All posts by cynthia

About cynthia

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

Great San Francisco views. How can I get one?

If a breathtaking view is at the top of your wish list, you’ll need a breathtaking budget to afford it.

San Francisco is home to some of the best views anywhere on the planet. And, happily, hundreds of them are available for free. To everyone.

To watch the full video click on the photo.

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

A Rancher Reverie

I daydream about living in a one-level house built in the 1950s or 1960s. Why is this?

Could be I’m starved for mid-century ranchers because I sell residential real estate in a city dominated by homes from earlier or later eras. Ranchers tend to be mutually exclusive with 25’ x 100’ lots (standard in San Francisco).

A better theory is it’s because I spent a lot of my childhood in one-story houses. In the 60s and 70s that style was in style, and as I’ve gotten older I’ve noticed a strange correlation between certain architectural characteristics and feelings of comfort and sanctuary.

As a teenager, I yearned for vaulty Victorian ceilings, turret-windowed rooms and expansive porches. That’s because we lived in a new 1970s subdivision and I envied the storybook turn-of-the-century houses where many of my friends lived. That hankering stuck with me and I eschewed anything built after World War II for a long time.

But now I’ve gone retro. I’ve gone back to…

  • Clerestory windows like the ones in the bedroom of my grade-school friend Jennifer. During sleepovers, I’d lie awake – slightly nervous – watching car headlights flashing off the ceiling.
  • Flagstone on facades, like the ones adorning our first rented house in Grundy, Virginia.
  • Wide-plank hardwood floors, perfect for scooting around on a blanket pretending to steer a boat.
  • Harvest gold and decorative brick in the kitchen, a palette that perfectly matched autumn.
  • Oversized picture windows with rain slapping down them, like the one in the piano niche of my piano teacher’s living room, where I’d struggle through Mozart, Czerny and Debussy after having not practiced all week.
  • Widely detached houses, which could be circled for hours in order to evade capture by your little brother during a prolonged game of Hide n Seek or Let’s Pretend We’re the Men from Uncle.
  • Split level floor plans that made spying on the grownups easier than with a traditional staircase.

But, alas, such homes are scarce in San Francisco and so I live in a quaint and distinctive Victorian on a block well-traveled by tourists and locals on their way to Dolores Park. At least once a week as I exit or enter my front door, somebody hails me and asks if I actually live there.

“Yes,” I reply, with a barely perceptible sigh, “I do.”

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

Wishing You A Happy Thanksgiving

I’m spending the holiday with family and friends rather than writing a blog post. Hope you’re having fun, too!

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

Go West to Ocean Beach

The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears or the sea. ~ Isak Dinesen

Guess what? We’ve got the cure! Here in San Francisco we live next to an ocean. As in right next to the Pacific Ocean.

 How easy it is to forget. Doing the daily commute. Working out at the gym. Buying groceries. Picking kids up from school. Getting gas. Taking care of one sort of business or another.

Yet you can jump on the 38, 5, 7, 31, N or L, or drive, or walk, or ride your bike, and in no time or distance at all you can be standing on the shores of the mighty Pacific.

I’ve met a couple of people lately who’ve lived in San Francisco five years and have never gone to Ocean Beach. (There should be a law, in my opinion.)

A jaunt to the city’s western end is never a bad idea. In all sorts of weather. During all times of day. At any ol’ time of year. There’s always something beautiful and compelling going on there and you haven’t really experienced San Francisco until you’ve visited.

Feeling sad or discouraged? I know it’s hokey, but listen to Lights on your way out to the beach a couple of times and you’ll soon be feeling better.

Face west, take three long breaths, feel your feet on the ground. Then stroll for as long as you like.

And then – depending on your exact location – drop into one of these fine establishments for a snack, a drink or a meal: Cliff House, Beach Chalet, Outerlands, Streamline Café, the Riptide or Java Beach Café.***

Go west. It’ll change your mood, your day and your life!

