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Thanksgiving Survival Guide; Couple Struggles to Sell Home as Housing Market Cools; Tips on Fireplace Safety

Aired November 19, 2005 - 09:30   ET


BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: President Bush vows America will stay in Iraq until troops achieve victory. He made that speech earlier to the U.S. soldiers at Osan Air Base in South Korea. Bush rejected calls for a quick troop pullout from Iraq. The issue has been in the forefront this week after senior House Democrat John Murtha called for withdrawal.
The call by Congressman Murtha triggered a bitter debate in the House last night. GOP leaders tried to force Democrats to take a stand on the issue. Republicans brought a resolution calling for an immediate military withdrawal from Iraq. Democrats, though, called the move a stunt. It was overwhelmingly defeated.

Well, turkey day is just a few days away, and Gerri Willis has some ways to help you make your holiday a lot less stressful. OPEN HOUSE begins right now.

GERRI WILLIS, HOST: Are you staying home for the holiday this year? Lucky you. No traffic jams or expensive gas -- just a house full of friends and family. Yikes! A house full of friends and family. Are you ready? Good thing we've got your Thanksgiving survival guide.

Good morning, I'm Gerri Willis. That's not all we're covering today on OPEN HOUSE. We'll get to the housing market and signs of even a slow-down.

But first, a little fun for the holidays. Here's what some of you are planning.


WILLIS (voice-over): Eating a big holiday meal with your extended family is never a piece of cake. When everyone's crammed together, someone may end up feeling like a turkey.

There's the modern-day American family.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My first husband -- this is going to be on TV.

WILLIS: There's the stress of entertaining.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We always go to someone else's house because my mom gets too grumpy for it.

WILLIS: There's the menu. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, we're doing a rather large Thanksgiving.

WILLIS (on camera): How many people are you having?


WILLIS: Thirty? How many turkeys do you make?


WILLIS (voice-over): There's pleasing the kids.

(on camera) Can you say hi? Hello?

(voice-over) Did we mention the family?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My first husband and his second wife and our children.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have four older brothers, and they have seven nieces -- I have seven nieces and nephews from them.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Her son from a previous marriage and his wife.

WILLIS: So how do you cope? It may be all in the attitude.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Every day is Thanksgiving, not one day.

WILLIS: The important of attitude is the focus of the book, "Happy Holidays." In it psychologist Wayne Dyer writes, "Make up your mind right this minute. This is going to be your greatest holiday season ever. No hassles, no headaches!"

But there's another sure-fire way to cut back on the stress.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because I make everybody work.

WILLIS (on camera): Very smart.


WILLIS: Very smart. I'm going to take tips from you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And their two children and the daughter-in- law's mother from California.


WILLIS: That's a lot of family. With all that family converging, you can cut back on your stress level by being prepared.

For a closer look, I have here with me the special projects editor of "Real Simple," Sarah Humphries. Sarah, welcome.


WILLIS: Good to see you.

HUMPHRIES: Good to see you.

WILLIS: Now, look, if you've got a bunch of people coming over, I don't care where you live, how big the house is, you're worried that you're not going have enough beds. What's the first thing you do?

HUMPHRIES: Well, it's true. I mean, having house guests should be fun, but it gets claustrophobic real fast. If you don't have spare bedrooms, and most of us don't, you should, of course, invest in some sort of mattress, whether it be an air mattress or, if you want to do something that's a little bit cheaper and more compact, go with a featherbed. It runs you about $100. It will make any floor or any sofa feel a lot more comfortable.

WILLIS: What do you recommend, Sarah? What's best?

HUMPHRIES: Any sort of featherbed, feather down, Cuddle Down is a good brand. It's a good way to get it. You can get it at any Bed Bath & Beyond and stores like that.

WILLIS: The thing I worry about is I don't have enough closets for me, much less guests. What can I do?

HUMPHRIES: Well, one way to make your guests feel at home is to give them something called a clothes butler, which is basically a miniature version of a coat rack. It's about half the size. It folds up when you're not using it, and it gives them three feet of hanging space.

