All posts by cynthia

About cynthia

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

Less Lipstick = More Value

Last week, I offered some home-buying tips on how not to be fooled by staging. This week, my focus is on why empty and unstaged properties should be ranked at the top of every buyer’s must-see list.

I always say that my “dream home” for buyers is one with stained shag carpeting, an active roof leak and cat pee in every corner. Anything that combines ugly, stinky and neglected is enticing to me.

Or, as a contractor friend once said to me, “More pig, less lipstick.”

Some piggy properties are major fixers suited only for developers. I’m not talking about those oinkers. I’m talking about properties where the seller didn’t bother taking any pains with presentation. These empty or non-staged homes offer special advantages for buyers.

Advantage 1: Non-staged properties photograph badly. The lighting is dim and the empty rooms look small and sad. On MLS, dismal photos (or a lack of any photos) repel many buyers. These buyers swipe ahead to the next, more attractive looking listing. This means less competition for the poorly-presented house.

Advantage 2: Non-staged properties convey the impression that something is amiss, otherwise the sellers and their agent would care more. Busy buyers have infinite choices but finite time for viewing them, so they eliminate the “houses that must have something wrong with them” first. Fewer shoppers mean fewer offers.

Advantage 3: Lack of staging may mean the seller isn’t being well represented. The listing agent isn’t employing an effective marketing strategy (which would include staging), so there’s a chance he/she will not be very strategic about pricing or offers or negotiations. This also can mean a better value for the eventual buyer.

Advantage 4: Lack of staging magnifies flaws and implies neglect. For example, in a warm, well-lit, furnished living room a tiny superficial plaster crack strikes a buyer as a good excuse to change the paint color after closing. In a cold, dark, vacant living room that same crack worries the buyer that the foundation is crumbling. It’s all psychology, but this psychology works in favor of the buyer rather than the seller in an unstaged house.

Bottom line for San Francisco buyers: Don’t skip homes with no staging and/or no online photos. Go see them. And when you see them, consciously strive – with your agent’s help – to see them as if they are staged. Apply the lipstick yourself. Then make an offer.

For part one of this two-part post, go to link here.

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.

Buyers: Don’t Let Staging Fool You

“Sellers sell” is a real estate adage you’ve probably heard. It means that if homeowners are, in fact, committed to selling, they act in ways that lead to a sale. They engage a professional agent and follow her guidance.

But in San Francisco that adage may as well be “Sellers stage,” since home staging is almost always the #1 suggestion for serious sellers.

Staging warms up a house and makes its floor plan easy to grok, but its main purpose is to 1) make photos look good and 2) induce an emotional response in prospective buyers.

Buyers may think and say, “I can see past the staging.” Yet the truth is that staging always exerts a subtle (or not so subtle) influence on home shoppers’ psyches.

Here’s are eight ways to be sure staging doesn’t sabotage your home search and the choice you ultimately make:

Acknowledge that staging does have an influence on your perception. Consciously strive to imagine the space as if it were vacant and ask your agent to help you with that visualization. (Example: The staged bonus room behind the garage looks cozy and bright, yet there is no heat source and the ceilings are too low; you would never want anybody to actually sleep there.)

Be seated in every room. Don’t just walk around and view things from a standing perspective. This will give you a more realistic read on the house’s utility and overall vibe. (Example: From the sofa, you can’t see the trees across the street, but — once seated —  you can feel and hear the freeway just on the other side of those trees.)

Play house in the kitchen. Pretend you’re taking stuff out of the fridge or out of a cabinet, placing it on the countertop, chopping it up and throwing it in a pan. You may be surprised at what you learn. (Example: The cabinets are hung so high you can’t reach them unless you’re an NBA player.)

Note how the house is oriented on its lot. Check outside spaces for any surfaces tinted with green. Notice what variety of florae are growing there and guess how recently they were planted. (Example: Pots full of fuchsias may indicate that the sun never shines on the deck.)

Check window coverings. Stagers usually remove drapes and blinds to let in light and open up rooms. Only after you move in do you realize there’s a problem. (Example: The huge windows in a loft may allow so much light that it’s hard to stay cool or enjoy even a modicum of privacy and the floor-to-ceiling drapes you must install as a result may greatly alter the “airy” feeling of the space.)

Notice if the listing agent has turned on music during the open house and ask yourself (or your agent) why. Look for air filters and white-noise devices. (Example: The amazing sound system may be a great feature which deserves to be showcased, but make certain it’s not there to distract from the bass line seeping through the floor from the cafe downstairs.)

Identify nearby uses in ever direction. Don’t forget what is “behind” you – through the block. (Example: The condo is on a quiet residential block yet backs up to a restaurant whose exhaust fan runs 18 hours a day – fine if you’re not sensitive to noise or smells, but terrible if you don’t like pizza.)