There is pleasure in the pathless woods, there is rapture in the lonely shore, there is society where none intrudes, by the deep sea, and music in its roar… ~ Lord Byron

***If your favorite Ocean Beach establishment isn’t on the list above, I’d love to know about it!

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.

RE Glossary: A’s and B’s

My own tongue-in-cheek definitions of real estate terms, starting with the A’s and B’s.

Acceleration clause:
A clause in a loan contract where – if you do certain things – instead of having to repay your loan 27 years from now you have to repay it next Monday.

Adjustable rate mortgage:
Not necessarily a bad thing. Ask me why.

Agent:
Loves you like your mother (if you have the right agent).

Annual percentage rate:
What your rate of interest would be if you factored in all the costs associated with your loan. Better not to dwell on the APR.

Application:
Fill in a loan application once and you’ll understand why you should make a copy so you never have to fill one in again.

Appreciation:
Something you can count on to be robust in San Francisco.

Assessed value:
Predicated on purchase price and, in San Francisco and California, subject to expected, minimal increases over time. No surprises, unlike in other parts of the country.

Balloon payment:
Neither fun nor festive. See “Acceleration clause” above.

Bridge loan:
Allows you to buy a new house before you’ve sold your old one. Not a great idea unless you can afford to own two houses – in case something goes awry with your plan.

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.

Spraying the Moss

I’ve written previously about how staging is a form of theater. Instead of setting a scene in which actors animate a story, stagers set a scene in which buyers can imagine living their lives.

It’s about contextualizing rooms, enhancing good design, downplaying flaws and heightening the effectiveness of photography. But it’s primarily about evoking a mood and creating a positive subliminal response.

Staging, however, doesn’t solve everything. Properties often need a few subtle (or funny) tweaks that only an agent can think of and handle.

Examples include:

• Moving the cat box out of the powder room and into the garage during an open house.
• Spraying lavender mist to mask the odor of last night’s salmon.
• Turning up the heat and closing all the windows.
• Turning off the heat and opening all the windows.
• Neatening the shoes stacked outside a neighboring condo’s door.
• Cleaning up dog poo from a carpet.
• Lighting candles.
• Asking a homeless person to please nap elsewhere.
• Roasting an onion.
• Emptying or taking out the trash.
• Angling shutters for optimum lighting.
• Sweeping up leaves and street detritus blown into an entry.
• Asking teenagers on their school lunch break to smoke somewhere else.
• Sorting mail for saving or recycling.
• Emptying a diaper pail.
• Windexing the fingerprints left by kid visitors on windows, doors, coffee tables.
• Freshening the fruit bowl.
• Unclogging a toilet used by an open house looker.
• Hiding the toilet paper to discourage future use.
• Carefully removing used syringes from a planter box.
• Shooing away (without success) those little flies that love the dead air in an entry.
• Guarding neighbors’ driveways and garages.
• Plucking dried orchid blooms from a dining centerpiece.
• Double-checking that nobody has spelled dirty words using the stagers’ Scrabble set.
• Making sure people don’t hurt themselves or damage the property.
• Putting the paper towels, knife block, toaster and dish drainer under the sink.
• Holding babies, watching strollers, minding dogs, stowing latte cups, monitoring double-parked cars.
• Gently relocating a spider to the exterior.
• And – perhaps the most fun and funny task ever – spraying the moss displayed in a sculptural bowl upon every visit to a property.

All seemingly insignificant details that make a difference and all part of my role as a professional real estate agent!

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.

Is Buyer’s Remorse Inevitable?

“Remorse, the fatal egg by pleasure laid.”William Cowper, 18th century poet and hymnodist

Image

What pleasure to instantly find a suitable quote about “remorse” as soon as I Googled it!

Yet imagine my remorse at having taken so much time reading online about William Cowper (whose life was apparently filled to the brim with pleasure and remorse, joy and sadness, soundness and insanity) that I had to work an extra hour to make up for my diversion.

Where there’s pleasure, there’s remorse.

