A Winner In The Cards For You

In an increasingly DIY world, buying real estate is a rare exception to the self-serve rule. You can enjoy attentive, committed, knowledgeable service – and it’s free.

Having a guide and ally – your agent – representing you makes for a less stressful and much more rewarding experience. And there are so many agents with so many different styles. Find one whose personality suits you!

Finding the best buyer’s agent in San Francisco

Cynthia Cummins is a Top Producer and Partner at McGuire. For info on SF real estate visit http://CynthiaCummins.com.

Realtor Candy Hearts

You know what I’m talking about. Those pastel-colored heart-shaped sugar lumps stamped with blurry all-caps hashtag-able messages:

BEAR HUG
CLOUD NINE
BE MINE
MY STAR
BEES KNEES

I want the real estate advertisement set.

NEW ON MKT
PANO VU
REDUCED
JUST SOLD
EXCLUSIVE

Or the escrow and lending set.

EARNEST $
COE
WIRE FRAUD
SIGN MY DOC
NO POINTS

Or the real estate/Valentines hybrid with sentiments appropriate for both property-marketing or online-dating purposes.

BE MINE
FALL IN LOVE
PRICELESS
I’M YOURS
JUST LISTED

Or the slightly risqué real estate/Valentine hybrid

MOVE IN
INITIAL DEPOSIT
WET SIGNATURE
ONE OWNER
BIG DECK

Please be my Valentine and send me your favorite candy-heart inscriptions! I’d love to do a follow-up to this post and list them there.

Cynthia Cummins is a Top Producer and Partner at McGuire. For info on SF real estate visit http://CynthiaCummins.com. This article was re-posted at McGuire.com.

Be It Ever So Humble (or Not)

Last year I was privileged to sell a significant and extraordinary home – the grandest of my career.

During the escrow I carefully avoided calculating my commission. Instead I faithfully cleaved to my 29-year practice of bringing the highest level of care to every transaction, regardless of price tag. I rooted myself in my fiduciary role, and I wouldn’t let myself or anyone else count proverbial chickens.

The house was newly constructed on spec, but as soon as I entered I sensed its character. It was grand but homey, impressive but understated. No spurious details or garish flash. (Except perhaps an overabundance of laundry rooms and too many video screens over the family room bar.)

This house felt right. Big, but right.

It was designed and built by people who brought artistry and integrity to their work. People who dreamed into its manifestation and who offered it up for the lucky stewards – my clients – who would make those dreams a reality.

I found myself daydreaming into the house on every visit. There was the window seat where the couple could read side by side on a rainy afternoon. There was the pool where the future kids could swim on a hot, sunny day. There was the outdoor hearth where friends could gather on a crisp Sunday afternoon in October.

The dream was alight in the eyes of the affable listing agent and in the smile of his capable assistant. I watched them watching my clients as they, too, caught the dream. The builder and developer gave us all a grand tour, beaming with pride in their labor. The foyer lit up with our shared excitement.

Of course, even a dream house isn’t perfect. The escrow for its purchase included a few prickly patches. The months ahead would bring punch-list and maintenance issues. And life after closing won’t be “happily ever after” because that only happens in fairytales.

In the aftermath and middle of a real estate transaction, it’s easy to get mired in details of the deal. As an agent, I must focus on the nitty-gritty elements while simultaneously holding to a bigger vision of “home” and what it means for my clients.

In 1987, I sold my very first buyer a home. I remember being deeply worried about my ability to be a “salesperson.” The first surprise of my new career was the discovery that I wasn’t really selling anything. The property sold itself to my client, and I facilitated the purchase.

The second, more profound surprise was that I deeply, earnestly wished for my client to have his dream come true. I wanted him to obtain his personal version of – say – Hearst Castle.

His castle turned out to be a $250,000 condo that needed some cosmetic refreshment. Yet it was located in a pleasant “quintessential-San Francisco” neighborhood and the wee patio outside the living room was sheltered and inviting.