Another idea is if you want to use one of those suitcase stands you can get at a hotel.

WILLIS: Those are great, yes.

HUMPHRIES: It keeps their suitcase off the ground, which of course, makes them feel better. But also, it eliminates, you know, the possibility of having those piles of clothes spread out around the suitcase, which happens when it's on the floor.

WILLIS: Maybe I need one of those in my bedroom, too.


WILLIS: OK. Now one of the problem is you're getting the meal ready. There's a lot to do, and the guests get underfoot. How I can get them out of the house while I'm cooking?

HUMPHRIES: Well, one good idea is, you know, when you have guests with you, you don't feel like you need to plan every single meal for them. So one idea is to just give them breakfast and then send them on their merry way. Or you can decide together what you want to do for those next two meals. Another good idea you don't have to feel like Susie, you know, cruise director and take them everywhere and show them the sights. Give them local maps and local magazines and maybe the local section of the newspaper, and then let them decide what they want to do. And they'll get out of your hair for the day while you're cooking or planning the meal.

WILLIS: That's very smart. I have to just introduce them to the refrigerator and tell them to help themselves.

HUMPHRIES: That's right. Make themselves feel at home.

WILLIS: So should you provide contact information for guests and make sure they know maybe sort of the idiosyncrasies of the house? Maybe the house makes some weird noises or something. What other little things can you do so the guests feel at home? Because it's not just family. Sometimes it's friends.

HUMPHRIES: That's right. One good thing is to give them a spare house key. Again, they can come in and out as they choose. If they don't have a car, maybe give them the name or the number of a local cab service. Give them the tools to be able to get out of the house to do their own things so you don't have to feel pressure to do it for them.

WILLIS: And can we give them jobs? See, I like to give people tasks to do, because then they help you and then they also feel like they're contributing.

HUMPHRIES: It's true. For example, for Thanksgiving dinner you can give them tasks, because they're kind of underfoot in the kitchen. Things like you can light the candles. You can assemble the hors d'oeuvre plate. You can pour the wine. Things like that, that, you know, won't necessarily get in your way, but will help you out.

WILLIS: But now you can cook the turkey, I guess.

HUMPHRIES: That's right. If you don't like to cook turkeys, let them cook the turkey. You'll be able to blame it on them when it's dry.

WILLIS: This is wishful thinking on my part.

Sarah, thank you so much for being with us.

HUMPHRIES: Thanks, Gerri.

WILLIS: Now that you've got your house ready, let's get the focus on you. Joining me, the author of "Stress Free for Good," it's Fred Luskin, who comes to us from Palo Alto, California.

Hi, Fred.


WILLIS: Thanks for being with us today. You know, I was thinking about this topic. So many people are doing so many things. You know, you're shopping for the meal. You're getting the house ready for guests. So much to do. How could I possibly think about having time to organize my stress or try to de- stress?

LUSKIN: The crucial -- the answer to that is you don't have to change anything. You just have to take maybe 10 or 15 seconds out in the middle of your business. One of the things that we suggest to people, like when they're cooking, is just slow down and pay attention to nothing, but say, stirring for five or 10 seconds, and that will actually reset your nervous system.

WILLIS: Wow! Well, that sounds so Zen-like, something I'm unaccustomed to doing. It sounds easy, but how do you keep remembering to slow down and take time?

LUSKIN: Well, one of the other ways that -- the most common ways to at least take a deep breath, so when you're under stress your breathing becomes shallow and it comes up into the chest area. If you will just focus on one or two breaths slowly into your belly at any time, again your nervous system relaxes.

WILLIS: So there are benefits to heavy breathing. I like that.

LUSKIN: Yes, heavy breathing. Exactly.

WILLIS: You say visualize. What do you mean by that?

LUSKIN: Well, another way is before people come or while they're there, if you just make a picture in your head of how it's going come out correctly or well, you again de-stress your body but give your mind a picture of what it might look at, working out well.

WILLIS: So you say imagine success. That's really interesting.

