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There’s Always a Piano

“The secret to humor is surprise.” ~ Aristotle

Conversely, the secret to navigating a surprise is humor – especially when it comes to something unexpected in a real estate transaction.

One scrap of wisdom I share at the outset with new clients is this: There will be at least one moment during this process when something is unexpected and upsetting. It isn’t a matter of IF it will happen. It’s a matter of WHAT and WHEN.

As a Realtor, I am Navigator of the deal. I unroll a map of the Transaction and highlight a route to Closing. I know most of the twists and turns by heart. And I deftly steer around new bumps and barricades. Yet there is always a pothole I don’t see before driving over or into it.

These holes along the highway take many forms (or so I have seen).

The mortgage one-more-thing: On the day before signing lender requires that Buyer’s car lease be paid off in full.

The insurance Catch 22: Buyer can’t obtain loan and close escrow without insurance in place. But insurance company says circuit breakers must be installed before house can be insured. So Seller must have the circuit breakers installed prior to closing. Yet property is a probate and Seller is deceased. And Buyer doesn’t have a contingency for insurability because the insurance companies just dreamed this new policy up a month ago.

The unimaginable: Buyer has a brain aneurism on the day before closing.

The catastrophic: Loma Prieta comes knockin’ and the house goes rockin’ off its foundation just after Buyer waives inspection contingency.

The governmental: The IRS decides to begin scrutinizing a formerly-ignored form called a TRDBV required by mortgage lenders. TRDBV stands for Tax Return Database. (I’m not sure what the “V” connotes and I don’t really care and I hope you never have to find out yourself.) Buyers drop everything (including their jobs) to go stand in line at the local IRS office for hours. And HOURS.

The feral: During a final walk-through, Buyer steps onto the roof and into a pile of raccoon poop.

The emotional: Soon-to-be-divorced yet cheery Seller goes silent in the week before closing. Refuses to sign closing papers. Will not return agent’s or attorney’s phone calls. Will not answer doorbell. Emails escrow officer that she’s changed her mind.

The economic: Seller’s employer withdraws offer of new position on the East Coast just after Seller accepts Buyer’s all-cash, no-contingency offer with a 14-day closing.

The watery: Closing is December 30th. Huge storm – the first of the season – crushes Bay Area on December 31st. Buyers call shortly before midnight, but not to wish me a Happy New Year. They are crying loudly. I realize, however, that their tears are not the cause of the dripping sound in the background.

The musical: Several days prior to closing, piano-owning Buyers realize they missed the Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions ban on pianos in the condo building. As we search for a possible music-friendly solution, I remind the impatient Sellers, “There’s always a piano.”

Yes indeed.  In every transaction, “there’s always a piano.”

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

caleb-jones

The (Grown) Kids Are Alright

Books are filled with characters who struggle with transitions in their home lives.

  • Scarlett O’Hara: prattling on incessantly about getting back to Tara.
  • King Lear: using estate planning as a means of father-daughter bonding.
  • Emma Bovary: redecorating her house for the umpteenth time.

But for now, let’s consider Oliver Twist — plaintively mourning the mother and home he never knew “on a night for the well-housed and fed to draw round the bright fire, and thank God they were at home; and for the homeless starving wretch to lay him down and die.”

Sadly, there are many real-life examples of orphaned and displaced children who suffer unnecessarily. But with only a wee bit of attention from Moms and Dads, most children are amazingly resilient.

In my real estate practice in San Francisco, I often see parents agonizing about how the sale of a home will affect their progeny.

Parents worry that moving kids from one school to another will derail their education and cause their social ruin. Or they fret that a step “down” to a less expensive or rental property in the case of a divorce will irrevocably damage the child’s self esteem. Or they assume that staging and marketing will be overly disruptive of family rhythms.

These concerns aren’t frivolous, yet the impact of change is largely mitigated when parents focus simply on loving their children rather than on controlling the situation. The physical manifestation of “home” –castle, cottage or condo – doesn’t really matter.