Consider how you will use each room. Don’t simply accept the staged implication. (Example: The unfinished attic, staged with cushions and yoga mats, inspires you to begin a home meditation practice. But – honestly – how likely will you be to pull down the ladder and climb up there every day? And what if you discover that meditation isn’t really your thing?)

A best practice for buyers is to minimize the time spent looking online. Instead, get out there and see your choices live in person. There’s no substitute for being there.

This is the first of two posts on the effect of staging on buyer psyche. Look for part two next week: Unstaged? Advantage Buyer!

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.

Will This Floor Plan Work For An Orgy?

Years ago I represented a single female buyer (let’s call her “Eve”) who belonged to an exclusive community of sexually adventurous yet socially conscious people. Their organization’s primary raison d’etre was the staging and attendance of private “play” parties.

As a member of the board of directors of the association (let’s call it “Honeycomb”), Eve wanted to be able to host events at her home.

And because she had practiced being respectful of others’ needs and explicit about stating her own needs – at sex parties, for example – she was exceptionally unequivocal about the features her home should have.

Eve knew how to ask a new Honeycomb member if he or she had been recently tested for STDs and could she see a copy of the results. She wasn’t shy about requesting more lubrication, or less pressure, or no talking. So, it was easy for her to tell me that her house had to have either 3 bathrooms or the capacity to create 3 bathrooms.

Her list also included:

• A neighborhood where street parking or paid parking was relatively abundant. (This was before Uber and Lyft.)
• A single family home, preferably detached, where a dusk-to-dawn gathering wouldn’t upset neighbors.
• A good heating system so scantily-clad Honeycombers could stay warm.
• Windows that could be fitted with effective privacy coverings.
• A preference for more rooms vs. large rooms, to accommodate a variety of small group encounters.

Eve’s shopping list provides a more-eccentric-than-average example of how vital it is for a buyer’s agent to observe and evaluate properties as if looking through his/her client’s lens.

I can instantly check all the boxes on someone’s list – bedrooms, bathrooms, outdoor space, kitchen/dining configuration, tech-shuttle proximity, etc. But there’s almost always an unstated or indefinable list of needs that require some divination on my part. I can’t count how many times I’ve seen a property that lacks a critical feature on a buyer’s list, yet has something that makes me think, “This must be the place.”

So, somebody buys a house with no parking – even though that somebody told me, “No way. Do not even tell me about it if it doesn’t have parking!” All because somebody fell in love with the lemon and avocado trees off the back deck.

I’ve represented buyers with very particular needs: A single family home with no steps to the front door. A Noe Valley property with western views that didn’t include Sutro Tower. A home with a garage big enough for six dragon boats and a car. A house with a yard suitable for a pizza oven.

In every case:
1. We found the “right” place.
2. The end result didn’t precisely match our starting vision.
3. The homeowner’s exact needs changed over time.
4. The way they inhabited the property changed, too.

As for Eve, she got her “right” house, and she’s lived there happily for 15 years. She let her Honeycomb membership lapse and got married. And the property near Golden Gate Park – with radiant heat and 3 bathrooms – is now home to an active family of five.

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

Pay-Per-View or Free-Per-View?

Looking for a sweeping view in New York City? You probably need to take an elevator to a very high floor.

Looking for a panorama in San Francisco? Walk just a few blocks and chances are good you’ll find one.

My job takes me throughout the city almost every day, and I never cease to be amazed at the unexpected views around every corner. I’ve begun collecting photos of some of the most surprising ones.

Sure, it’s grand to gaze out at the Golden Gate Bridge or the Pacific Ocean. But there are many other charming vistas available.

Do you have a favorite to share?

Click on the photo to watch the full video.

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 Argentina Taught Me About Home

“Argentines are Italians who speak Spanish who think they are British.” ~ unknown

There’s nothing like traveling abroad to refresh one’s perspective on life back home. It’s been more than a month since I returned from a wonderful vacation and – before I forget – here are the lessons learned about HOME from my sojourn in Argentina.

Wood is good. Old wood is especially good.
Argentines haven’t gotten the memo about painting out or replacing all the wood in their houses, hotels and restaurants. It’s everywhere and in every condition from rotting away to brand new, and there’s something very comforting about it.

In the kitchen, simplicity is a gift.
Having the latest appliance or gadget doesn’t count for a fig when it comes to making scrumptious food. In the Airbnbs where we stayed, we’d find a hot plate, running water, an electric kettle, a refrigerator, at least one decent knife and a good bottle of olive oil. Never a dishwasher, seldom a microwave, sometimes an oven. We nonetheless ate well when we cooked at home, and enjoyed the simplicity and lack of fuss prompted by the pared-down equipment.