Even as a rookie, I observed how the space spoke to him. I understood how his desire for sanctuary swept him toward making an offer. My job was to help him obtain his ideal SF nest while watching out for his safety and bottom line.

This is something some buyers and sellers (and, regrettably, many agents) don’t grok: The model Realtor makes the sale, but also shares and preserves the client’s vision of home, even when the client loses sight of it.

Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam
Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home
–from the song Home! Sweet Home! by Bishop and Payne

Whether it’s a downtown studio condo or a wine-country estate, there truly is no place like home. Holding that dream is my calling.

Cynthia Cummins is a Top Producer and Partner at McGuire. For info on SF real estate visit http://CynthiaCummins.com. This article was re-posted at McGuire.com.

The Nesting Urge

Wise Broker: The nesting urge is strong with this one.

New Sales Associate: How can you tell, oh Broker With Many Designations?

Wise Broker: The signs are many and certain. So we now may name her according to our tradition.

New Sales Associate: By what name would you call her, oh Great GRI Possessor?

Wise Broker: She Who Must Close Escrow By Next Tuesday Or Else. She Who Cannot Choose Between Pastel Yellow and Pastel Green For The Second Bedroom. She Who Travels Many Miles Per Week To Bed, Bath and Beyond For Safety 1st Products.

New Sales Associate: I see, oh Magnificent Managerial One. Tell me, what are the certain signs that you see!

Wise Broker: Two moons have passed since the time of the co-ed shower. No empty signups remain on her Meal Train. Plentiful hooks and shelves are to be erected in the storage room. Full inspections have been made for mold, lead and asbestos, even though the property is only one year old.

New Sales Associate: Are there other signifiers, oh Watcher Of The Company’s Bottom Line?

Wise Broker: Behold how the doula’s phone number is on speed dial. See how the worry lines in her mate’s brow have etched deep like the streams swollen with spring runoff.

New Sales Associate: Can you say, Counselor of Real Estate, which of these men is her mate?

Wise Broker: He who cannot be missed. He is the one who stands three steps behind She Who Pees Every Hour as they do the official walk through.

New Sales Associate: And what is this deferential one called, Former Tennis Pro Turned Realtor?

Wise Broker: Of his many names, these three are best. He Who Speaks Encouragingly As Their Coach Has Instructed. He Who Has No Clue What’s In Store Next. He Who Worries About Paying The Mortgage Now That There Will Only Be One Income.

New Sales Associate: I bow to you, Wise Broker. Your vast knowledge is truly astonishing. How did you come to possess this great wisdom?

Wise Broker: Are you kidding, Rookie Realtor? That part was easy. She is — as you will see when she turns sideways – nearly nine months pregnant.

Cynthia Cummins is a Top Producer and Partner at McGuire. For info on SF real estate visit http://CynthiaCummins.com. This article was re-posted at McGuire.com.

Catering to the Client

The job experience that best prepared me for a future as a Realtor was the year I spent working for a caterer in the resort town of Sun Valley, Idaho.

During that stint, I filled every available role except accounting and planning. I did shopping, ordering, recipe research, food prep and rental management. I worked as server, hostess, cocktail waitress, dishwasher, cook, busboy, sommelier and buckwheat crepe maker.

My boss Susan ran her business out of her house a few miles south of town. In the winter months, her garage served as walk-in cooler and freezer. Especially between Thanksgiving and New Year’s when we had at least one and sometimes three or four parties every day. I’d arrive at Susan’s before breakfast and work all day and night, pausing only to change out of my cooking clothes and into my waiting clothes.

I learned how to be adaptive, attentive and ready to do whatever odd task was essential. That might mean inspecting freshly killed ducks for shotgun pellets. Or putting a client’s kids to bed because the babysitter was a no-show. Or delivering pumpkin pies in a snowstorm.

I particularly recall a New Year’s Eve gig for a famous Motown diva who was wintering in a large and lavish ski “cabin” near Dollar Mountain. She wanted goose with all the trimmings for dinner, followed by brunch the next day. For 50 of her closest friends.