This is especially true when it comes to the anxieties of soon-to-be empty nesters. Parents whose babies have flown the coop too often compromise the quality of their mature years by overestimating the effect their home sale will have on their GROWN children. For example:

  • Tim and Betsy who “can’t possibly” downsize because their adult children must “have a bedroom” whenever they visit. Never mind that one 35-year-old son lives in Australia and the other owns a four-bedroom house in Portland, Oregon.
  • John who broaches the subject of selling his Ashbury Heights house every six months with his daughters Amelia, Annabelle and Amy. The 40-something “girls” react emotionally and without thinking about John’s needs. Amelia cries. Amy becomes silent. Annabelle advocates for John go into the Bed and Breakfast business in order to keep the house.
  • Rick and Roger who can’t sell because Roger believes selling the family home is synonymous with selling out the family. Roger has nightmare visions of an empty house at Christmas, while Rick quietly fantasizes about a family Mele Kalikimaka on the beach at Maui.

For the parent or parents who opt to stay in place, fears can eventually become reality. The house empties of people while stuff accumulates. Dust gathers. The dining room becomes a year-round tax-prep headquarters. The basketball hoop over the garage door rusts and droops. The back stairs sag. The paint yellows. Nobody sets foot in the yard except to sneak a cigarette or let the dog out.

20 years pass in a flash. And suddenly it’s too late to buy that financial district condo, or NYC pied-a-terre, or Sonoma bungalow. There’s no time for a transitional scenario. It’s straight to…Okay, so maybe that’s me being overly dramatic.

My point is this: Take time to visualize and consider “life after kids.” Be honest about the qualities you want in your life as you age. Don’t give in to sentiment about the loss of the family home.

Your children will soon understand that YOUR HEART is where HOME is. But first – like Dorothy at the end of The Wizard of Oz – you’re going to have to learn it for yourself.***

***I can help. I’ve gone through it myself and I’ve counseled dozens of clients through these transitions. Email me or call.

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

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True Real Estate Tales

by Bogdan Dada

Two months ago, my newsletter featured a post about the inevitable surprises that arise during real estate transactions. (You can read it by clicking here.)

In the interim, new astonishments have risen, written their stories and become the stuff of legend.

There was the hair-raising Case of the Too-Fast Closing.

And the confusing Case of the Car Included in the Sale.

And who can forget the just-plain-dumb Case of the Last-Minute Pre-Closing Lender Requirement to Paint a 2’ x 4’ Patch of Exterior Wood Siding.

The latest thriller I’ve encountered is one I’m entitling the Case of the Emotional Roller Coaster of Trying to Buy a Bank-Owned House. It bears telling, though some details have been changed to prevent identification of property or players.

The house in question was a cozy storybook cottage in a quaint San Francisco neighborhood. It had languished on the market for 45 days at a too-high price of $1,000,000.

Jack and Jill – the cutest couple of first-time homebuyers you’d ever want to meet – encountered the house on a hot, sunny, slow-open-house Sunday. It was love at first sight.

(I’m talking about the sort of love that’s reserved for the runt of the litter down at the SPCA. The house was going to need some grooming and fattening up, but its basic bones and personality were great.)

Jack, Jill and I talked it over and decided to write an offer. Soon, the horror began.

Monday, 9:00 am: We offered $975,000 ($25,000 less than asking) with clean terms. Sensible.

1:00 pm. The listing agent called me to say the bank (which owned the property) was considering our offer. Encouraging.

Tuesday, 9:00am: The bank countered us at $999,000. Discouraging.

12:00 pm: We restated our offer of $975,000. Persistent.

1:00 pm: The bank agreed verbally to $975,000. Amazing.

4:00 pm: The bank sent its version of the contract for Jack and Jill to sign. Bureaucratic.

4:05 pm: Jack and Jill signed the contract and I prepared to return it to the bank for signature. Procedural.

4:15 pm: The listing agent informed us the deal was off because a competing offer had been submitted by another agent in the listing office! Bummer.

