Category Archives: Advice

Make Your House YOUR HOUSE in 2018

In order to afford their home dream, clients are working 60 hours a week, and often raising kids and helping elderly parents, too. When escrow ends, they’ve just endured an exhaustive search for the right house and they have run the harrowing race to closing.

Which is when they (often) look at me and say, “Now what? How do we furnish and decorate our home?”

You can start with the internet, where you’ll find an endless assortment of ideas: General inspiration, room planners, places to comparison shop, decorating blogs, you name it. But it can be quite overwhelming and confusing.

My online search today for color trends wasn’t helpful in the least, except as entertainment. As 2018 Color of the Year, Benjamin Moore is touting AF-290 Caliente. Kelly-Moore has chosen KM4782 Baja Grass. Pantone’s pick is 18-3838 Ultra Violet. And Dunn-Edwards’ selection is DET544 The Green Hour, which “draws inspiration from turn-of-the-century Paris, when 5 o’clock became known as ‘The Green Hour’ due to the popularity of absinthe. A darker shade of gray blue-green, this color embodies the timeless sense of mystery and creative revelry of the era.”

Or check out this advice I found on home decor trends for 2018: “We are seeing square and boxy edges remain in inspiration, but being executed with more flowy curves and a softness to them. Even classic mid-century pieces are having a hint of softness to them.”

What does that even mean?

When it comes to design, home decorating, and color choices, my advice is to make a little room in your budget for professional counsel. It’s money well spent, since home is your sanctuary and you’ll be spending a lot of time there. Meanwhile…

My Style Prediction for 2018 and beyond: The sun has set on the oh-so-popular big white box with nano windows, glass/steel staircase, matte wide-plank flooring and lab-style kitchen featuring Quartz waterfall island. If you’re contemplating a remodel in the Bay Area, don’t look around you, look ahead.

My 2018 Top Secret Tip: Hire a stager to help you. They are the designers/interior decorators who can work with almost any budget, and are quick studies who mix pragmatism with artistry. (If you need recommendations or referrals, ask me.)

The main thing is to make your house your house, and be true to yourself. As the preeminent interior designer Bunny Williams famously said, “If you love something it will work. That’s the only real rule.”

Instant art, using Benjamin Moore “Century” paint brochure.

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

Best Time to Buy? Right Now.

The first home I owned — in San Francisco — was a 2-unit building purchased with my ex-husband (call him Bob) and my clients (call them Greg and Ann).

Loma Prieta had shaken us silly that October of 1989, but it didn’t slow our real estate search. It was two weeks after the earthquake when Curt, Sally, Pablo and I first viewed our future home – a spacious hunk of Victorian history in the neighborhood now known as NOPA. By the time we closed in December the market was trending downward. Seems we’d bought at the peak.

But we enjoyed living there for the next five years, even as the market continued falling. We remodeled, added parking, started families, celebrated holidays together and hoped the market would change. We converted our flats to condominiums, sold them, and purchased neighboring single family homes in the Richmond district.

In retrospect, we were smart to get in (and out) when we did. We sold the condos at the bottom of the curve. But — hey! — we bought our houses at the bottom, too. $250,000 condos turned into $350,000 houses turned into $650,000 houses turned into $1,300,000 houses just before the 2009 adjustment. Those same houses are worth $2,000,000 or more today (though we’ve all moved on).

Ask any agent – on any day during any month during almost any year – if it’s a good time to buy and they’ll say one of three things:

  1. Now is a perfect time to buy.
  2. Five years ago was a better time to buy.
  3. Tomorrow will also prove to be a great time to buy.

The San Francisco real estate market is daunting and rewarding. The main thing is to get your foot in the proverbial (or literal) door. But you’ll need an agent’s help:

  1. Ready? Interview a couple of agents (or just call me) and choose your ally.
  2. Set? Follow her/his (my) advice on preparing for the journey.
  3. 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.

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.  This article was re-posted at McGuire.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.

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.

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.