The Wood River Valley was experiencing a cold snap. Cold enough that we’d been chilling wine all week by just setting it outside for half an hour. Cold enough that Susan’s old Suburban wouldn’t start unless it had been plugged into an engine heater. Cold enough that we had to figure out how to safely defrost six frozen (plastic-sealed) geese that had been stored in a snow bank on the shady side of the house.

The solution was to put them in Susan’s bathtub, with some cold water, where they would gradually thaw without blooming with salmonella. It was the only bathroom in the house and the geese needed to defrost for at least 24 hours.

On the day before the diva’s party, I spent the morning prepping bouillabaisse for 100 – up to my elbows in fish and garlic and grossed out from all the shrimp deveining I’d done. It was imperative that I shower before heading out to tend bar and serve food.

So I ended up taking a cold shower while straddling the cold geese in Susan’s cold tub in cold water up over my cold ankles.

And while my job as a Realtor can be quite lovely and even glamorous, there are always times when I have to improvise and do the job nobody else wants to do: Use a paper clip to unlock the bedroom door where an open-house visitor has inadvertently trapped the tenants’ cats. Clean up raccoon poop from the tradesway. Persuade a homeless person to find another doorway to sleep in. Unclog a commode. Shine up a splattered kitchen faucet using toilet paper. Put an onion in the oven to mask last night’s fish smell.

Whatever it takes. Whatever is needed. I know how to cater, and I can shower with frozen geese.

Cynthia Cummins is a Top Producer and Partner at McGuire. For info on SF real estate visit http://CynthiaCummins.com. This article was re-posted at McGuire.com.

Boogie-Boarding Home

During our initial interview, my client Sandra handed me a spreadsheet. It specified all the features her new home should have, arranged in descending order of importance. Here are the top 10.

  1. Fireplace
  2. Parking
  3. Single family home
  4. Not on a busy street
  5. View of some water
  6. 3 bedrooms or 2 + den
  7. 2 bathrooms
  8. Walk to coffee
  9. In-unit laundry.
  10. East of Arguello and north of Fell

We conducted an exhaustive search, touring and/or considering several dozen properties over a dozen weeks.

Guess how many of those top-10 features her eventual home included? Two. The property was on a quiet block and had its own washer and dryer.

This incongruity between aspiration and actuality happens because our dream of home can’t be translated neatly into a checklist. There are too many intangibles.

In Sandra’s case, she knew her future home (a condo, not a single family home) was “the place” as soon as we entered the front door. And I guessed it from the hesitant excitement I read in her sideways glance towards me.

“Property sells itself” is one of my favorite real-estate adages. By that I mean there’s nothing anyone can say to “sell” someone on the desirability of a home. The buyer either feels it, or they don’t feel it.

It’s like boogie-boarding. You belly onto the wave as soon as you enter a property, but you sense almost instantly whether or not you’ll ride the board into shore.

It’s kismet. It’s chemistry. It’s love, not real estate.

Cynthia Cummins is a Top Producer and Partner at McGuire. For info on SF real estate visit http://CynthiaCummins.com. This article was re-posted at McGuire.com.

Small Pleasures

If you’ve lived or listed property in a doorman building, you know all about the culture of full-service living. You probably have your own story (or stories).

Mine today concerns a stunning listing that I had on (and off) the market over about nine months. In other words, it took as long to find our perfect buyer as it takes to grow a new human. Yet – after sampling all the proverbial porridge available in similar buildings – our “Goldilocks” finally turned up and made a satisfactory offer.

This stock-cooperative had an exceptional door staff. The doormen (all were male) saw me in and out of the building at all times of day, in all kinds of weather, accompanied by all sorts of agents and buyers. I got to know them, and grew to like them.

Three of them had watched the door for 40, 30 and 20 years, respectively. Of those three, two consistently greeted me cheerfully by name. One always put an extra flourish on the last syllable of my name: Cynthi-AH.

