Category Archives: Advice

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.

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.

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

Boogie-Boarding Home

During our initial interview, my client Sandra handed me a spreadsheet. It specified all the features her new home should have, arranged in descending order of importance. Here are the top 10.

  1. Fireplace
  2. Parking
  3. Single family home
  4. Not on a busy street
  5. View of some water
  6. 3 bedrooms or 2 + den
  7. 2 bathrooms
  8. Walk to coffee
  9. In-unit laundry.
  10. East of Arguello and north of Fell

We conducted an exhaustive search, touring and/or considering several dozen properties over a dozen weeks.

Guess how many of those top-10 features her eventual home included? Two. The property was on a quiet block and had its own washer and dryer.

This incongruity between aspiration and actuality happens because our dream of home can’t be translated neatly into a checklist. There are too many intangibles.

In Sandra’s case, she knew her future home (a condo, not a single family home) was “the place” as soon as we entered the front door. And I guessed it from the hesitant excitement I read in her sideways glance towards me.

“Property sells itself” is one of my favorite real-estate adages. By that I mean there’s nothing anyone can say to “sell” someone on the desirability of a home. The buyer either feels it, or they don’t feel it.

It’s like boogie-boarding. You belly onto the wave as soon as you enter a property, but you sense almost instantly whether or not you’ll ride the board into shore.

It’s kismet. It’s chemistry. It’s love, not real estate.

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 Non-Toothache for Solstice

I sat down on the Solstice to write something about home and holidays. I wanted to evoke in myself some fitting Christmas spirit to share with others.

But neither spirit nor words arose. Instead came the slow realization that I could be quiet and stop trying. I could be at home in and at peace with myself. Period.

No running around short-of-breath with my shopping list in hand. No decorating. No tree. No cards. No elaborate Christmas dinner plans except an ordinary stew in the pressure cooker. No writing just the right thing.

I’ve been gradually stripping away the winter holiday trimmings from my life over the last half-dozen years or so. Every December there’s been a diminishment in the fuss and bustle, matched with an increase in presence and non-efforting. More time being unproductive, inefficient and aimless.

More time being grateful for home, family and health, especially in these darkest days of the year.

As Thich Nhat Hanh said, real happiness derives in part from noticing and being grateful for any moment of contentment: “Suffering from your toothache you get enlightened: you say: ‘It’s wonderful not to have a toothache.’ So, how to enjoy your non-toothache? Just remember the time when you had a toothache. Suffering plays a very important role in helping you to be happy.”

Gratitude for my “non-toothache” makes me more aware of the pleasure in my life and – simultaneously – aware of the pain in every life. And that is followed by compassion. Compassion for myself not “measuring up” to some crazy holiday standard I learned as a child. Compassion for all beings. A wish for everyone to have a safe home, a loving family and abiding love in their lives.

That’s enough for today, and for tomorrow. And it’s what I offer you at the end of 2016: Light and love in 2017!

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.

(Saint) Nick-of-Time Gift Ideas for Homeowners

Forgive me (or thank me!) for jumping on the end-of-year-list-making bandwagon with my own roster of ideas for seasonal giving. In ascending order of price:

A favorite recipe. Write it out by hand. Free but for the cost of stationery. If you don’t have a favorite recipe use this one, for Apricot Basil Cheese Nibbles: Warm a few dozen dried apricots in oven or microwave until somewhat supple. Top each with a smudge of any ol’ goat cheese and a fresh basil leaf. Serve.

Perfect egg timer. I generally eschew one-job kitchen gadgets, but this one is magic. Put the timer and eggs in water. Boil. The half-egg-shaped timer changes color to indicate doneness. I got mine for $6 at Crate and Barrel, but you can probably find them at the nearest hardware store. Here’s an Amazon link.

The Big Orange Splot. A kid’s picture book by Daniel. Suitable for all ages and especially nice for new homeowners. $7 in paperback. “My house is me, and I am it. My house is where I like to be, and it looks like all my dreams.” Here’s a Powell’s link.

Hardware-store presents. It’s fun and refreshing to confine gift choices to whatever’s handy at Ace 5 & 10 or Walgreen’s or – in San Francisco – Cliff’s Variety on Castro. Grab whatever appeals, but you can’t go wrong with flashlights, dustpans, magnifying glasses, Goo gone, binder clips, lemon squeezers, etc. $20 or less.

Solight lights. You can literally give someone the gift of light this season. I especially like the “Solar Puff” for use at home, or while traveling or camping or beach-partying or…? Everybody on my list got one this year. Even better, I sent a dozen puffs to people in need in Syria. At Solight’s website you can donate light wherever it’s darkest – Haiti, Nepal, Ghana, Senegal, Ecuador, Cameroon, Liberia. $35ish.

A home inspection. Usually reserved for investigating a property when it’s being sold, general-contractor inspections are a nice gift for longtime owners. They provide a professional and objective review of conditions that affect a home’s livability and future value. Pricing in San Francisco starts around $500, depending on type and size of property. Contact me for inspector recommendations or visit the American Society of Home Inspectors website.

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 (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.