I’ve been blind-sided by remorse on many auspicious occasions: Right before walking down the aisle to get married. Just after bringing my first child home from the hospital. Midway through a trans-Pacific flight to a dream vacation in Tahiti.

It’s a regular occurrence with real estate purchases. Especially in San Francisco where buyers are required to strip naked, place large baskets of money on their heads and dance like their lives depended on it. All for the chance to be the lucky owners of a one-plus-million-dollar, two-bedroom condo without parking but in a fairly nice area.

It goes something like this:

Buyer’s agent: Guess what? You won!

Buyer: (Holding cell phone at arm’s length and screaming) Oh! My! God! How many offers were there?

Buyer’s agent: Fourteen. Twelve were for waaaaaaay more than the asking price. Only two had loan contingencies. But apparently your willingness to close in just four days and let the sellers stay for three months for free really made the difference.

Buyer: That and offering 60% more than the asking price.

Buyer’s agent: Well, yes. Plus they really liked the sculpture you submitted with your offer.

Even if you don’t create original artwork or donate to seller’s favorite charity or provide two roundtrip tickets to anywhere in the continental U.S. with your offer, there will be a twinge of buyer’s remorse when you visit your new home for the first time after closing.

You fiddle with the keys. You shove open the door. It’s dark. It’s vacant. It’s cold. And it smells funny because the stagers removed the potpourri along with the staging.

Yet it doesn’t have to be “fatal,” as in Cowper’s quote. Instead, now is when it gets interesting: After the closing. Before the destination. Following the honeymoon. During the journey. That’s when life is richest.

Cynthia Cummins is a Top Producer and Partner at McGuire. For info on SF real estate visit http://CynthiaCummins.com. This throwback post originally appeared in April 2014.

In Praise of Your Local Hardware Store

“The fellow that owns his own home is always just coming out of a hardware store.”

This is one of my favorite quotes about homeownership.

The clever fellow who said it was Frank McKinney Hubbard (aka Kin Hubbard), a cartoonist, humorist and journalist who died at the age of 62 in 1930.

Mr. Hubbard had lots of quotable quotes, such as:

“Nothing will dispel enthusiasm like a small admission fee.”

“The only way to entertain some folks is to listen to them.”

“Now and then an innocent man is sent to the legislature.”

I appreciate Hubbard, and yet the last time I visited Fredericksen’s on Fillmore (which, by the way, right now has a fabulous Halloween display in its windows) I got to musing about the hardware-store quote. The humor pivots on the fact that homeownership is not a static state. It’s a dynamic journey that unfolds over time and takes time, effort and money. Got it.

But what’s so bad about going to a hardware store? I’m not talking about Home Depot or Lowe’s (they have their place, they’re just not fun). I’m talking about stores like Fredericksen’s, Cliff’s Variety on Castro, Cole Hardware on Cole or Papenhausen on West Portal, to name a only a few in San Francisco.

In what other store in this modern world can you expect to receive gracious, friendly and expert attention as you shop for something that costs less than a quarter, or a dollar, or five dollars? Where else will someone talk with you in detail about ordinary tiny items like screws, fly swatters, nails, hinges, chains, wire, pencil erasers and Glue Gone?

Where else can you grab a rubber tub stopper and a new tea kettle and laundry detergent and dog food and a flat of impatiens and lightbulbs and an elegant new salad bowl for a gift and a combination lock and a box of thumbtacks and some newfangled product sitting by the cash register that you didn’t know you needed but later learn was exactly what you had to have?

Yes, you can find some of these things at Bed, Bath and Beyond or at Target. Yet it’s only at your neighborhood hardware store that you can buy a new socket-wrench set and also get that neighborly, small-town feeling. That homey, personable, intimate feeling that you can’t find at a suburban mall or Costco or by ordering on Amazon.

I say, “Lucky is the gal who owns her own home and is always just going IN to a hardware 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.

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. This article was re-posted at McGuire.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.