But the most seasoned doorman – let’s call him Bob – never chitchatted or spoke my name. He performed his duties solemnly and formally. Every time I entered, it was as if he’d never seen me before: Which unit was I there to see? Did I already have a key? Would I sign the guest book?

Despite my concerted effort to bring a smile to his face, I never saw the corners of his mouth lift even a micro-inch.

Until the day we closed. In a last ditch attempt to get Bob to crack (and because I wanted to thank the entire staff) I personally delivered an expensive, large and gorgeously girly strawberry cake. Bob greeted me soberly, and waved me over to the podium to – once again – sign and date the guest book.

Beaming at the audaciousness of my gift, I proffered the cake. At first Bob just stared at the pink confection like he’d never seen a desert before. But when I explained it was for him and the crew, he broke into a big grin and laughed and squeezed my arm.

It made my day.

Cynthia Cummins is a Top Producer and Partner at McGuire. For info on SF real estate visit http://CynthiaCummins.com. This article was re-posted at McGuire.com.

Something Good

I’m shy about announcing my success in 2016 – my personal best as a Realtor. At McGuire’s flagship Lombard office, I was #2 in production. Among the 200ish agents in our seven Bay Area offices, I was #3 and had the year’s biggest sale.

Sharing this news makes me squirm a little. I wouldn’t want anyone to get the wrong idea, since – to begin with – there are many misconceptions about my profession.

The primary myth is akin to the sentiment expressed in the famous Dire Straits song: “Get your money for nothin’ get your chicks for free.”

Chicks aside and stated differently, the refrain about Realtors goes something like “Real estate agents aren’t smart, don’t care and don’t actually do anything for anybody. They are lucky and make a bunch of money doing nothing.”

Ah! Would that it t’were so simple. (Speaking of simple, check out this clip from Hail, Caesar!)

I’m mindful and grateful that I’m not digging ditches all day for my living, nor cleaning toilets all night. But what I do is not “nothing.” I do a lot of somethings to steadfastly serve. Occasionally that results in a sale (and me being paid). More often it brings the simple reward of knowing I helped. In that way, my job is a practice.

Literal “house calls” are part of my practice. Interrupted Christmas dinners, missed school plays and tropical vacations spent on the phone are included in the job description. If an offer has to be written, there’s no saying “later” or “tomorrow.” If water is coming through a ceiling, there’s no waiting until Monday to locate a roofer.

Buying or selling a home is inevitably stressful, yet I bring a buffer of calm to the process. In interacting with my buyers and sellers, I am pleasant, non-reactive, curious, accessible, enthusiastic, selfless, informative, tireless, attentive and bluntly honest.

On their behalf – as I cooperate with other professionals (agents, title officers, lenders, contractors, accountants, attorneys, city personnel, etc.) and steer toward closing – I am quietly vigilant, exacting, strategic, anticipatory, educated, competitive, respectful, creative, organized and communicative.

Of course, I can be the best damn agent west of the Mississippi and still not make a dollar. But this diligence and dedication – if all goes well – can translate into dollars. Which translates into being a top Top Producer.

I’d like to think I’m an A+ agent in 2016 not because I made a bunch of sales but because I care, because I’ve paid my (30 years of) proverbial dues, because I’m good at what I do, and because my clients keep recommending me to their friends, co-workers and relatives.

I’d like to think it’s because “I must have done something good.” So, take it away Seth MacFarlane as I thank you ALL for a rewarding year as a San Francisco real estate agent!

A high point of 2016. A hike to the top of Mt. Eddy with my sons. Shasta in the background.
A high point of 2016. A hike to the top of Mt. Eddy with my sons. Shasta in the background.

Cynthia Cummins is a Top Producer and Partner at McGuire. For info on SF real estate visit http://CynthiaCummins.com. This article was re-posted at McGuire.com.

