All posts by cynthia

About cynthia

Titles: Writer. Mother. Realtor. Status: Here Now: San Francisco Then: Shenandoah Valley

Gratitude in Times of Trouble

If you’re reading this 50 years from now, you should know that 2017 wasn’t just another benign blip on the calendar, but one full of troubles. And joys. A year full of natural or manmade disasters. A year filled with people striving to make things better.

We’re nearly at the end of 2017, and San Francisco’s blue sky is smoke-choked from out-of-control wildfires burning down lives, property and whole mountainsides.

What can we do? We’re all asking that question. The answer, for now, is not much except wait for the smoke to clear. Then we’ll see.

While we wait, I’m making a list of gratitudes, and I’m sharing here the work- and real estate-related ones:

  • My livelihood, which has enabled me to raise my children, pay for their education, and send them off to save the world
  • My colleagues at McGuire, a safe, inspiring and supportive workplace, managed primarily by women
  • My tireless cohort and friend Laraine Hsu
  • Media whiz Garrett Distor
  • Mentor and inspiration Jamie Comer
  • Coach and boss Alex Buehlmann
  • McGuire superheroes Jessi Greenlee, Lauren Bensinger, Aviva Kamler, Whitney Palmedo, Shelly Bowes, Gary Palamo, Carlos Rivas, Tanya Alexander
  • The hardest-working mortgage banker in the land, Susan Costello
  • The San Francisco real estate brokerage community, comprised of so many intelligent, passionate, smart, caring people
  • Thank God for California.
  • San Francisco, where everyone wants to be (if they’re honest with themselves).
  • My home, without a garage or a dishwasher but whole and on an evergreen (in every sense of that word) San Francisco block
  • The people whom I have the privilege of representing and who make my practice of real estate a true practice

For all this – and more – I am grateful, grateful, grateful.

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

Finding the Season in San Francisco

I lived here for nearly a decade before I realized that – yes – San Francisco has an Autumn.

I grew up in Virginia, where Fall hits you in the face every which way you turn. And then I lived in Sun Valley, Idaho, where a magnificent display of red, orange and gold in September is topped off with sugary white by late October.

It’s more subtle in our city. The sun burns more gravely in its journey from bay and ocean. The sound of crows and ravens fill the air. Dry leaves skitter across sidewalks. Persimmons and pumpkins appear at produce stands.

For a bigger eyeful of Autumn, you can drive north or east for a couple of hours. But it’s also possible to feel Fall more intensely during a visit to Golden Gate Park.

I walk in the park as often as my schedule allows, and am always astounded to find myself mostly alone. Every square inch of teeny-tiny Dolores Park is jammed with people, dogs, kids, Frisbees, 12-packs, guitars, drums, boomboxes and every form of marijuana on weekends, while Golden Gate Park stretches peacefully out to the Pacific like a perfectly smooth picnic blanket.

You can visit the museums (the deYoung or the California Academy of Sciences), or the Japanese Tea Garden, or the Children’s Playground. You can stroll around Stow Lake and up to Strawberry Hill. Or dally in the Shakespeare Garden. Or circle Spreckels Lake. There are trees and plants everywhere starting to change into winter attire.

Although, hands down, the best place for feeling the season (whether Spring, Summer, Fall or Winter) is the Strybing Botanical Garden. The walking is easy and there are innumerable spots where you can sit and reflect, or eat a sandwich, or watch the kids run around in the grass.

Best of all, it’s FREE to San Francisco residents. When was the last time YOU were there? Wait! You’ve never been? Well, check it out now…

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.

Don’t Take It Too Seriously

The National Association of Realtors sends out an online newsletter once a week. I skim it for headlines (Equifax Breach Could Stall Home Sales, 6 Tech Trends to Keep on Your Radar, Buy vs. Rent Index Still Leans Toward Buy). Sometimes I read the feature article.

This week’s feature was 4 Things You Really Wish Your Sellers Knew. (If you’re interested, here’s the link.) Based on a survey of NAR members, the 4 things comprise some sound advice.

They are:
1. Your home décor isn’t always perfect for selling.
2. Stop being so secretive with your agent.
3. Remodeling doesn’t guarantee a price uptick.
4. Be ready to fix some things.

