Category Archives: Advice for Buyers

Striking out in San Francisco? Here’s a Giant heaping of help.

The game of baseball serves as a metaphor for just about every aspect of living. Buying real estate is no exception.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

There’s Always a Piano

“The secret to humor is surprise.” ~ Aristotle

Conversely, the secret to navigating a surprise is humor – especially when it comes to something unexpected in a real estate transaction.

One scrap of wisdom I share at the outset with new clients is this: There will be at least one moment during this process when something is unexpected and upsetting. It isn’t a matter of IF it will happen. It’s a matter of WHAT and WHEN.

As a Realtor, I am Navigator of the deal. I unroll a map of the Transaction and highlight a route to Closing. I know most of the twists and turns by heart. And I deftly steer around new bumps and barricades. Yet there is always a pothole I don’t see before driving over or into it.

These holes along the highway take many forms (or so I have seen).

The mortgage one-more-thing: On the day before signing lender requires that Buyer’s car lease be paid off in full.

The insurance Catch 22: Buyer can’t obtain loan and close escrow without insurance in place. But insurance company says circuit breakers must be installed before house can be insured. So Seller must have the circuit breakers installed prior to closing. Yet property is a probate and Seller is deceased. And Buyer doesn’t have a contingency for insurability because the insurance companies just dreamed this new policy up a month ago.

The unimaginable: Buyer has a brain aneurism on the day before closing.

The catastrophic: Loma Prieta comes knockin’ and the house goes rockin’ off its foundation just after Buyer waives inspection contingency.

The governmental: The IRS decides to begin scrutinizing a formerly-ignored form called a TRDBV required by mortgage lenders. TRDBV stands for Tax Return Database. (I’m not sure what the “V” connotes and I don’t really care and I hope you never have to find out yourself.) Buyers drop everything (including their jobs) to go stand in line at the local IRS office for hours. And HOURS.

The feral: During a final walk-through, Buyer steps onto the roof and into a pile of raccoon poop.

The emotional: Soon-to-be-divorced yet cheery Seller goes silent in the week before closing. Refuses to sign closing papers. Will not return agent’s or attorney’s phone calls. Will not answer doorbell. Emails escrow officer that she’s changed her mind.

The economic: Seller’s employer withdraws offer of new position on the East Coast just after Seller accepts Buyer’s all-cash, no-contingency offer with a 14-day closing.

The watery: Closing is December 30th. Huge storm – the first of the season – crushes Bay Area on December 31st. Buyers call shortly before midnight, but not to wish me a Happy New Year. They are crying loudly. I realize, however, that their tears are not the cause of the dripping sound in the background.

The musical: Several days prior to closing, piano-owning Buyers realize they missed the Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions ban on pianos in the condo building. As we search for a possible music-friendly solution, I remind the impatient Sellers, “There’s always a piano.”

Yes indeed.  In every transaction, “there’s always a piano.”

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.

Resisting Reality in Real Estate = Suffering

buddhas-jed-adan

It’s exciting when you list your home for sale and 16 people show up with over-asking-price offers. It’s just as exhilarating when you’re the winner among those 16 buyers.

The sun is shining! Children are laughing! The band is playing a rousing Souza march!

Everything is jake. Except when it isn’t. Which is often the case.

Even in San Francisco, where you consistently hear tall and true tales of astounding real-estate triumphs, there are plenty of fantasies that don’t take flight.

When reality fails to match our imaginations, we resist it and we suffer. It’s true in marriages, friendships, workplaces and families, and it’s true with residential real estate.

After inspecting, repairing, painting, cleaning, staging and PRIMPING a property as if it were a beauty-pageant contestant, it’s bewildering to hear crickets instead of requests for disclosure packages. After three weeks of silence, apprehension turns to dread. When your agent says, “It’s time to consider a price reduction,” it’s a stone cold bummer.

Same goes for writing 12 offers and being told “thanks but no thanks” 12 times. Somebody else paid cash. Somebody else could close in 10 days. There were five offers better than yours. There were fifteen offers better than yours. You were tied with one other offer on price but the winning offer had 50% down instead of your 35%.

This can feel very personal, as in World vs. You. But it’s not personal at all! It is just reality. And struggling against reality brings nothing but pain.

