The neighborhood kids all arrived, bundled in holiday scarves and hats, plus patent leather shoes usually reserved for weddings and Sunday Mass at St. Theresa’s.

Our old house, a large in-city place jammed with the craziness and crayons brought by four young people, was the designated gathering spot — especially for one famous day each year. And, on that day, we were more than the most popular house in the neighborhood.

We got to host Santa … before Christmas Eve.

Why us? Had we clearly put the most distance between naughty and nice?

The truth is that we made a successful bid at the local babysitting co-op auction fundraiser and the reward was a one-hour visit from The Big Fella.

We invited the neighborhood, the event became a huge success and our home was deemed headquarters for Santa’s annual pre-Christmas visit — regardless of who won “the hour” at subsequent co-op auctions.

On that first Santa Day, all of our friends remarked how our home always looked terrific during the holidays. I had never really thought about it very much until a six-year-old, visiting from out of town, asked: “Does your home always smell like cookies?”

As the neighborhood kids were coaxed into Kodak-moment, family-portrait poses with their parents and Santa near the Christmas tree, I sat back and thought how appealing the house actually was.

If there’s one time of year when houses actually feel presentable, it’s during Christmas. And it’s not just the Yuletide decorations. The kids seem to help more, perhaps knowing the consequences of how whining as an art form nets fewer presents under the tree; bulky furniture and toys often are stowed in an attempt to save space, and pleasant baking sensations come consistently from the kitchen.

I know it bucks common wisdom — which says nobody looks at or buys houses during the holidays — but if you have your house on the market, encourage your agent to show it and have an open house during this special time of year.

Just remember that even though Santa is about ready to slide down the chimney, you won’t have to move out immediately even if a buyer walks through the door tomorrow.

A lot of people can’t afford the luxury of waiting until spring when all the flowers look lovely. The bottom line is that discriminating, qualified buyers are chasing homes, not seasons. In addition, there will probably be a lot more homes on the market in January and February so the competition for buyers will be greater.

Savvy agents suggest keeping a fire in the fireplace and raking up any remaining leaves in the yard. It’s also not a bad idea to keep that oven churning out your favorite treats. Aroma — and perception — often brings out memories of great times, and tastes, from specific holiday kitchens.

Never underestimate the value of tasteful decorations. I once knew a family who actually counted on visitors after dark because their home for sale had one of the most compelling light displays in town.

Such artful holiday decorations could put more money in your pocket by bringing a better sales price. The prospective buyer sees something special, something extraordinary.

Keep the interior of your house as free of clutter as possible. Ask Santa to keep most of the presents in the sleigh if you are having an open house just before Christmas and make a point of clearing the paper and ribbons right away after they are opened.

I know, I know…Christmas has been — historically, traditionally, statistically and realistically — a lousy time to try to sell a house. But things have changed.

Real estate professionals say it’s also a time when focused second-home buyers — especially a growing group of baby boomers — scout around for their dream getaway. That’s because some owners would rather sell and let the new buyers prepare for the colder months ahead.

Also, consumers sometimes forget that interest rates and fees for mortgages on second homes are usually as low as their primary residence. The best time to buy is during a buyer’s market, and sometimes the winter brings out the willingness in sellers.

Whatever your situation — potential seller, potential buyer, happy staying-put homeowner — enjoy the holidays. Chances are, your house has never looked better.

If your home looks special, and you’re considering a sale, let your agent bring in some potential buyers.

Put grandma in the car and show her the neighborhood lights.

To get even more valuable advice from Tom, visit his Second Home Center.

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