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Four Thanksgivings and a nap

Make time during holidays to de-clutter your life



Thanksgiving, turkey, holidays, food, gay news, Washington Blade
Christmas decorations are everywhere as soon as Halloween is over but what about Thanksgiving? (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Whether you walk into Target, Walmart, or other favorite big box store, your eyes are already assaulted by tinsel, twinkle lights, artificial trees, and an occasional menorah. Retailers have gone straight from Halloween to Christmas without giving Thanksgiving much of a thought.

I remember my mother decorating our house for Thanksgiving. We had a cornucopia of gourds on the sideboard and a colorful wreath of Indian corn on the front door. The centerpiece for the dining table was a large turkey made of honeycomb tissue and the fireplace mantel held male and female pilgrims made from dried cornhusks.

We had candles that smelled of cloves and allspice and a roaring fire in the wood-burning fireplace. Mom and Dad would stuff the turkey in the morning and I would set the table with the โ€œgoodโ€ silver, china and crystal, an assortment of trivets for the upcoming hot dishes, and dinner napkins with fall scenes on them, while the aroma of a roasting bird would permeate the house until our mid-afternoon feast.

Dinner consisted of thinly carved turkey (Dad was a pro), homemade chestnut stuffing, mashed potatoes with gravy, and roasted turnip. There was also the obligatory green bean and mushroom soup casserole with French fried onions on top and a tomato aspic salad infused with celery.

The cranberry sauce was always jellied, allowing Mom to use her vintage, silver cranberry spoon (which wasnโ€™t vintage at the time) to slice and serve. Finally, there would be mince pie for Dad and mini Canadian butter tarts with currants for Mom and me.

Is it any wonder we all fell asleep in easy chairs during the late afternoon football game?

The first (and only) time I ever cooked a turkey myself was to impress a certain fella at Thanksgiving in 1983. It must have been pretty good because the relationship lasted three years longer than the turkey.

For the past five years Iโ€™ve had a standing Thanksgiving dinner-and-a-movie date with a dear friend. It had the effect of being an enjoyable afternoon while dispensing with the need to cook. Regrettably, my friend moved away earlier this year.

Donโ€™t get me wrong. Iโ€™m not fishing for an invitation. I have plenty to keep me busy.

Anyone who owns a home knows that oneโ€™s possessions expand to fill available space. I recently read an article on the Apartment Therapy website entitled 54 Things Absolutely Nobody Should be Storing, Anywhere. I was chagrined to find that I have at least 18 of the things on the list in my garage. What a great incentive to determine which things can be donated to those less fortunate, sold for cash donations to charity, or simply thrown away. Here is what Iโ€™ve pinpointed for action.

We all like to believe we can diet our way back into clothing thatโ€™s too small or hedge our bets by keeping a few pieces from larger sizes once worn, but most of the time they just hang in our closets taking up space, so they will be the first to go to a worthy association.

Next will be stray pieces of dishware and glassware, and cookware that dates back as far as 1975. Does anyone need a fondue set? I have two.
My cookbooks have been in boxes in the basement for four years. There may be a few favorite recipes in there somewhere, but the Internet can replace most of them.

Hitting the kitchen, Iโ€™ll dispose of coupons that have expired or are for food that I rarely eat or am required to buy in bulk. Old take-out menus will also go, as well as a drawer full of packages of soy sauce, sweet and sour sauce, hot mustard and ketchup.

I havenโ€™t had a Christmas tree for 10 years, so two large tubs of decorations will be better off on someone elseโ€™s tree. Likewise, any candles or aromatic oils that have scents I donโ€™t like may please another person or family more.
Iโ€™ll take my five allowable boxes of paper to the Fort Totten Waste Transfer Station to be shredded on the first Saturday of December and every month thereafter, until theyโ€™re all gone. I may even recycle some electronics that no longer function, as well as cords and chargers for devices I no longer own.

And finally, Iโ€™ll attack number 54 on the Apartment Therapy list โ€“ empty boxes. Thankfully, I have a treasure trove of them to pack up and transport my unwanted and unneeded items to their ultimate destination โ€“ and leave them there.

Somewhere in the middle of all this, Iโ€™ll grab a turkey sandwich and a glass of wine.

Valerie M. Blake is a licensed Associate Broker in D.C., Maryland and Virginia and Director of Education & Mentorship at RLAH Real Estate. Call or text her at 202-246-8602, email her via, or follow her on Facebook at TheRealst8ofAffairs.

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Real Estate

Finding your footing in fall housing market

Act quickly before winter arrives when selling



Fall can be a good time to sell, but act fast before winter sets in.

Though it may not feel quite like fall weather quite yet in some parts of the country, as students return to school, we know that it means fall is right around the corner. Without question, fall is usually a wonderful season – it is the perfect time to enjoy beautiful weather, and plenty of festivals and fun. The return to school also means, for many, a return to routine โ€“ to getting organized and beginning again to check things off the to-do list after the lazy days of summer are over. 

