Category Archives: Advice

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.

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.

Help Your Realtor Keep It Real

Things get personal with residential real estate. They get intimate. No wonder, since “home” is where you live, eat, sleep and do all the other things that humans do.

This is why good agents become their clients’ familiar friends. A close relationship – if client and agent are lucky – inevitably develops. It’s one of the most rewarding aspects of my practice.

Yet there’s a downside. In interacting with people we love, it’s a challenge to remain honest. We align ourselves with our friends’ wishes and dreams, and pretty soon objectivity and candor go flying out the nano windows.

Example: Betty and Bob’s condo has it all. A panoramic bay view, 3 bedrooms, 2.5 baths, 2-car parking, a remodeled kitchen and a private deck. 75 prospective buyers have visited the house over three weeks of marketing. Nobody has made an offer.

Betty is now reviewing all marketing materials. She asks their agent, Joan, to change the order of the photos on the website. She suggests that Joan should highlight the fact that there’s a garbage chute in the hall: “We have just LOVED having that trash chute,” she says, in all sincerity, “I don’t think people appreciate how convenient it is not to have to walk the garbage downstairs.”

Okay. The truth is that spotlighting the garbage chute’s presence won’t make one iota of a difference, and the photo sequence on the website is inconsequential. 75 buyers were drawn to see the property. The problem is simple: The price is too high.

But Joan, who has guided Betty and Bob through property preparation and staging over the course of several months, has begun to see the house through Betty’s and Bob’s lenses. As her clients’ perception of the value of the condo has risen – in proportion to the amount of effort and thought expended on readying it for sale – so has Joan’s opinion of value.

Joan belatedly realizes they’ve set the price too high by $100,000. Yet she hesitates to share this sobering truth. She doesn’t want to upset Betty and Bob because she cares about them, and she knows this will upset them.

Smart clients can help their agents avoid this trap by explicitly inviting the truth they don’t want to hear.

It’s sort of like parenting. You ask your teenager to be honest about how that bag of weed ended up in the glove box of the Prius. You promise him or her that – as long as he or she is truthful – you won’t get upset. Once the air is cleared, next steps can be calmly and coolly identified.

So, prudent buyer, be sure to ask for blunt answers to questions like these:

  • Is it wishful thinking to hold out for 3 bedrooms at this price in this neighborhood?
  • What offering price would make you feel 98% confident about our chances of winning?
  • Are there terms in this offer we should eliminate in order to be more competitive?
  • Is my lender up to the challenge of this market?
  • How have other buyers solved this issue/overcome this difficulty?
  • Am I sabotaging myself in any way?

Savvy sellers, request frank responses to questions like these:

  •  Do we need to follow the stager’s recommendation that we remove the carpet and refinish the hardwood underneath the entry stairs?
  • Is this listing price one that will evoke a “run-don’t-walk” response from buyers?
  • Are there enhancements we’ve refused to consider that you think would bring us a great return on investment?
  • What are our blindspots where our home is concerned?
  • If you could wave a magic wand and change one thing about our approach to selling the house, what would it be?
  • For which selling-related tasks (purging, organizing, painting, etc.) should we get professional help rather than trying to DIY?

Buying or selling a home is a process that unfolds differently in every situation. But the relationship between agent and client is the key to every successful transaction.

Show your agent that you, too, are invested in the relationship. Let them know you’ll love ‘em even if the truth hurts. Then, listen carefully and keep an open mind.

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 House Painters Wish You Knew

Today I’m writing the first of what I hope will be a regular feature at RealEstateTherapy. Let’s call it What They Wish You Knew. “They” being various professionals associated with the business of real estate.

First up: What House Painters Wish You Knew.

Painting is one of the trinity of property improvements guaranteed to enhance value when selling. (The other two are floors and lighting.) Painting is about as close to magic as you can get, and if you want the spell done right, you hire a magician.

And that magician – your painter – would like you to know these things:

Catalog your colors for when you move out or sell. It’ll save you money because the painter won’t have to charge you for the time it takes to match the color.