Bidets rock.
I was sad to come home and see the toilet sitting there all by itself. How lovely to have the companionship and convenience of a bidet. So civilized. So European. (Americans don’t get it.)

San Francisco groundwork such as sidewalks and streets are (relatively) fantastic.
One of our guides mentioned that jay-walking is a sport in Argentina. Well, plain-ol-walking in Argentine towns and cities challenges one’s physical fortitude. If you aren’t vigilant and wearing sensible shoes, you’ll end up in a hole or a ditch or the hospital.

Same goes for roads and highway infrastructure.
In Argentina, they don’t “need no stinking” road signs. On the day we were flying back home, it’s good we had a six-hour window to make the one-hour trip to the Buenos Aires International Airport in our rental car (admittedly, sans GPS). I won’t go into detail; let’s just say it was an adventure.

Americans aren’t friendly.
We’d heard about the Argentine reputation for arrogance, but didn’t experience that firsthand. Instead we were struck by how very friendly everyone was. Cheerful, helpful, kind, generous and possessed of a playful sense of humor.

It takes a lot of Argentine pesos to get around.
I felt rich carrying two-inch wad of bills – 5s, 10s, 20s, 100s and 500s. When you consider that the exchange rate was then roughly 15.6 pesos to 1 USD, you’ll understand why.

The wine is fine.
And relatively inexpensive, and offered throughout the day. Going for a swim? How would you like a glass of champagne poolside? Going for a horseback ride? May we bring you a nice Sauvignon Blanc as you dismount? Checking in to your hotel? How about a pour of Malbec while you sign this form? And if you don’t care for wine, may we bring you a beer?

Argentine dogs are something else altogether.
We encountered plenty of dogs that were leashed and pampered and treated as beloved pets. But there are semi-feral dogs roaming free everywhere, and my partner learned – the hard way – the meaning of the expression “Let sleeping dogs lie.” Don’t interrupt a wild dog’s nap to snap a silly photo of him on your cell phone. He’ll tear your leg off.

I want a Parilla.
Everybody in Argentina seems to have a built-in, brick-walled, wood-fired BBQ in their yard. And they really know how to cook chicken and meat. If I had a parilla here in San Francisco, I’d roast some vegetables too.

And a six-pack of Quilmes
Quilmes Cristal quickly became our local beer of choice. (It’s also the choice of 75% of Argentine beer drinkers.) Founded in 1888 by a German immigrant, the name comes from an indigenous tribe of people who fought off the Incas for 100+ years and then resisted the Spaniards for 100+ years, only to be systematically eradicated. Only a few Quilmes people remain today, while their name is displayed prominently in every grocery store, bar and restaurant in the country. Sound familiar?

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.

Where Do Sex and Real Estate Meet?

At home, of course!

It’s probably first on the list of places where the former and the latter intersect.

“Sex and Real Estate: Get Lots While You’re Young” is the catchy title of a homebuyer seminar I’m co-hosting on Wednesday with my colleague Laraine Hsu. After receiving their colorful invitations, a few people have asked what in the world that means.

Here goes an explanation:

1. There’s an X in both SeX and LuXury real estate. Pretty much all property in San Francisco qualifies as “luxury” because luxury is defined as anything selling for at least $1M (entry level in our fair city).

2. Everybody knows that the best time to start investing in real estate (or anything else) is when you’re young. Similarly, the best time to invest in sex (through practice) is when you’re young because – let’s face it – at a certain age you won’t have as much time and freedom to “get lots.”

3. By contrast, studies show that sex in a committed relationship can be more rewarding than NSA hookups. Just as happy homeownership requires a more serious commitment than renting.

4. And yet! It’s important to carefully examine one’s reasons for buying a home because the so-called American Dream of homeownership is not all it’s cracked up to be. Analogously, “Happily Ever After” in marriage is a flat-out fairytale.

5. In pursuit of these dreams, today’s homebuyers and love-and-sex-seekers use a myriad of apps designed to maximize results. Much dysfunctional energy is expended in swiping at devices and checking for updates.

The aim of Wednesday’s “homeworkshop” is to give prospective homebuyers some reassurance – plus practical advice for making the best of their quest for home.

As T.S. Eliot famously said, “Home is where one starts from.” (And, of course, sex is where one starts from, too.)

Join us on Wednesday as we have some good, clean fun while exploring the many paths for finding one’s way home!

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.

Lose that collection if you’re selling your San Francisco house!

The key to attracting buyers is your property’s emotional appeal. Open buyers’ hearts and they’ll open their wallets.

But if you over-personalize, you lose some of your audience. It’s important to keep the stage relatively clean and neutral. That way buyers can visualize themselves living in the space – not you.