You may have heard that housing inventory and activity is often lower in the fall than in the popular spring and summer seasons โ€“ and this is true. On the other side of the coin, however, fall buyers are often more serious about buying. They may be eager to buy quickly to get children enrolled in school, because of a job relocation, or due to a change in their family situation. Often, fall buyers are eager to find a home they love quickly, and to take action once they find it.

The good news is that if you plan to list your home for sale in the fall, there are a few tips and things you can add to your to-do list that will help you market your home in the best way possible and maximize your chances of a quick and successful sale. These include:

Act quickly: Depending upon the area of the country that you live in, beautiful, crisp, colorful fall weather might quickly give way to less desirable winter weather. Itโ€™s often far easier to sell a home in the fall than it is to sell in December, January, or February when bad weather might make traveling difficult, and potential buyers less likely to want to leave their homes. Once youโ€™ve decided youโ€™re ready to sell, itโ€™s best to make every effort to list your home quickly to take advantage of good weather and buyers on the market.

Photograph the property as soon as possible: In many parts of the country, fall is a truly beautiful season of the year. Fall typically also offers plenty of beautiful, natural light. Take advantage of those ideal conditions by taking pictures of your property early. Donโ€™t wait until the leaves begin to fall and the skies turn gray. Get your pictures early and use them to attract potential buyers to the unique beauty, both indoors and out, that can be enjoyed in your home.

Feature some fall curb appeal: You may not have spring flowers in the fall, but thereโ€™s abundant natural beauty to enjoy nevertheless. If you have falling leaves, make sure to regularly rake and bag them. Mow the lawn, perhaps add some new mulch, or consider adding some fall flowers. These steps donโ€™t take long or cost much money, but they can go a long way toward catching the eye of potential buyers. 

Leave the lights on: In fall, the sun begins to set early. As a result, it’s important to keep your home as bright and inviting as possible. Clean your windows, open the curtains or blinds, and encourage as much natural light to come in as possible. If you have very dark paint colors, consider having a few rooms repainted to lighter shades. This will maximize light, and make your home appear more open and airy. Finally, if the showing is later in the day, be sure to leave plenty of lights on within the home. This will not only increase your curb appeal as potential buyers approach the home by making it look warm and inviting โ€“ it will also help buyers feel more comfortable inside your home as they envision themselves in that space. 

While these tips are intended to be helpful, itโ€™s important to remember that one of the best steps you can take to truly increase your chances of a successful home sale is to hire a real estate agent who knows and loves the community and can help you truly tailor the marketing and pricing of your home to potential buyers in your area. Finding and connecting with an agent that can help you do exactly that is essential. At, weโ€™re here to help.ย 

At, we arenโ€™t just passionate about real estate. Weโ€™re passionate about real estate with a purpose. Our mission is to connect LGBTQ home buyers and sellers all over the country with knowledgeable, talented, and experienced LGBTQ-friendly realtors who know their communities well and are dedicated to helping clients every step of the way. Wherever you are in the real estate process, and whatever your goals, weโ€™re here for you, and weโ€™re ready to help. If youโ€™re ready to get started, connect with us today.ย 

Jeff Hammerberg is founding CEO of Hammerberg & Associates, Inc. Reach him at 303-378-5526 orย [email protected].

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Real Estate

5 tips for novice house flippers

Hire an architect, budget for overruns, and more



Do your homework before entering the home flipping market.

If you still use Facebook, you know that there is a group for everything, from different breeds of dogs and cats to silly games that lead to data mining of your information for business or nefarious purposes, to groups that offer advice on certain medical issues, to everything real estate.

One of the Facebook groups in which I participate allows users to share do-it-yourself home improvement tips. Itโ€™s a bit like HGTV or the DIY network, with a dose of reality thrown in.

Simple topics might include improving curb appeal, selecting paint colors, installing flooring, replacing an electrical fixture, or changing a toilet. 

Sometimes contractors weigh in on more complicated work and even give an idea of how long a project might take and how much it might cost in a particular area of the country. 

It constantly surprises me how little people know about how their home works. I fault the sellerโ€™s market over the past years, where inspections are either short or non-existent, for much of that.

It used to be that an inspector would spend several hours with a buyer, going through the condition and operation of a homeโ€™s systems and fixtures, providing a written report, and even including a binder that outlined how to fix simple items or when to conduct general maintenance. 

The advent of the โ€œwalk and talkโ€ inspection, conducted prior to making an offer, shortened that process. A buyer would have to take his own notes while the inspector was talking and pointing things out. Often, the buyer would go home with information in cryptic shorthand that made no sense a few weeks down the road.

Some people still fancy themselves as house flippers, intent on making a massive profit by making a few choice renovations and reselling a home. My Facebook group often brings out those who have the desire but lack the skills or funding. 

One person recently posted photographs of a house he was interested in renovating for profit. His first question was whether he could remove all the mold himself or whether he should hire a professional mold remediation company.

I looked at the photos and immediately thought of Tyvec suits, respirators, and those movies where CDC warns of a toxic environment that must be contained and the toxins eradicated โ€” not my idea of a DIY project.