5:00 pm: The bank countered Jack and Jill and the competing offer with a simultaneous “highest and best” demand. Depressing.

Tuesday, 9:00 am: The listing agent called to say the bank had changed its mind and was honoring and accepting our $975,000 offer after all! Wonderful.

9:15 am: The listing agent called to say the bank had changed its mind again and wanted our “highest and best” instead. Cruel.

11 am: Jack and Jill submitted their highest and best offer of $1,05,000. Courageous.

5 pm: The listing agent called to say that the competing offer from his/her colleague’s clients was just a little higher and just a little better than Jack and Jill’s highest and best. Utterly deflating and upsetting.

And so the tale ends. Jack and Jill will not be buying THAT cozy storybook cottage, but I trust we will soon find a far superior house in which they will live happily ever after – or at least until it’s time to upsize.

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

 

 

 

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Resisting Reality in Real Estate = Suffering

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It’s exciting when you list your home for sale and 16 people show up with over-asking-price offers. It’s just as exhilarating when you’re the winner among those 16 buyers.

The sun is shining! Children are laughing! The band is playing a rousing Souza march!

Everything is jake. Except when it isn’t. Which is often the case.

Even in San Francisco, where you consistently hear tall and true tales of astounding real-estate triumphs, there are plenty of fantasies that don’t take flight.

When reality fails to match our imaginations, we resist it and we suffer. It’s true in marriages, friendships, workplaces and families, and it’s true with residential real estate.

After inspecting, repairing, painting, cleaning, staging and PRIMPING a property as if it were a beauty-pageant contestant, it’s bewildering to hear crickets instead of requests for disclosure packages. After three weeks of silence, apprehension turns to dread. When your agent says, “It’s time to consider a price reduction,” it’s a stone cold bummer.

Same goes for writing 12 offers and being told “thanks but no thanks” 12 times. Somebody else paid cash. Somebody else could close in 10 days. There were five offers better than yours. There were fifteen offers better than yours. You were tied with one other offer on price but the winning offer had 50% down instead of your 35%.

This can feel very personal, as in World vs. You. But it’s not personal at all! It is just reality. And struggling against reality brings nothing but pain.

There’s an old real estate axiom that goes like this: Sellers sell and Buyers buy. At first glance, you might think “Duh?!” But if you let those words sink in, you’ll realize they are profound.

In order to achieve what you set out to do – Sell or Buy – you must pay attention to reality. This could mean

  • Lowering your asking price by 10% or more.
  • Expanding your search to include areas on your B list.
  • Remodeling instead of selling.
  • Renting instead of buying.
  • Purchasing a condo instead of a house.
  • Being grateful to have one buyer making an offer instead of five.
  • Making do with two bedrooms instead of three.
  • Remembering – continually – that your agent is your ally.
  • Returning to the essential goal you had when starting this process.

Hundreds of times, I’ve walked this reality-resisting walk with my clients: Waking up at 4 a.m. worrying. Going over what could have been done differently. Assigning blame (usually to myself). Comparing. Projecting. Regretting.

I’ve heard my buyers’ voices crack when they ask how many offers were better than theirs.

I’ve watched my sellers’ mouths go slack when they realize nobody is offering their fantasy price. Or their asking price. Or – maybe – nobody is making an offer at all!

You never know how it’s going to be. Yet the process takes so much thought, planning and care, that it’s challenging to keep our wish list in check. Desire is an essential part of the business. Too little and there’s no movement. Too much and we’re yoked to it like oxen.

The key is to resist resisting and adapt to reality. (For more on this, check out the Buddhist concept of detachment.)

It’s all just part of living. And real estate is just part of the business of living.

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

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Keep It Simple Sellers

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My wise therapist – Karen – once told me that intimacy is achieved through revelation: “Think of it as InToMe-cy instead of Intimacy.”

The idea is that only by revealing what’s inside ourselves can we truly connect with others. This means looking inside and expressing what we find. Directly and simply.