A Non-Toothache for Solstice

I sat down on the Solstice to write something about home and holidays. I wanted to evoke in myself some fitting Christmas spirit to share with others.

But neither spirit nor words arose. Instead came the slow realization that I could be quiet and stop trying. I could be at home in and at peace with myself. Period.

No running around short-of-breath with my shopping list in hand. No decorating. No tree. No cards. No elaborate Christmas dinner plans except an ordinary stew in the pressure cooker. No writing just the right thing.

I’ve been gradually stripping away the winter holiday trimmings from my life over the last half-dozen years or so. Every December there’s been a diminishment in the fuss and bustle, matched with an increase in presence and non-efforting. More time being unproductive, inefficient and aimless.

More time being grateful for home, family and health, especially in these darkest days of the year.

As Thich Nhat Hanh said, real happiness derives in part from noticing and being grateful for any moment of contentment: “Suffering from your toothache you get enlightened: you say: ‘It’s wonderful not to have a toothache.’ So, how to enjoy your non-toothache? Just remember the time when you had a toothache. Suffering plays a very important role in helping you to be happy.”

Gratitude for my “non-toothache” makes me more aware of the pleasure in my life and – simultaneously – aware of the pain in every life. And that is followed by compassion. Compassion for myself not “measuring up” to some crazy holiday standard I learned as a child. Compassion for all beings. A wish for everyone to have a safe home, a loving family and abiding love in their lives.

That’s enough for today, and for tomorrow. And it’s what I offer you at the end of 2016: Light and love in 2017!

Cynthia Cummins is a Top Producer and Partner at McGuire. For info on SF real estate visit http://CynthiaCummins.com. This article was re-posted at McGuire.com.

(Saint) Nick-of-Time Gift Ideas for Homeowners

Forgive me (or thank me!) for jumping on the end-of-year-list-making bandwagon with my own roster of ideas for seasonal giving. In ascending order of price:

A favorite recipe. Write it out by hand. Free but for the cost of stationery. If you don’t have a favorite recipe use this one, for Apricot Basil Cheese Nibbles: Warm a few dozen dried apricots in oven or microwave until somewhat supple. Top each with a smudge of any ol’ goat cheese and a fresh basil leaf. Serve.

Perfect egg timer. I generally eschew one-job kitchen gadgets, but this one is magic. Put the timer and eggs in water. Boil. The half-egg-shaped timer changes color to indicate doneness. I got mine for $6 at Crate and Barrel, but you can probably find them at the nearest hardware store. Here’s an Amazon link.

The Big Orange Splot. A kid’s picture book by Daniel. Suitable for all ages and especially nice for new homeowners. $7 in paperback. “My house is me, and I am it. My house is where I like to be, and it looks like all my dreams.” Here’s a Powell’s link.

Hardware-store presents. It’s fun and refreshing to confine gift choices to whatever’s handy at Ace 5 & 10 or Walgreen’s or – in San Francisco – Cliff’s Variety on Castro. Grab whatever appeals, but you can’t go wrong with flashlights, dustpans, magnifying glasses, Goo gone, binder clips, lemon squeezers, etc. $20 or less.

Solight lights. You can literally give someone the gift of light this season. I especially like the “Solar Puff” for use at home, or while traveling or camping or beach-partying or…? Everybody on my list got one this year. Even better, I sent a dozen puffs to people in need in Syria. At Solight’s website you can donate light wherever it’s darkest – Haiti, Nepal, Ghana, Senegal, Ecuador, Cameroon, Liberia. $35ish.

A home inspection. Usually reserved for investigating a property when it’s being sold, general-contractor inspections are a nice gift for longtime owners. They provide a professional and objective review of conditions that affect a home’s livability and future value. Pricing in San Francisco starts around $500, depending on type and size of property. Contact me for inspector recommendations or visit the American Society of Home Inspectors website.

Cynthia Cummins is a Top Producer and Partner at McGuire. For info on SF real estate visit http://CynthiaCummins.com. This article was re-posted at McGuire.com.