Ideally, you’ll go one step further and save your paint. This also cuts costs because it makes touchups easier in the future. Even if you have the color formula, a new mix may not match an old mix. Results vary from store-to-store and over time. But the paint stored in a can will age along with what’s on the wall.

If you’d rather not pay your magician to do detective work, don’t just point to a pile of old paint cans and say, “I’m pretty sure the paint you need is there.” Sort through yourself in advance.

Painters aren’t movers, and it’s less costly to paint vacant rooms. So if you say you’ll empty a room’s contents prior to painting, then do it. If you agree to move everything into the center of the room, then do that. Otherwise, be ready for additional costs or delays.

There’s no such thing as “just touching up.” Homeowners envision they’ll save money if the painter can simply dab a little paint here and there. But touch-ups only go so far, especially given the difficulty (and costs associated with) matching paint. It’s often easier to paint whole walls or rooms.

If you’re not already committed to a particular paint color (and, therefore, brand) ask your painter if he/she has a preference about brand(s). Brand preference has to do not only with ease of application, but also with location of the paint store. If your San Francisco painter has to drive to Serramonte to procure paint from Home Depot, it’s going to cost you extra.

Unless your painter is a professional colorist, don’t ask him or her to advise on paint colors and finishes. (One of the best painters I know is color blind!) Give him or her exact instructions about shade and sheen.

Realize that the best painters may be ones who are so experienced and skilled that they get their work done speedily. In other words, more time doesn’t necessarily mean a better result. Look for painters with great references and ones who bid by the job, not by the hour.

Prep time, plus procurement of and cost of materials add up quickly, so resist the temptation to look at a finished room and think or say, “What was so darn expensive about that? That was easy. I could have done it myself!”

The truth is that very few of us mortals are qualified to do painting all by ourselves. Better to go pro, then stand back and enjoy the results.

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.

This Must Be The Place

As a young adult – just out of college – I moved to Sun Valley, Idaho to be a ski bum. The idea was to wait tables for a living big enough to pay rent, feed myself, party with new friends and slide downhill on my secondhand Rossignols every once in a while.

Turns out my tip jar didn’t exactly runneth over, so for the first year I lived with roommates. But soon I got a job as the junior reporter at the Idaho Mountain Express newspaper and a salary of $14,500 a year. I decided it was time to get a place of my own.

My housing budget of $400 a month didn’t go very far.

After an extensive search, I rented a ground level apartment near the Warm Springs chairlift. It was a one-bedroom in-law unit beneath a two-story “Swiss chalet” that housed a family of five. At the front of my apartment was a picture window, but the bedroom and bathroom were subterranean.

Deprived of natural light, it wasn’t long before I started feeling anxious and depressed. Getting out of bed in the morning became increasingly difficult. My appetite waned.

As the winter progressed and the snow piled up in front of my single window, my mood worsened. My alcohol intake increased. The glare of the white landscape gave me headaches, and sunset made me homesick for Virginia. I cried daily, and began to feel jealous of the good fortune of those around me.

It never occurred to me that my rabbit hole of an apartment might be partly to blame. But when I moved from that dark cave, everything instantly brightened up.

Which is to say: Home can make us happy or it can make us unhappy. So when you’re contemplating signing a lease or a contract for a purchase, take these five steps:

  1. Make a point of observing your sensations when you enter the space. Then notice if there’s any sort of lift or excitement in your body.
  2. Follow your nose when you first walk inside. In most people, smell is the most direct, intense and tricky of the senses. If you’re twitching, you’d better figure out why.
  3. Be sure you take a seat in every room, because most people don’t stand the whole time they’re home. (Good news: It’s likely this test will make you feel better about the house.)
  4. Ask yourself if there’s anything about the home that feels like a sacrifice or compromise, apart from the financial outlay and the limits within a limitless universe.
  5. Pay attention if anything inside – or outside – the house irritates you. If there is irritation, will you be able to learn to accept it? Or can you change it? Be honest.

In other words, don’t ignore your intuition. If you’re not getting at least a tiny feeling of “This Must Be The Place,” then best to keep looking.

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.