There’s nothing much more intimate than home. Where everything begins and ends. And the first three rules of real estate – when it comes to meaningful and litigation-avoiding communication from Seller to Buyer – are Disclose, Disclose, Disclose.

Mr. and Mrs. Sellers have owned their home for 15 years and are downsizing because the kids are in college and they want to travel more. They’re filling out the Real Estate Transfer Disclosure Statement, the California-mandated form wherein sellers disclose things that might be a little (or a lot) wrong with the property.

Sally Sellers calls me.

“Hey, Cynthia,” she says, “Two years ago we had a leak in the downstairs bedroom. It happened twice during windy rainstorms.  No big deal, but the carpet got a little damp. We re-sealed around the window and there was no leak this last winter. Do we need to disclose this? And, if so, how do we say it?”

My answer is “yes” and “say it like you just said it.”

Same goes for personal communications. Sally asks her therapist, “I love my friend Jane, but she’s always bailing last-minute on plans we’ve made. It’s inconvenient and annoying. What do I say to her?”

The answer is to say exactly that: “Jane, I love you, but when you cancel our plans last-minute, it’s annoying.”

There’s no need to spin it a certain way. There’s no need to dance around or squirm or mince words. Say it simply – at work, at play and at home.

As William Penn – real estate entrepreneur, philosopher, Quaker and founder of Pennsylvania – said, “Speak properly, and in as few words as you can, but always plainly; for the end of speech is not ostentation, but to be understood.”

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

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The Life Changing Magic of Clobbering Your Crap

HeatherZabriskie

The word “clobber” is on my mind. I was thinking about the word “cobbler” and a slip of my mind’s tongue shifted the “L” so it became “clobber.”

The words mean totally different things. Yet they have a symmetry that has not to do with their sounds.

Cobbler is sweet, satisfying, earthy, down home and righteous. Clobber is sassy, satisfying, earthy, down home and righteous.

Ever want to clobber someone? I know I do. About 15 times a day.

Usually my clobbering impulses run toward a relatively innocent person who doesn’t deserve to be clobbered.

Like the lady at Garnet Hill customer service who can’t find my percale-sheet-set order.

Or the drunken guy in front of me at Bi-Rite deli deliberating over which sandwich will soak up the 6-pack he just consumed at Dolores Park.

Or the man at my recent garage sale who wanted to buy a $10 table for $10, but tells me his wife insists on paying only $5. (Note: it’s a $200 table.) I’m not amused when he asks, “Can you please just talk to her? Talk her into paying more?”

This makes me want to clobber him. After I clobber his wife. I negotiate multi-million-dollar transactions for a living, and I don’t want to waste my precious time haggling over five bucks at a garage sale.

“Just take it,” I say, “My son will help you get it into your truck.”

The whole purpose of the garage sale – and the reason I gave them the table for free – was to clobber the crap that had accumulated in my ex-husband house. I’d contributed heavily to that heavy load, as had our children. We’d moved 15+ years’ worth of clutter into it from our last house and then added 7 more years’ of stuff to the pile. The house had practically begged us to take up hoarding, with a storage room larger than most studio apartments. As a result, my “wasbund” and I easily punted the pain of decluttering down the field again and again.

Now, with him moving to a new, drastically smaller space, the reckoning time had come. 30 years of photographs in albums crammed into file boxes. 20 years of children’s art, trophies, award certificates, recital DVDs, sports equipment and birthday-party favors. Boxes of tax receipts. Cabinets full of Tupperware and water bottles.

And crawling out of every drawer like swarming roaches in a horror movie came paper, binders, Allen wrenches, screws, push-pins, paper clips, pens, reading glasses, puffy ski jackets, snow boots, ratty beach towels, dirty bathmats, lumpy pillows, grocery totes, paint, cleaning supplies, pit-stained t-shirts, misshapen coat hangers, dead flashlights, dried-up tubes of sunscreen, random batteries, earbuds, estranged socks, faded business cards and lonely half-wrapped-fuzz-encrusted Ricola cough drops.