LUSKIN: Well, understand that so often stress is simply imagining a catastrophe. So one of the things that we do is we go, "Oh, my God. There's too much to do," or "I'll never get it done," or, "There's too many people," or "Aaa!" And when you're doing that, you're imagining it going wrong or catastrophizing (sic). It's very harmful to the body and the mind to imagine it going right.

WILLIS: That's like reprogramming your brain just a little bit.

LUSKIN: That's exactly right.

WILLIS: All right. Let's talk a little bit about what happens if you don't do this. It seems to me that people often get sick from worrying so much or being so stressed that they really just can't handle it.

LUSKIN: You know what's amazing about the body? Within about a half a second of thinking of fear or something that's wrong, your chemical -- the chemicals in your body has changed, and your heart has sped up. If you hold that over time, it weakens your whole body. What we have found out is all you need, actually, to change the way your mind and body are is six to 10 seconds, and it doesn't matter what those six to 10 seconds are.

One of the best ones to do with family, to remind yourself how much you love them. And five seconds of just reminding yourself how lucky you are to have family, how much you care for them, that they're worth the inconvenience.

WILLIS: Right.

LUSKIN: That mellows out your whole system.

WILLIS: Well, you know, Fred, I mean, let's be honest here. It can also be the flipside. Sure you love your family, but there's often an anxiety and stress that they bring to you. I mean, I love my family, but some of them drive me just a little bit crazy, right?

LUSKIN: And that's part of the cost of having a family. It's better than being on a desert island by yourself, you know? And that's one of the stress management things, if you're sitting there frantic with kids running around you, just picture Tom Hanks, sitting on an island alone, and you'd much rather have the craziness and the stirring and the kids and everything else.

WILLIS: I like that. Now that makes sense to me. So de-stress, you say, and make sure that you take a little time for yourself, right?

LUSKIN: Always.

WILLIS: All right. Fred Luskin, thanks so much.

LUSKIN: You're very welcome. Thank you.

WILLIS: Coming up on OPEN HOUSE, missed it by that much. We're going to meet one couple who thinks two weeks could have changed their entire lives. We'll explain.

And later, hoping to gather around the fireplace this holiday season? Make sure your chimney is up to snuff.

But first, your "Tip of the Day".


WILLIS (voice-over): Planning an open house? Staging your home properly is key to enticing buyers. Clean your home thoroughly, including carpeting and any major appliances that will be sold along with your house.

Make any necessary repairs, like fixing leaky faucets. Get rid of clutter on countertops and closets or on window sills. Painting the walls white will help potential buyers visualize themselves in the home. Your home should have a pleasant smell, so open the windows and let fresh air in. And don't forget the landscaping. Mow the lawn and trim the hedges.

Take the time to stage your home effectively. And that's your tip of the day.



WILLIS: There's the holiday season and the cooling housing market, and between the two of them, it is a tough time to put your house on the market. In fact, we found one New Jersey couple being hit at home, literally.



WILLIS (voice-over): Scott and Phoebe Marioni say the old adage is true: timing is everything.

PHOEBE MARIONI, HOMEOWNER: I'm thinking two weeks. I think if we had put it on the market two weeks sooner, we would have sold it. That's how I really feel.

WILLIS: Their neighbors' places were snapped up, often above asking price, as recently 14 days before they listed their home. Now their two-bedroom condo has been sitting on market for more than two months, but they've only lowered the asking price by $5,000, a move that would still give them a big profit.

SCOTT MARIONI, HOMEOWNER: The market has just taken a turn for the worse, and it's taking us a lot longer than we expected and than it had taken other people to sell recently.

WILLIS: And time is of the essence. Phoebe is due with their second child in February. They're planning to buy Scott's parents' home, and if their condo doesn't sell soon, they could be facing double mortgage payments, a scenario they never expected.

P. MARIONI: People are surprised. They really are. People that I speak to -- especially people who have seen our place. They're like -- they're just shocked that nobody's bought it yet.

WILLIS: But the experts aren't surprised. They say sellers need to adjust to a changing market.

BRAD INMAN, EDITOR, "INMAN NEWS": You know, the binge that home sellers have been on for 10 years, getting anything they want has changed, and buyers are in the driver's seat.

