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We are officially in the midst of the holiday season. I can guarantee if something is going to break or not work properly, it will be now. Things may go smoothly for months at a time, but when you are at your busiest, you can be sure that something will become dysfunctional, and I am not even talking about family members.

But if the guests are coming and the turkey is trussed, what are you going to do without an oven? As always, with homes you need a call list that is convenient and up to date. In most situations, there may be several approaches to the same problem. Some key contacts to keep handy will possibly be the warranty department, appliance repairman, sales department, or neighbor who is gone for the holidays and will let you use their oven.

In the same vein, if your home is for sale or you are considering marketing it, then you can also be sure you will be faced with something breaking at just the wrong time. Where do you start? If money were not an issue, you would just buy a new appliance. If you had all the time in the world, it may not be stressful. But if the for sale sign is on the lawn and your open house is Sunday, are you really going to buy a brand-new gas range? As you can guess, I have been in this situation recently and have helped others facing the same dilemma. There are solutions.

Here is my story.

Mark and I just returned from a trip taking Carter, our youngest son, back to college and extended it for a few days to enjoy some quiet time away. Company was coming, but there wasn’t too much to plan, just some tidying up when we returned.

We hit the ground running as we were returning to work and making last-minute touches around the house for the company’s arrival. I was so proud of myself for remembering to turn on the self-cleaning oven, one last kitchen cleaning detail that sometimes doesn’t get done. Final is the appropriate word, although I didn’t realize it yet.

My high school buddies were arriving the next day. I planned a fun, nostalgic menu that included an apple cake that my mother used to make and I knew they would remember. My mother always had something baked at our home. I still have the recipes that I wrote down as she told me how she made the treats. They were really notes on pieces of paper. On this fall day in Missoula, I pulled out a small more than slightly smudged set of instructions. On the top of the page, pre-stamped with “M. George Shulman,” I had written “Mom’s Apple Cake.” At the end, I wrote “use your imagination,” a teenager’s comment, not knowing I may not remember what that meant in 40 years. Baking and having old friends visit take me back to another time so easily.

That evening, I daydreamed as I looked at my notes and whipped up the batters. The first pans were into the oven as I pictured my dad helping out, too, so many years ago. I have his apron in my kitchen that says, “For this I spent four years in college?” Yes, my father wore the pants and the apron, but that’s another story.

I woke up from my thoughts when I realized that I had reset the oven timer three times, it was getting very late and the cake was not springing yet. I thought I had done everything as usual, but maybe my imagination had changed? I was so tired that I finally took it out of the oven and went to bed.

The next day, as planes were arriving and the excitement began, I was preparing dinner while we were all talking nonstop. Everything took forever to cook and was a little underdone, but I was still too preoccupied to think about the obvious. Our oven was using its imagination, when I wanted everything to be just as I had imagined. I also knew that right after these friends left, my older son and his girlfriend were due to arrive. I love cooking for friends and family and I had no time to do anything about a broken oven.

At the same time, one of my clients selling her home called to ask for advice. Her refrigerator broke. Just when she thought it was working fine, everything inside would be warm again or spoiled. Should she buy a new one? Will it help with the sale? Will it hurt the sale if she doesn’t purchase one? Her budget was very tight.

These are expensive questions that eat up time and money. Most people who I know don’t want to spend money on something in their home that was working just fine yesterday. Especially if they won’t even be living in the home much longer.

When our house was quiet again, I learned more than I wanted to about stoves and ovens and refrigerators and appliances in general. I will proclaim that Mark was right in thinking that we should call the repairman, but it took some convincing for me to realize.

I was sure that repairing our oven was throwing away money, so I started shopping for new gas ranges. When we built our home, I stretched our budget, just a little, and purchased a gas range with an electric convection oven. We custom fit the counters, cabinets, range hoods and connections. I really didn’t think about the day when we might need to replace it. I found out quickly that a new range meant more than a new range. This was going to be a project involving electricians, cabinetry, time and more money.

Mark quietly took out the oven element and brought it to the repair shop only to find out it was working fine. That was bad news in my mind. This was a bigger problem that was going to call for pulling out the credit cards. At that point, Mark insisted we have the appliance repairman come over. I thought it would just add to the bill when we found out that we needed a new oven anyway. What I learned instead is how much knowledge people who work on appliances have accrued.

As the repairman worked, checked and eventually fixed the oven, I plugged him for all sorts of inside information. I learned which brands he fixes more often, which ones have certain recurring issues and which ones to strongly consider when buying new again. Once again, I was reminded that hiring specialists who do their work every day are a wealth of information and can help save money in the end.

The cost of his visit more than paid for itself. I now have a set of notes that I am going to keep in the kitchen inside my owner’s manual. Now, I only have to remember where I put them.

Joy Earls is broker/owner of Joy Earls Real Estate. She can be reached at 531-9811 or at

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