And she is not who you would expect.
It all started when I was at my friend Maura’s house and I complimented her beautiful green Le Creuset pot. “Oh, it was a gift from our real estate agent.” I remember thinking, wow, that’s a nice gift. Maura and her husband Steve live a few houses down from me, so over the past couple years that same conversation repeated itself regarding other random items around their house.
So when we found ourselves needing an agent to help us sell John’s old condo (that lingers endlessly in our lives), Steve told us to give her a call. He said she was one of the best, if not the best, in the city. Judy was awesome. Sweet, down to earth, really knowledgeable and optimistic about selling our place. So, I swear, I liked her even before I realized… she is Santa Claus incarnate. We had considered waiting until the new year to list our place but decided to do it in November. That was a great decision. Because we got an invite to the famed holiday party. The one she has been throwing for over twenty years for her clients, past and present.
Steve and Maura tried to prepare us. When they were over for happy hour on Thursday, Maura pulled a frilly Christmas apron out of her bag (not sure why she was carrying it) that looked like a cross between lingerie and a tutu, as an example of gifts they had gotten from Judy beyond just the Le Creucet and Crate & Barrel items. Boutique-y stuff. After listening to them talk, John and I glanced at each other.
“So are we going to this?” he asked with a nervous laugh.
I am not one to miss out on a party. Or gifts. Plus, Judy is awesome.
But nothing can really prepare you for a trip to the North Pole via a Cape Cod cottage in Arlington, VA. So last night, I put on my new ugly sweater dress from Target with a cat and Christmas tree on it (which I actually got a completely serious compliment on), put Will and Ava in their Christmas best, and we all piled in the car. We followed our GPS to the VA address and wound through the charming residential neighborhood until we saw the house. It was easy to spot, lit up in white lights from top to bottom. But parking anywhere near it was impossible. We found a space a couple blocks away and walked.
On our way, I noticed people headed to their cars carrying large presents topped with giant bows that blocked their faces. Approaching the house, my eyes took a few moments to adjust beyond the twinkling lights of the front to the activity in the side yard. There was a bustle of elvish high school boys carrying giant boxes – at least 3×3 feet – to cars that were lined up along the curb. It seemed the heart of the operation was taking place inside a big white tent where there was another line of people waiting. As I craned my neck to see beyond the tent to where the Elves scurried back and forth, I noticed a pile, no, a mountain, of boxes. More boxes. Each one had names neatly marked on them.
John and I walked up the bush lined walkway to enter the party, each of us carrying kids who were gawking at all the lights and people. Guests spilled out all over the yard, nibbling from pretty plates and sipping a variety of drinks. Under a big tree there was a tent with a table covered in wine bottles. We looked at each other, not knowing what to do next, when a pretty girl (Elf?) in a santa hat greeted us with a clip board.
“Welcome! What is your name, please?… Is this your first time?”
I think the second question came as I inaudibly stammered out our last name. Newbies. She crossed us off a list, then explained how to find the coat check, the kids room, the bartender, and the bathrooms once inside the house. “And please stop by the white tent. Judy has a little treat for you when you leave.”
“Oh really?” I said.
Inside it was shoulder to shoulder. I’m not good at guessing numbers, but it seemed like at least 200 people. Christmas lights draped from the ceiling and lined the perimeters of the wood trimmed doors and windows casting a cozy glow everywhere. Christmas decor covered every window sill and built-in shelf in the house. We checked our coats to settle in, but quickly realized that getting a drink or a plate would require some serious wait time, and setting the kids down would land them in a sea of ankles.
We headed to the “kids room”. Behind a door with a big wreath on it was a set of stairs leading to an attic nook of exposed wood and a steepled ceiling. Cozy blankets and big red pillows covered the floor and about 15 or so kiddies sat quietly watching Aladdin. Two charming teen Elves greeted us at the top of the stairs, offering for us to set down our children and go enjoy the scene. If only Ava and Will would have gone for that. I love the idea of sitters at a party though.
After trying once to leave Will and Ava, hoping they would be so enthralled with Aladdin that they would not notice our departure, we all headed back downstairs. John and I grabbed glasses of wine from the self-serve bar outside and immersed ourselves again in the party. As the sea of people carried me along toward the dessert area where I had my eye on a giant pile of brownies, I glanced out the window into the back yard. I could see a garage with lights on inside. And more boxes. We’re talking inventory. That’s when I turned to Will.
“Will, this is Santa’s house.”
Will did not respond to me. He was in my arms staring open-mouthed at the 13 foot Christmas tree in front of him. We were standing in an A-frame room with a cathedral ceiling that allowed the tree to just fit. Surrounding the tree were piles of beautifully wrapped presents in dozens of shiny paper patterns. Many piles reached almost to the top of the tree. It was magical.
After wandering around a bit longer, we got our coats and made our way to the white tent. Two ladies at a table inside asked for our name, then crossed it off a list. They told us to get our car and pull into the receiving line and that someone would load it up. We get the car and pull into a line long enough to clog up traffic except that it was so well organized. The Elf helpers directed the line and loaded up cars with gift after gift. When it was our turn, the box labeled Aranguren was carried out and our gifts were piled into our trunk. At that point, it really would have been appropriate if a reindeer just towed our car all the way home and dropped us through the chimney.
So now, our Christmas tree that was empty yesterday morning now sits among about a dozen gifts. The prettiest packages with big shiny bows and personal labels to each one. For Ava. For William. For the Arangurens. And thank goodness, because I had been slacking! Do I even need to shop now? I guess I should open the gifts, but they look so beautiful. And we are having an Ugly Sweater party next weekend so I want them there looking pretty. Judy has inspired me… should I pay it forward? Buy gifts for all my guests?
I met Judy once, for fifteen minutes. And if hell freezes over and our condo actually sells, she’s really not making much on it. Maybe just enough to cover our gifts.
Or maybe the beautifully wrapped boxes have coal in them, who knows?
Anyway, if anyone needs a real estate agent in DC…