Here is one basic instruction that’ll prevent over-personalization.

Click on the photo to watch the full video.

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.

Remodeling? Watch What You Wish For

I’m good at instant remodeling. I can walk through a property in San Francisco, and add a second bathroom, redo the kitchen, knock out the wall between the living and dining rooms, and landscape the garden.

All in ten minutes.

Verbally.

Luckily, if a client who’s considering a remodel needs more information than what’s available with a wave of my hand, there are professionals who can provide estimates of what renovations will cost.

But there are less-tangible costs that can’t be neatly quantified or anticipated. Some examples:

You lusted after white walls, raw wood and Carrara marble for months before buying your own fixer. For another year, you obsessed over which white, where to put the wood and how to afford the Carrara. Now everybody wants green walls, bamboo floors and mosaic tiles.
Immeasurable cost: The pain of not being able to re-remodel anytime soon.

While the kitchen was being smoked and reborn to the tune of $200K, your family camped out in the dining room for six months with the old fridge, a countertop microwave and a toaster oven. Now it’s all over and you’re missing the intimacy of cramming everything and everybody into one room. It’s lonely in your new culinary showplace.
Immeasurable cost: Realizing that remodeling doesn’t necessarily bring you closer as a family.

Ah, inertia! That pale-blue-on-dark-blue-on-Williamsburg-blue-on-cobalt-blue bathroom really had to go, and you spent $10,000 on plans (and nearly got a divorce arguing over the shower design.) The Japanese-inspired motif was understated and would have been stunning. But instead of hiring a contractor you let 15 years go by and now it’s time to sell. For staging purposes, you pay $500 to have the tub and sink re-porcelained in white. It looks pretty darn good.
Immeasurable cost: Kicking yourself for having not mini-remodeled sooner.

The traffic on your busy street has only gotten worse since you moved in 5 years ago. So, that triple-pane glass you installed made a huge difference. You’re definitely sleeping better. But there’s no getting around the fact that thousands of cars driving by on a daily basis throw a lot of soot into the air. That, coupled with the noise, makes opening the window untenable. You may as well have a solid wall there.
Immeasurable cost: Regret that you didn’t spend an extra $50,000 to buy the property one block removed from the “vibrant” street where you now live.

What you thought would take one year morphed into a five-year project. Now your vacation getaway is finished and it’s truly stunning. It has breathtaking views, an infinity pool, a fire pit and a two-bedroom guest cottage. Too bad your daughter’s in high school now and never wants to go there – with you.
Immeasurable cost: The time you spent poring over tile samples for the kitchen, bath, family room and courtyard could have been devoted to playing on Ocean Beach with your 12-year-old. Before she got a smartphone and ceased knowing you exist.

Moral of the story? Watch what you wish for by taking time to dive deeper into what you really want. I’m expert at guiding you through easy exercises to help shape your vision. A cup of tea, an hour, and we’re done.

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.

It’s Raining

When sellers fill out a Real Estate Transfer Disclosure Statement in advance of listing a house for sale, I often hear something like this:

“Remember that huge rainstorm we had last winter? Right around Valentine’s Day? Some water came in along the bottom of this window. See? But, you know, the wind was blowing in this funny direction. It never blows that way. So we think it was a freaky one-time occurrence. Do we need to disclose it?”

“Yes, you need to disclose it,” I will say.

Then my client will ask, “So how do I disclose that? What do I write?”

And I reply, “Write down what you just told me, but don’t theorize about the cause of the leak or suggest it was a freaky one-time occurrence.”

In other words, when it comes to disclosure, there’s no need to put any spin on the truth.

And when in doubt, dear Sellers, ask yourselves, “If we were buying this house, what would we want to know?” Common sense and kindness go a long way toward protecting everyone involved and upholding the spirit of the law regarding disclosure.
However, full disclosure doesn’t mean a new homeowner isn’t going to have water intrusion problems. When rain comes pounding down for 7 weeks in a row, all that water is going to figure out some new places to go.

It’ll makes it way through foundation walls when the earth becomes saturated. It’ll overflow a lightwell when the drain gets overwhelmed or clogged. It’ll creep in the gap created when the wind blew a couple of roof shingles away.

The problem with water intrusion is that it can be mysterious and difficult to diagnose accurately. Better to have a roof leak – usually easily pinpointed and its resolution pretty clear – than a slow-spreading stain down an interior wall or a puzzling puddle in the basement.

In my role as the always-available real estate concierge, I can help. I can’t (usually) stop the water myself, but I can refer you to appropriate tradespeople. Just give me a call, and remember that eventually wet turns to dry. One way or another.

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 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. This article was re-posted at McGuire.com