WILLIS: The Marionis are learning their lesson.

S. MARIONI: If you want to make an improvement, we can build the price of that improvement into the price of the home and, you know, even coordinate getting it done for you while we're out and you're in transition. Things like that.

WILLIS: And the condo could be a moneymaker for the Marionis. They bought it just six years ago for $130,000. If they get their recently lowered asking price of $299,000, they'll still make a good profit.


WILLIS: So what can you expect in your market? Joining me from Denver is Anne Randolph from the real estate trade publication, "Real Trends." Anne, welcome.

ANNE RANDOLPH, "REAL TRENDS": Thank you very much.

WILLIS: It's great to have you here. You know, this week alone, we've seen new home construction down, builder confidence down. You had numbers out about home purchase contracts down. Do house prices have to follow?

RANDOLPH: You know something? It's really a matter of what you're trying to get for your house in what period of time. People can get what they're looking for, for their house if they are willing to wait longer. It really has to do with people being used to selling a house for more than the asking price with tremendous appreciation in a very short period of time. It's been a very, almost irrational market.

WILLIS: Right, exactly, but it's clear now that the bloom is truly off the boom. Where is -- these markets going to be the worst? Where do you think homeowners who are out there trying to sell their house are going to have the hardest time?

RANDOLPH: Well, you know, we recently did a quick survey of the top 80 brokers in the country, and we had 54 of them answer the questions. And what we found nationwide is what we call contracts written, which is a measure of how many homes have sold. We're down about 7.7 percent nationally, and as you would expect, the slowdown is greatest where the market was the hottest. So we see down 14 percent in California, down 7 percent in the mid-Atlantic states.

WILLIS: Right.

RANDOLPH: Down 6 percent in the Northeast.

WILLIS: Right. That's where prices have gone up the most, certainly.

RANDOLPH: Absolutely.

WILLIS: And Anne, just to clarify here, that's down year over year or month to month?

RANDOLPH: That's October 2004, versus October 2005.

WILLIS: So it's year over year, obviously.

RANDOLPH: Yes. WILLIS: And you're saying, boy, it sounds like it's those markets where prices have gone up so fast, so high.

RANDOLPH: Well, and the other thing is there was no inventory. In California at its hottest, there was only 19 days of inventory. That means that people would pay anything for a house that came on the market.

WILLIS: All right. Well, what do you do...

RANDOLPH: Until...

WILLIS: What do you do, then, if you're trying to sell your house, if there are these kinds of issues going on across the country?

RANDOLPH: Well, you have a couple of choices. One, clearly, is to reduce the price, reduce your expectations of gain. We don't see situations where people are going to lose money on their homes. So it's an adjustment of what you expect to gain.

The second thing you can do is reduce the speed of the time that you think you have to sell your home in. In a very natural market, it's typically three to six months to sell a medium-priced home, and it's 12 to 18 months for a luxury home.

WILLIS: Right.

RANDOLPH: Those homes have been going in two months. So you have two choices. You can adjust the price or you can adjust your expectations of speed.

WILLIS: But Anne, let me interrupt you here for a minute. Adjust the price how much? Am I adjusting by 10 percent, 15 percent, 2 percent?

RANDOLPH: You know something? I don't think there's any rule of thumb. I think you have to talk to a professional, because location, location, location.

Here in Denver, if you have a house on an open space, you're still going to sell it in two weeks. If you have a house on the interior that's undifferentiated, you may have to really lower the price, as well as extending your time. So there really isn't a golden rule.

WILLIS: No golden rules, but plenty of worry. Anne Randolph, thanks for being with us today.

RANDOLPH: You're very welcome. Thank you.

WILLIS: Coming up, Santa's getting ready to slide down your chimney, but is it safe for St. Nick? We've got advice on how to get your fireplace in tip top shape for the holiday season.

Here are the mortgage numbers.


WILLIS: Welcome back to OPEN HOUSE. It's that time of year. The holidays are coming, and it's time to fire up your fireplace. We'll show you how to keep toasty without getting burned.