I have my own perspective on all four bits of wisdom, but wish to instead add a fifth item to the list. There are many different ways to say it. “Lighten up” comes to mind. Or “Chillax.”

Yet I prefer this quotation from, one I have posted prominently in my brain pan: “What we are doing here is so important, we better not take it too seriously.”

Selling your home IS important. It is VERY important.

And yet, as with most worthy pursuits, white-knuckling one’s way through it can be grievous. If your aim is to sell your home, then you’re going to get the proverbial ball through that goalpost one way or the other. Better to come out of it looking like Jerry Rice after Super Bowl XXVII instead of mud-caked and mad.

The best method is to listen quietly and carefully to your wise coach’s counsel. Let your agent run the plays. Chances are she’ll opt for a tried-and-true offensive strategy culminating in a thrilling and successful bomb into the end zone.

Sometimes, she may have to grunt it one yard at a time down the field. In which case, it’s best not to watch too closely and fret over every down. Duck out to the concession stand. Watch the cheerleaders. Remember it’s just a game.

Because in the broadest terms, it IS just a game. You can have some fun at it, or you can be miserable and bite all your nails off in the process. I prefer the former and I work diligently so my clients don’t have to suffer. (Although I sincerely apologize for making you, dear reader, suffer through all these football metaphors.)

What – today – is so important that you need to NOT take it too seriously? 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. This article was re-posted at McGuire.com.

The nose knows its way home in San Francisco

“Nothing is more memorable than a smell. One scent can be unexpected, momentary and fleeting, yet conjure up a childhood summer beside a lake in the mountains.” ~ Diane Ackerman

Real estate staging puts the emphasis on the visual. Because it’s a critical part of online marketing. Quality photos make for a quality listing.

But when it comes to in-person viewing, the other senses come into play –particularly the sense of smell. Before you reach for the potpourri or the Febreeze, watch this video about staging for smell.

To learn more watch the full video click on the picture.

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.

“Must Haves” You Might Not Need

Guess what? There are some things on your “must have” list that aren’t must-haves.

You don’t need a dishwasher. Seriously, some of the your most productive and creative ideas can arise while doing the dishes (or taking a shower – what is it about water and creativity?). I’ve lived without a dishwasher for 7 years and I don’t miss it. In the time it takes to rinse and load, you can wash the dishes by hand.

You don’t need a garage. Because you don’t need a car! At least not in San Francisco. You can walk, use public transportation, take advantage of Uber or Lyft, call a taxicab, use a car-share service for the occasional errand, rent a vehicle for that out-of-town weekend, ride a bicycle, drive a scooter, or arrange carpools. All of which costs less than a vehicle and its upkeep, and much less than the additional funds needed to purchase a house with parking vs. without parking. (Even with a job that requires regular use of a car at all hours of the day and night, I’ve survived without a garage. And I live just a half block from Dolores Park – epicenter of one of the worst neighborhoods for street parking EVER.)

You don’t need a wood-burning fireplace. Some big candles and a faux mantelpiece substitute very nicely and you won’t be filling the air with Presto-log exhaust or smoke.

You don’t need an en suite bathroom. You can accomplish everything you need to accomplish in a bathroom located in a hallway. Put a lock on the door if privacy is a concern.

You don’t need private outdoor space. Have you seen the condition in which most outdoor-space owners keep their outdoor space? We’re talking dry grass, wilted and rambling plants, bicycle storage, layers of city soot, moldy mushy lemons, dead plastic toys, cigarette butts from that party last February. Note the numerous, well-maintained and inviting public spaces in San Francisco.

You don’t need a remodeled kitchen. Fabulous food can be prepped on a cutting board on a two-foot-wide sink-side Formica countertop and cooked on an electric Kenmore stove that doesn’t vent to the exterior. If you want something grilled or odiferous, go to a restaurant. San Francisco has more eateries than any other city in the United States.

You don’t need to be in a top floor condo. I’ve lived on the top and on the bottom and, trust me, noise travels both ways. If you’re on top, you have an added responsibility to tread gently. Trying to avoid making unwanted noise can quickly become as annoying as hearing unwanted noise.

