Monthly Archives: October 2015

What does “Luxury” mean to you?

I’ve been thinking about the concept of “luxury.”

Thomas Hardy, writing in 1865:

“My wife Sophia, myself, and the beginning of a happy line, formerly lived in the suburbs of London, in the sort of house called a Highly Desirable Semi-detached Villa. But in reality our residence was the very opposite of what we wished it to be. We had no room for our friends when they visited us, and we were obliged to keep our coals out of doors in a heap against the back-wall. If we managed to squeeze a few acquaintances round our table to dinner, there was very great difficulty in serving it; and on such occasions the maid, for want of sideboard room, would take to putting the dishes in the staircase, or on stools and chairs in the passage, so that if anybody else came after we had sat down, he usually went away again, disgusted at seeing the remains of what we had already got through standing in these places, and perhaps the celery waiting in a corner hard by. It was therefore only natural that on wet days, chimney-sweepings, and those cleaning times when chairs may be seen with their legs upwards, a tub blocking a doorway, and yourself walking about edgeways among the things, we called the villa hard names, and that we resolved to escape from it as soon as it would be politic, in a monetary sense, to carry out a notion which had long been in our minds.”

This charming passage reminds me that life today is not altogether unlike life 150 years ago. As David Byrne sings in “Once in a Lifetime” it’s the “same as it ever was.”

That very same Talking Heads song alludes to “a shotgun shack,” and my 109-year-old Victorian in San Francisco is not too far from that. It’s wider – at 25 feet instead of the usual 12 – and it has two stories, yet it has a clapboard front and a peaked roof. It’s fun and funky house that is lucky to have survived past efforts at urban renewal.

Unlike the “shack’s” original inhabitants, we have Wi-Fi and a nice deck. But we don’t have parking, and the square footage is low enough to qualify the single-family home as a “condo alternative.” Before the kids went off to college, one of them slept in an office (meant as formal dining room), and another tucked his six-foot frame – along with a bed, a bookshelf, a dresser and an aquarium containing two frogs – into a teeny tiny fainting room sans closet.

What I mean to say is that space is now and has long been scarce and expensive in San Francisco. As Mr. Hardy writes above, the lack of space often leads us to call our beloved homes by “hard names.”

And yet having to walk “edgeways” among things, or having to use rooms for multiple purposes, is not inherently disagreeable. It’s part of urban living, and it’s part of sustainable living.

The fact is that we can’t all live in places that Realtors would describe as “luxurious.” Nor should we. Nor should we WANT to. And NOT WANTING to live “luxuriously” is a concept that chafes against a favorite marketing emphasis of the real estate industry.

My own definition of “luxurious living” involves doing more with less, giving more than getting, and welcoming the creative possibilities presented by modest deprivation.

I am (we are) among the luckiest people on the planet simply because we happen to live in the United States (and California, and San Francisco). I hope we all – Realtors especially – can be mindful that luxury is truly the exception rather than the rule. Let’s enjoy the luxury of being able to be GRATEFUL.

What’s your idea of “luxurious living”? I’d love to hear.

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

Query: Biggest frustration as a real estate agent?

I can name hundreds of ways for Realtors to feel frustrated. Yet frustration is part of ANY job done right. I’m grateful to be irritated by glitches with home sales, rather than by the kitchen forgetting to skip the cheese on that Reuben sandwich for Table Three.

reuben

Yet I appreciate this Quora question. Because I have been looking for an excuse to rave about my latest pet peeve as a San Francisco agent: The “shoes off” trend.On brokers tour last week — I kid you not — 11 out of the first 12 homes I visited required “guests” to remove shoes or wear surgical booties.

The purported reason for this is always that the “seller is requesting” it. To which I say “As seller’s representative, you —  Mr. or Ms. Agent —  should educate your client about why this is a dumb idea.

It is offensive, undignified, inconvenient, ungracious, unnecessary and unsightly.

It says “Dear potential buyer or agent. You are unworthy to enter this pristine environment. Please show us the respect we deserve by taking your shoes off or donning a (nearly always pre-worn) pair of these ridiculous-looking, slippery blue booties.”

Or it says “Yes, we’re asking $5M for this house but the floors are so fragile  you’ll have to redo them after six months of simply LIVING in your new home.”

If your property is

  • a Buddhist temple
  • an operating theater
  • outfitted with 100%-organic-honey-coated floors

then, okay, shoes off.

Otherwise: Provide a good doormat. Ask us to doublecheck our shoes for icky substances. Allow us to remove our shoes if it makes US more comfortable. Thank us for our time, interest and effort.

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

Katie Scarlett, Better Call Off the Stager

You’ve seen that movie: There’s a horrible crisis and a character is obsessing about some silly, irrelevant and possibly symbolic detail?

Scarlett O’Hara’s dad, for example. In Gone With The Wind. Scarlett has just come home to Tara after delivering Melanie’s baby and escaping Atlanta on fire and hiding from marauding Yankees only to learn that her mother has died. The mansion needs some serious cleaning and renovation, but her grief-stricken dad just stares at his deceased wife’s sewing box and mutters to himself.

What I mean to say is it’s normal to pay attention to the “wrong” things in the midst of a real estate transaction. For example, I’ve witnessed:

  • The market debut of a $4 million home delayed for crucial weeks by seller’s wish for Salvation Army to accept an antique sideboard for donation.
  • A closing delayed by a dispute over whether or not a countertop microwave is included in the sale.
  • An offer failing because a buyer wants a one-day inspection clause on a developer-warranted all-new house

Smart sellers and buyers need to ask their agents “Is there anything I’m doing or choosing to focus on that is sabotaging my chances for success?” Clever clients should insist their agents muster the courage to be brutally frank. That’s because, sometimes – in the name of pleasing the client and choosing battles wisely – an agent is reluctant to speak up.

This arises most often in the midst of clearing out a house in preparation for market. Longtime owners get mired in the marsh of socks, scarves, old Christmas cards, tchotchkes and – most insidious of all – books. Meanwhile, the market for a $2 million condo is slipping away as seller deliberates over whether Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance should be given to a grandson, sold at Green Apple Books or donated.

Here’s where the smart and caring agent shows up with resources and tips to liberate the seller from the swamp of stuff – both literal and psychological. In my years as a Realtor, I have collected many proverbial ropes and winches to free clients from the muck. One of these days I’ll share some here.

In the meantime, contact me if you’d like some new purging, cleaning and decluttering tips.