you and your family.

Medical and educational facilities

When moving to a new state, you will have to enroll your children in a new school, find a new family physician, and transfer all your academic records, medical records, and prescription medicines. To successfully complete these important tasks you need to tell your doctors, dentists, vets and other healthcare providers, as well as the educational facilities your kids are attending, about your relocation and your new address.

Subscription services and clubs

Last but not least, you need to update your address with any sports, professional, or social clubs you are involved with. You should also notify the subscriber services department of any magazines or newspapers you want to receive at your new home.

You may have to personally visit some companies or institutions to notify them of your relocation, but in most cases you will be able to change your mailing address online or with a simple phone call. Postcards, e-mails, text messages, and social network announcements are also viable methods to inform people of your new address.

Related:

Originally published December 2, 2015.

About the author

Moving.Tips

Moving.Tips is a resource center that provides a complete solution for people on the move. From the pre-move tips, through the packing and moving day advice, to the post-move helpful information, it has it all. Moreover, budgeting your move and finding a mover can be child's play when you have an ally like Moving.Tips.