There was a huge bag of rocks collected on hikes and beach walks. A collection of San Francisco-themed highball glasses my grandmother purchased in the 1950s. A jumbo Rubbermaid box filled with more boxes. And I’m not even talking about all the furniture!

The criteria for deciding on an object’s dispensation became: If this were to spontaneously combust right now, how would I feel?

 The answer – almost always – was: Where’s a match when you need it?

The mantra became: If in doubt, throw it out.

Even while being ruthless to the point of cold-bloodedness, the stuff just kept coming and coming and coming. Like zombies. We’d clobber one closet and then scream in terror when confronted by another we’d overlooked.

Just when one room seemed safe AKA vacant, we’d reenter to find more stuff crawling out of the walls and spreading across the floor into heaps of menacing detritus.

Which is all a long way of saying: One thing I’ve learned as a Realtor is that the Number One Impediment to Making Beneficial Changes In Our Living Situations is OUR STUFF.

Want to live a happy life? Want to remain flexible and open and ready to meet every daunting challenge or delightful change? GET RID OF YOUR CRAP. The sooner the better. Wait until you’re 78 and selling your house of 40 years and the mountain of stuff will literally crush you.

Do it. Now. Any way you can. Gift, sell, donate, recycle, toss or SET IT ON FIRE. Just clobber your crap now before it’s too late.

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

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Real Estate Sells Itself

You know that full-page splashy four-color ad your agent paid for? Inside the front cover of Luxury Real Estate Rag? With the dramatic twilight image of your three-bedroom bungalow? With the adroit description of its stunning floor plan and unique window mullions? The one that never fails to melt your heart no matter how many times you read it?

It doesn’t actually attract buyers for your actual house. Seriously. Instead, it:

  • Assuages your fear that your Realtor isn’t doing enough to market your home
  • Irritates other agents who pitched your listing but didn’t get it.
  • Gives folks something to peruse while waiting for their lattes at Peet’s
  • Keeps the Luxury Real Estate Rag afloat
  • Prompts other potential sellers to contact your agent
  • Offers Looky-Lous and never-will-buy buyers something to talk about

This has always been the case in San Francisco, whether it’s Print or Web advertising. Real estate marketing is mainly about agent branding and agent promotion.

What gets a property sold is its inherent desirability coupled with correct pricing, strategic presentation, availability to be seen and inclusion on Multiple Listing Service. Everything else is pretty much window dressing on which every successful Realtor spend considerable time and money.

You may assume that – like Snapchat and teenagers – sales and marketing go together. Can one exist without the other? Yes! When it comes to real estate sales.

Real estate sells itself. With very few exceptions, a property either meets a buyer’s hopes and expectations or it doesn’t

In San Francisco, where there’s never much for sale, prospective buyers’ energies are spent watching MLS updates – and their feeds to various websites – like Sylvester the Cat. Any changes in or around the canary cage and the buyer is poised to pounce.

This is just another way in which real estate is not really about real estate. It’s about primal human needs like food and sanctuary. The motivated buyer seeks shelter. If your cave is available for occupancy and reasonably priced, buyers will hunt it down and make you an offer you can’t refuse.

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

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The Good In Misunderstood

One of my writing students recently learned I am a Realtor in San Francisco.

“How,” he asked, “do you reconcile your gentle, supportive, Zen-like teaching persona with your evil real estate persona?”

He didn’t mean it as an insult. He was genuinely surprised. He’d always heard that real estate agents are scumbags* and I didn’t seem to fit that mold.

Similarly, another acquaintance asked to “pick my brain” about getting started in the real estate business. I explained that newly licensed agents often begin by working for their friend.

“Oh, no,” she said, “I could never take advantage of my friends that way.”

Again. Not meant as an insult. But she, too, thinks she knows that agents are leeches.

These two encounters – and plenty of others like them – made me go “ouch” for a nanosecond. Those words can’t help but hurt. Yet I’m not sharing this because I’m complaining, or because I feel misunderstood or unappreciated.

You see, I believe it’s GOOD to be misunderstood. For at least two reasons.