Naturally, there are exceptions. Maybe you’re a secret agent working on a top-secret project that’s vital to our nation’s security and, therefore, you must have a garage for Spymobile. Maybe you’re a Red Witch from Game of Thrones whose job requires that a wood-burning fire be available 24/7 for flame-reading what the Lord of Light has in mind. Maybe you’re Jacques Pepin and you can’t get your knife on over Formica.

But if you think it through, many of your must-haves can be eliminated. And “doing without” can be refreshing and freeing. In a city where real estate always involves compromise, cutting down on required features makes all the difference.

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

Sentimental but Useless? Snap a Photo!

Stuff gets in our way. As I’ve said before (and will probably say again), it’s our belongings that most often entrap us and prevent us from moving smoothly and happily through the stages of our lives.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard these remarks:

  • We can’t downsize because there’s no place to put all our stuff.
  • We can’t entertain because our dining room is cluttered with our stuff.
  • We can’t sell because I need to first find time to go through all my stuff.
  • We can’t move because my spouse can’t let go of all her/his stuff.

With very few exceptions, most would-be home sellers are trapped by the possessions they’ve accumulated over time. Decluttering is difficult enough, but it’s especially challenging when it comes to sentimental items: Children’s art, hand-me-down quilts, pottery hand-thrown by a beloved uncle, glasses from 20 years of Napa Valley wine tastings, bongo drums purchased for the 5-year-old kid who’s now 38, half-crumbled dough ornaments from Christmas 1994.

Luckily, items with “meaning” (but no present-day value or practical use) can be easily disposed of IF you follow this advice, gleaned from a Real Simple article: Tear down the museum!

If it’s out of sight and out of mind on a regular basis – tucked into a box in the basement or stacked in a corner of the garage – you should sell it, give it away, recycle it, or throw it in the trash. But, first, snap a picture of it.

The very act of taking a picture creates a small ritual for saying goodbye and thanking the object for its service or existence. Plus you can promise yourself that you’ll always have a digital record of the red bunny rabbit that Billy drew on the back of a Pasta Pomodoro menu in 3rd grade.

Not that you’ll ever look at the photo EVER again. It’ll simply allow you to LET GO.

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.

You Need an Agent

Finding a house is the easiest part of buying in San Francisco. Winning it and getting through escrow are much more challenging.

It’s a competitive marketplace for buyers, and those who get the keys to their dream home have the support of a topnotch team. Your team captain and primary ally is your real estate agent.

Always, always, always begin by shopping for your agent, not for your house.

To learn more watch the full video click on the picture.

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.

Happy Couples Decide Together

Let’s call them Jane and Jean. They’ve been looking for an Ingleside home for three months and one has appeared that meets all their criteria.

There’s just one teensy-weensy problem: The 24-hour liquor store located down the block. In separate conversations with each of them about whether or not the store impacts their feelings about the house, I hear them say the same thing:

“As long as she’s happy with it, I’m good.”

It’s a noble sentiment, but not a wise approach to buying a home. (Nor a sustainable one for long-term health of a relationship.) Without delving deeply into the psychological dynamics of coupledom, let’s just say that Jane and Jean need to tell each other what they do and don’t like about the house.

It would be wise for each of them to say aloud or write down the pros and cons, then compare lists actively. That way Jean and Jane can feel empowered about their decision.

They can be happy together about the purchase. Or they can eliminate the house together. But they’ll have made a conscious decision together, without either partner adapting the sort of passive role that can spell trouble later.

As when five months hence Jane says to Jean, “You should have guessed I’d be miserable about that darn liquor store…”

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.

What Stagers Wish You Knew

Staging may be the single most vital investment homeowners can make in the successful sale of their home. Akin to hiring a Fairy Godmother to transform a mushroom into a mansion, staging – done well – is miraculous.

Yet it’s often misunderstood and underappreciated. That’s why this post (my second installment of a regular featured called “What They Wish You Knew”) focuses on stagers.

Here are seven “good-to-knows” regarding home staging:

Resist the urge to become an instant expert in interior design while your home is being staged. Thinking you know best what should and shouldn’t go in a staged room is sort of like telling your dentist how to extract a tooth. Some things are better left to the expert.

Asking the stager to “work with” your things or some of your things won’t save money and the result (with few exceptions) won’t be as alluring. Your stager conjures a fresh, unique vision for your property and your old possessions tend to just gum up the flow. Plus, any savings from keeping stuff in place will be offset by the cost and effort of moving twice or thrice.