There’s an old real estate axiom that goes like this: Sellers sell and Buyers buy. At first glance, you might think “Duh?!” But if you let those words sink in, you’ll realize they are profound.

In order to achieve what you set out to do – Sell or Buy – you must pay attention to reality. This could mean

  • Lowering your asking price by 10% or more.
  • Expanding your search to include areas on your B list.
  • Remodeling instead of selling.
  • Renting instead of buying.
  • Purchasing a condo instead of a house.
  • Being grateful to have one buyer making an offer instead of five.
  • Making do with two bedrooms instead of three.
  • Remembering – continually – that your agent is your ally.
  • Returning to the essential goal you had when starting this process.

Hundreds of times, I’ve walked this reality-resisting walk with my clients: Waking up at 4 a.m. worrying. Going over what could have been done differently. Assigning blame (usually to myself). Comparing. Projecting. Regretting.

I’ve heard my buyers’ voices crack when they ask how many offers were better than theirs.

I’ve watched my sellers’ mouths go slack when they realize nobody is offering their fantasy price. Or their asking price. Or – maybe – nobody is making an offer at all!

You never know how it’s going to be. Yet the process takes so much thought, planning and care, that it’s challenging to keep our wish list in check. Desire is an essential part of the business. Too little and there’s no movement. Too much and we’re yoked to it like oxen.

The key is to resist resisting and adapt to reality. (For more on this, check out the Buddhist concept of detachment.)

It’s all just part of living. And real estate is just part of the business of living.

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.

If You’re New to the Richmond: Part I

Imagine that you’ve just purchased 614 21st Avenue (or another wonderful property) and you’re new to the Richmond district. Lucky you!

You need some ideas about things to do in the neighborhood. A prized quotable quote of mine is “I’ve never met a neighborhood I didn’t like.” Yet of all the spots in our cool grey city of love, the Richmond is among my top-five favorites. There is so much to explore and enjoy.

Reliable tourist guides will send you to Golden Gate Park, the California Academy of Science, the Japanese Tea Garden and many other worthwhile places. And be sure to consult the Not For Tourists guide, for tips on restaurants and shops, many of which are “under the radar.”
But here are my less-than-obvious suggestions for things to do:

1. Skip the Japanese Tea Garden and instead bring a thermos of tea to the Moon Viewing Garden in Strybing Botanical Garden. Even better, join a Full Moon nighttime walk, scheduled at different times throughout the year. Next one is on Earth Day, April 22nd.

2. Enjoy a pizza pie and a pitcher of beer at Gaspare’s. It’s been on Geary Boulevard since 1985 and yet it feels like you’ve time traveled to 1963. The food is delicious and the ambiance is straight out of central casting.

3. Pop through the park (on foot) to enjoy a plethora of restaurants and shops at 9th and Irving. A really fun route is to enter Golden Gate Park on the southeast corner of Park Presidio and Fulton. Walk through the Rose Garden, take the pedestrian path from JFK to MLK between the Japanese Tea Garden and Stow Lake, then either shortcut through Strybing Botanical Garden to its south gate, or follow MLK until it meets Lincoln and turns into 9th Avenue.

4. Walk west through GG Park all the way to Ocean Beach and have a snack at Beach Chalet or Park Chalet. While you’re there, check out the sensational wood carvings, mosaics and murals that were part of a 1936-1937 WPA project.

5. It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but the Richmond District YMCA is one happening place. You can’t go wrong if you’re looking or a great workout, inspiration and community. The group exercise schedule ROCKS.

6. Go to Sutro Park and head for the ruins at the far west of the property. The view south over Ocean Beach is magnificent. Sunsets aren’t bad either. Roll downhill to the Cliff House’s Zinc Bar for a cocktail afterward.

7. Keep it simple. Stop and smell the roses in the Rose Garden of Golden Gate Park.

8. Have the Beet Borscht at Katia’s. Or the Potato Vareniki (with carmelized onions, YUM). Or the Pel’meni. Or the Piroshki. Or anything else on the menu. Tell Katia that I sent you. 

9. Get yourself over to House of Bagels for some REAL bagels. Or, better yet, get some Cragels.

And keep your eyes peeled for Part II of this post for more ideas on how to help you settle in and explore!

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