First, it makes me stop and do a self-assessment. Am I, indeed, a parasite? Am I a malefactor? And if not, am I doing or have I done anything specific to invite this judgment?

Second, and more importantly, it reminds me to practice not misunderstanding others.

I practice calling bullshit on my own assumptions. For example, if I hear the label “tech,” I try to notice my tendency to translate that as “lucky to be in the right place at the right time.” Or if I hear “trust fund,” I strive not to automatically think “rich.” Other examples might be not associating “developer” with “greedy.” Or “protected tenant” with “taking advantage.” Or “low-income housing” with “crime-ridden.” Or “foreign investor” with “cash.”

At times I guiltily believe I am the only person on the planet who rushes to judgment. But I know better. It’s impossible to block our biases from popping up like gophers on the greens at Bushwood Country Club.

As Anonymous famously said, “When you assume things you make an ass out of you and me.”

We are asses because we are human, and there’s always a push-pull between our donkey-like conduct and our higher capacities. The practice is to learn from our errors, even as we forgive others’ missteps.

Day by day, encounter by encounter, we can strengthen our ability to see people as whole, multifaceted and unique. Our lives become richer as a result.

*In direct contrast to what would be expected of a scumbag, I offered him some information about San Francisco rent-control law that benefits him directly and for which he was grateful.

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

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The Exclamation Index

Oh, exclamation point! Oh, Realtor’s friend! Your slender line and dot speak volumes!

Who needs statistics!? When it comes to assessing the state of the San Francisco real estate market, one has only to review a copy of last week’s brokers tour.

Its bounty of exclamation points tells the tale of our surprise at a newly observable shift. After months of tracking the tide in anticipation of its turn, we find ourselves stranded on a proverbial spit of sand, looking at the high water mark on shore.

Surprise! The market is changing.

Brokers tour, in its printed form, allows two lines of type for each property. The first line lists basics like address and price. The second line – consisting of a maximum 60 characters (including spaces and punctuation) – lets the agent say something extra about the property’s attributes.

Given the scant space allotted for elaboration, the exclamation point becomes a shortcut. It is a one-character plea for attention. A skinny line conveying delight, excitement, urgency or panic.

This week, after reviewing the first of 23 pages of brokers tour, I abandoned counting exclamation points and looked instead at the words preceding them. I saw multiple variations on “Price Reduction!” and “Don’t Miss This!” and “Must See!

Other exclamation-point and word pairings included:

Come for pastries!
Parking!
Great flow!
View rooftop with BBQ!
Stunning!
Amazing!
Time to make the offer!
Best in show!
Offers encouraged!
Decks!
Location!
Views!
VIEWS, VIEWS & more VIEWS!
Light!
Charm!
Seller says SELL!
Cookies!

When inventory was too scarce to meet demand, the exclamation point took a sabbatical from brokers tour. No need to shriek about rooftop BBQs. No need to shout about cookies, or a $5,000 selling bonus, or two years of paid leased parking.

But that was 2015 and this is now. Next thing you know, nobody will be asking open-house visitors to remove their shoes. There will be a corresponding decrease in use of the adjective “exclusive.” Agents will cease to post offer dates. And we’ll all be saying, “Welcome home, exclamation point! We need you!”

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

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Realtor Haikus: Taking The Form To A New Level

Should I stage or not?
Is this even a question?
Look at sold photos.

~

Title insurance,
is it something I MUST buy?
Everyone says so.

~

Market is shifting.
Seller says, “offers as they come.”
At showings, shoes on!

~

Signing loan papers
as her attorney in fact,
his wrist is worn out.

~

How many square feet?
It’s quite unclear! Play it safe.
Underestimate.

~

Help out your painter.
Don’t make him guess the color.
Label your paint cans.

~

It only leaked once
in a heavy sideways rain.
Still, you must disclose!

~

Don’t get me started:
Way too many acronyms!
Please sign this AVID?

~

Tax year calendar:
July first to June thirty
first. Let me explain.

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