Another unrealistic aspect of this renovation was his cost estimate โ€” $100,000 to cover mold remediation, a new roof, central air conditioning and heating and, of course, new electrical, plumbing, drywall, fixtures, cabinets, and appliances. Even with a price of $175,000 for the house and a potential value of $400,000 after renovations, the professional flippers told him he was living in La-La-Land.

Amateur flippers in the DMV have seen their options dry up in the past five years, as even distressed properties left in disrepair can sell for half a million dollars or more. Even the professionals are knocking on doors, sending postcards in desired neighborhoods, and calling or texting owners and real estate agents, looking for properties to fix and flip.

Still, if you are inclined to try rehabbing, even for your own home, here are my top five things to consider before diving in.

โ€ข Get to know what permits you will need and the process and timeline for obtaining them, or else you may face the dreaded orange Stop Work Order slapped on the homeโ€™s window.

โ€ข Find an architect and/or engineer to help with planning the layout. Remember, not every wall can come down to make an open concept floorplan without shoring it up in another approved manner.

โ€ข Learn about โ€œhard money.โ€ Unlike traditional home loans that are based on income, assets, and credit, these high-interest, short-term loans rely on the difference between what you pay for the house (โ€œas isโ€ value) and what the โ€œas renovatedโ€ value is estimated to be upon resale.

โ€ข Consult with a real estate agent about popular features and finishes to help you sell the house quickly and get the highest price. Purchase those items locally to avoid supply chain delays.

โ€ข Budget for unexpected cost overruns of 10-15%. Even with an interest-only loan with no payments due until resale, you will still owe taxes and insurance and make periodic payments for materials and labor. Donโ€™t forget to add commissions and closing fees on the purchase and sale.

Your first project may not result in the profit you anticipated, but it will give you a sense of whether itโ€™s worth trying again or leaving renovations to the professionals.

Valerie M. Blake is a licensed Associate Broker in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia with RLAH Real Estate / @properties. Call or text her at 202-246-8602, email her via, or follow her on Facebook at TheRealst8ofAffairs.ย 

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Real Estate

Mortgage rates continue to drop while rent skyrockets

Start living for yourself and not your landlord



Remember you can always refinance a high interest rate down the road.

There are several sayings that I keep in my โ€œRealtor tool kit,โ€ aside from those catty, snarky comments, I hold two true and use them on a daily basis: โ€œDate the rate – marry the homeโ€ and โ€œYouโ€™re paying a 100% interest rate when you rent.โ€

Itโ€™s pretty simple. As we have seen rates fluctuate as much as some of our waistlines โ€” mine included. Let’s look at the housing market in terms that we all know and understand: DATING! 

Itโ€™s important to realize that we are NOT marrying the interest rate we purchase our home with, instead we are merely dating โ€” for however long or short it may be. Here in D.C. itโ€™s often short; can I get an amen? But in all seriousness, we see rates come and go up and down. We were spoiled with the unsustainably low rates for the past several years below 4% and now that rates are, frankly, where they should be, we are claiming the victim role. Today is still a great time to buy. The rates we are seeing today are still historically low when you think about it. We are lucky to live in an area such as the D.C. metro where demand is always strong and a change in party means more than a recession in regards to the housing market. Rates have continued to drop in the past few weeks. 

Aside from the current rate that you are paying, itโ€™s important to realize that you are marrying the house and just simply dating the rate. You can refinance your interest rate whenever you want. Trade that baby in for a new model with a lower rate. You are, however, married to the home that you decide to purchase. If you are currently in the market and see a home that you absolutely love โ€” or in my case is like 80% okay because we all know that you are the arm candy here and hold up the relationship โ€” or I mean the house has a dishwasher and central AC, then buy it. You can always refinance later to a lower rate.

Looking at the second saying in my bedazzled sparkling Realtor tool kit we have the saying โ€œYouโ€™re paying a 100% interest rate when you rent,โ€ which is for sure factual. You are paying someone else’s mortgage and as such that interest rate is 100%. Donโ€™t get me wrong, when I first moved to D.C. from quaint Bethany Beach, Del., I rented as I was unsure of what neighborhood I wanted to call home. But once I got my bearings I stopped paying 100% interest and helping pad the landlordโ€™s pockets and started living for myself, my future, and married the house. I would encourage everyone that is reading this and who is currently in a rental to speak to a mortgage broker – see what you can afford and if it makes sense for you to buy โ€” I bet it will. In most cases, it is less expensive to buy than it is to rent in cities, including in D.C. Not only is it less expensive, but there are several grant and down payment assistance programs available to district residents to help with making homeownership a reality for you.

Start living for yourself, not your landlord, and always remember to date the rate and marry the home.

Justin Noble is a Realtor with Sothebyโ€™s International Realty licensed in D.C., Maryland, and Delaware for your DMV and Delaware Beach needs. Specializing in first-time homebuyers, development and new construction as well as estate sales, Justin is a well-versed agent, highly regarded, and provides white glove service at every price point. Reach him at 202-503-4243, [email protected] or

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