Joining me now is John Pilger from the Chimney Safety Institute. John, good to see you.


WILLIS: Now, you say you have to have your chimney inspected each and every year. Why so often?

PILGER: Well, it should be inspected, cleaned as needed, and that's for safety reasons. You want to pick out a chimney sweep who's certified by the Chimney Safety Institute of America. That should be the minimum standard that the homeowner should want. If you burn a cord of wood, then you know, it's pretty much time to have it swept.

WILLIS: Well, that's a great tip. I've never heard that. If you've burned a cord of wood, you want to think about having somebody come in and check it out?

PILGER: That's -- that's a good rule of thumb.

WILLIS: Let's talk a little bit about safety for just a minute, because I know a lot of people out there, they've got kids in the house. They're very concerned with doing the things they way they should. What kind of wood should you be burning?

PILGER: Well, you should always be burning hardwood: oak, maple, woods like that in the hardwood family.

WILLIS: What's creosote?

PILGER: Creosote is the byproduct of wood combustion. As the smoke cools, it condensates. When it condensates, it leaves a tarry substance on the inside of the chimney, which is highly flammable.

WILLIS: So you don't just get the cleaning; you also get a safety checkup, which is important.

Now what about the chimney on the outside of the house? I think people think a lot about how to be safe right in front of the fire, but it's also important on the roof.

PILGER: Absolutely. You do want to check the top of the area, the chimney top to make sure there's no cracks in that area. Water inside the chimney is its worst enemy.

WILLIS: So John, how much will I spend to get my chimney cleaned?

PILGER: Well, the price is different all across the country. It could be anywhere from $125, $135, up to $195. Again, it all depends what part of the country you live in.

WILLIS: All right. Let's go over what we learned today, John. Number one, you've got to hire a certified chimney sweep.

PILGER: That's right. Certified chimney sweeps, they're the most highly educated chimney sweeps. And to pick out a certified chimney sweep, you can go to

WILLIS: Great. And you want to make sure you're burning the right kind of wood all the time, right?

PILGER: That's right. Always burn hardwoods -- oak, maple, anything in the hardwood family. Don't burn magazines that have colored print.

WILLIS: Any colored paper at all, even the Christmas wrapping paper, is a bad thing, right?

PILGER: Never the Christmas wrappings. Throw them right in the garbage.

WILLIS: All right. And also, you want to make sure that you watch for creosote. What's that going to look like, John?

PILGER: Well, creosote is going to be on the inside. There's a couple of different stages. But anything more than a quarter of an inch. It's black. It could be flakey. It could be shiny.

WILLIS: You don't want it.

PILGER: But that's highly combustible. You don't want it.

WILLIS: OK, great. John, thank you so much.

PILGER: You're quite welcome.

WILLIS: We'll be right back with more OPEN HOUSE.


WILLIS: I don't know about you, but I'm so far behind planning for the holidays I'm tempted to not even start. Well, fortunately, there is help on the Web.

Check out to find a six-week planner that will help you remember all those little things, like testing the Christmas tree lights so they know they work before it's too late to buy more.

Another short cut favorite of mine, gift cards. Hey, it's not really that impersonal. Some people actually prefer getting what they want themselves.

And this year two airlines plan to initiate gift card programs, American and Southwest. That way you can give the gift of being together, which is what it's all about anyway.

And finally, of all of the places on the planet, the most expensive real estate in the world is located where? Spencer, Indiana. The county is trying to sell one square inch of land for $1,500. That's $7 billion an acre at that rate.

Does it sound crazy? Well, it may actually be a good deal. The law requires that locals own land to get access to the lake. So you get it: why buy an acre when you can put down a couple of grand and get an inch? Maybe size doesn't matter.

We want to hear from you. Send us your comments, your questions to As you get those holiday decorations up, send us some photos. We want to see what you're up to.

And don't forget to check out if you want to know more about today's show.

Thanks for watching OPEN HOUSE. We'll see you here next week. The day's top stories are next on CNN SATURDAY. Have a great weekend.


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