Remember that stagers are not designing the space to appeal to your taste. The whole idea is that you are selling and moving. So just because you don’t like that particular table doesn’t mean it should be swapped out. The point is to appeal to buyers. And stager are the professionals who understand what “sells” a home in today’s market.

Nobody – not you and not even most agents – can imagine a space better than it can be staged.

If a stager suggests that you do any of these half dozen possibly painful (and seemingly unnecessary) things, don’t resist: 1) Refinish or re-carpet entry stairs. 2) Paint kitchen cabinets. 3) Refinish floors. 4) Paint walls. 5) Get new appliances. 6) Clean up the garden. Don’t think of it as “wasting” money on something you didn’t get to enjoy. Think of it as being clever and getting a high ROI on your cleverness.

Stagers care. They put their hearts into the choice of items for your home. It’s not just a bunch of stuff. As one of my favorite pros told me, “I have a deep, personal attachment to each and every accessory in my design collection. I remember where each piece came from. So when anything – even the cheapest candle holder from Ross or a napkin ring from Goodwill – breaks or gets lost or stolen, it hurts.”

Stagers are some of the best designers and interior decorators in the business. I hear a variation on this all the time: “Wow. Everything looks great. I should have had the stager in when I first bought my house.” To which I reply, “Yes. What a great idea! How about you give her/him a call – right now – about your new place?”

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.

Dulce Domum

Think “luxury” and the adjectives that arise are ones like “prestigious,” “opulent,” “expensive,” or “unique.”

But how about the deliciously plain and oft-neglected word “understated?”

It’s delightful to step into a grand, architecturally significant loft from a funky freight elevator. Or to drive up to a lavish estate via a gravel drive secured by a humble wooden gate. The surprise only heightens one’s sense of prosperity and good fortune.

A prime example of such restrained sensibility is 1050 Filbert Street, currently for sale in San Francisco. Located on the east slope of Russian Hill, it consists of a main house and separate guest quarters. All that’s evident from the street is a boxy two-car garage. The casual observer might say, “Meh.”

But behind its ordinary entry door and down a flight of simple stairs is an elegant oasis – one that’s been thoughtfully remodeled and reimagined for a luxurious yet understated lifestyle. Its muted design is key to its charm and value.

It reminds me of an episode from the book The Wind in the Willows (a children’s classic focused on a group of woodland critters whose genteel lifestyles feature some fabulous real estate): Mole and Rat are lost in The Wild Wood and stumble upon “a solid-looking little door” belonging to Mr. Badger’s house “in the side of what had seemed to be a snow-bank.”

Badger invites his unexpected visitors in for supper and ushers them “down a long, gloomy, and, to tell the truth, decidedly shabby passage, into a sort of a central hall” which leads to “a large firelit kitchen,” which author Kenneth Grahame describes in such delightful detail that it makes me wish I knew Badger myself:

The floor was well-worn red brick, and on the wide hearth burned a fire of logs, between two attractive chimney corners tucked away…Rows of spotless plates winked from the shelves of the dresser at the far end of the room, and from the rafters overhead hung hams, bundles of dried herbs, nets of onions, and baskets of eggs. It seemed a place where heroes could fitly feast after victory, where weary harvesters could line up in scores along the table and keep their Harvest Home with mirth and song, or where two or three friends of simple tastes could sit about as they pleased…in comfort and contentment. The ruddy brick floor smiled up at the smoky ceiling; the oaken settles, shiny with long wear, exchanged cheerful glances with each other; plates on the dresser grinned at pots on the shelf, and the merry firelight flickered and played over everything without distinction.

It’s the sort of kitchen you’d see in an Architectural Digest spread about an English country house. The restored cabinets date back to the 18th Century. A dishwasher has only recently been installed. Baskets hang by the door so the cook can gather vegetables from the kitchen garden. A well-worn table serves as additional counter space and for casual dining.

There’s nothing new or bespoke. The architect’s name is lost. But the understated estate is the very essence of luxury. It offers comfort and solace. It pleases the senses. It welcomes and delights friends. And it frames and supports a meaningful life.

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.