Category Archives: Advice for Buyers

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

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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.

Suffering from Real Estate Depression?

Yes. Real estate depression is a Real Thang. Lisa Selin Davis, a writer for Realtor.com, has personally suffered the pangs of regret over not buying at the “right” time. And like many would-be buyers, she sought solace for her distress.

She interviewed me, and we talked a long time about archetypes, self soothing and the value of wanting what you already have. Check out her story, “Suffering From Real Estate Depression? Here’s the Cure,” just published on Tuesday.

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.

Query: Is Now a Good Time to Buy in the Bay Area?

Q: Is this a good time to buy a home in the Bay Area?

A: Now is a perfect time to buy a home in the Bay Area. At least in San Francisco!

You might say, “Well, Cynthia, of course that’s your answer because you’re a San Francisco real estate agent and, according to San Francisco real estate agents, NOW is always the best time to buy.”

True. That’s because, as a longtime, fulltime Realtor, I’ve witnessed the market’s reliability  for 28 years: Up close and personal. Through several economic cycles. Helping hundreds of individuals buying hundreds of homes.

At the outset, purchasing property in San Francisco is especially daunting. Prices are ungodly. Competition is fierce. Doubts are plenteous. Yet in hindsight nearly every SF homeowner will tell you that purchasing their home was the wisest, luckiest investment they ever made.

This scenario assumes owner occupancy and a hold of at least five years. But nothing will pay if you don’t play.  Nothing will happen if you sit on the sidelines awaiting clear confirmation that NOW is the optimum time to buy.

Which brings up an important point: Buying a home in San Francisco is a sound investment, regardless of the exact timing. But it’s much more than an investment. It’s your HOME. It’s the place where you sleep in on weekends, empty the kitty litter, entertain friends, gargle saltwater for a sore throat, change kids’ diapers, plan vacations, argue with your husband, make up with your wife, unload groceries, take out the recycling, pay the bills, soak in the bathtub and putter in the garden.

So. If you want to enjoy a profusion of colorful tulips in April, you’ll need to plant those bulbs soon. Time to start shopping for some dirt. Now!

Cynthia Cummins is a Top Producer and Partner at McGuire. For info on SF real estate visit http://CynthiaCummins.com. A version of this post originally appeared as an answer on Quora, and it was re-posted at McGuire.com.

Query: Is My Agent Crazy Trying to Save Me Money?

Q: Why would a Realtor you are buying with want to negotiate down the cost of the property?

A: The last time I looked in the mirror I didn’t have dollar signs for pupils. 28 years as a successful Realtor in San Francisco, and I still haven’t abracadabra’d my blue eyes to the color of bright green cash.

That’s because my commission is — honestly — THE VERY LAST THING on my mind.

If you haven’t stood in my shoes, or if you’ve never purchased or sold a home with the help of a truly professional agent, it’s probably difficult to imagine that someone could be motivated by a wish to serve rather than a financial incentive. Yes, this is my livelihood. Yes, I like making money. Yes, we Realtors are paid relatively “big bucks.” (Though there’s more — or, I should say, less — to that than meets the eye. A topic for another time.)

But I work primarily for my clients’ happiness. Sometimes that means I “make a sale.” Many times not. But their happiness translates into referrals to their friends, family and associates. And THAT is how my business grows. Call me dumb like a fox, but I like making my clients happy.

Hence, I’m always shocked and taken aback when people assume I am a money-grubbing shark. I feel injured when they regard my profession as one where you get “money for nothin,” as in the famous Dire Straits song about rock and roll.

To quote an even older smash hit: “She works hard for the money, but you never treat her right.” Perhaps that’s an unfortunate comparison, since Donna Summer was singing about a ladies bathroom attendant, but I KNOW I have a heart of gold.

So do the majority of my successful peers. Which explains why an agent would strive to negotiate a lower price for a 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 and originally appeared as the answer to a Quora question.

Query: Do a “Bubble Assessment” Before Buying?

BubbleWrap

Q: When buying a first home, is it important to assess if the market is in a bubble, or just buy and go with it?

A: In my 28 years as a Realtor, I’ve watched at least half a dozen would-be buyers struggle with the bubble question. They waited for a clear sign that we weren‘t in a bubble or that we were at the so-called bottom of the market.

I’ve seen them sitting on the sidelines in a runaway buyer’s market. I’ve witnessed them kicking themselves with regret in a seller’s market. I’ve watched them invest in the stock market instead and lose all their savings.

I’ve also seen them accidentally buy at just the right time and double their investment in 18 months.

Buying a home — especially in a place like San Francisco — takes a giant commitment and huge leap of faith. It’s beyond challenging to pony up the down payment required for a median priced home of $1,000,000. It’s nerve-wracking to contemplate making those mortgage payments. It’s frightening to think about when the next earthquake is coming.

I have tremendous compassion for potential buyers. Home ownership looks scary when you’ve been renting. But once you’ve closed and moved in, it feels normal.

There’s an old Realtor’s adage that goes like this: “Buyers Buy.” In other words, they don’t spend too much time hemming and hawing. They don’t analyze everything to the nth degree. They buy. Because if they don’t buy, they aren’t invested. And if they aren’t invested it doesn’t matter WHAT the market does.

My advice is to not worry about the bubble. Do your due diligence. Work with a professional agent. Plan on staying for at least five years. You’ll be okay.

For more on the subject of bubbles, click here.

Cynthia Cummins is a Top Producer and Partner at McGuire. For info on SF real estate visit http://CynthiaCummins.com. This article was first the answer to a Quora question and was re-posted at McGuire.com.

Query: How Do I Find A Realtor?

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Q: How do you currently find a Realtor?

A: The best way to find a trustworthy Realtor — your ally and advocate — is to keep it  simple. You can set personal goals, make a list of must-haves, analyze statistics and search the internet. But there’s no substitute for two tried-and-true methods:

  • Ask reliable friends whom they recommend (and why).
  • Go agent shopping by visiting open houses. Look for someone who “feels” right — who is kind, relaxed and a good listener. You don’t want an agent who tries to “sell” you on anything.

A thoughtful and seasoned professional will help you formulate your questions and refine your goals. They’ll help you glean an education that will allow you to make informed decisions. And then they’ll help you find and close on a home you love. You’ll think of them as a friend by the time the transaction closes.

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

Query: New Ways to Save $$$

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Q: What are some unique ways to save for a down payment to buy a new house or condo?

A: The tired Nike phrase, “Just Do It,” comes to mind because – apart from creatively hiding your cash in a red-velvet sack placed inside a Ziploc bag submerged in your grandmother’s toilet tank – you don’t need a unique way to save.

Ordinary, tried-and-true approaches will suffice. Yet, like birth control, they don’t work unless you actually use them.

You might find inspiration from the blogger J. Money (dubbed “the Miley Cyrus of finance”). Here’s the link to a great pictorial guide to squirreling away your hard-earned dollars: How I Save Money… [In Pictures]

Although: You may first want to read Mr. Money’s thoughts on whether or not it makes sense to buy a home in the first place:  What it Cost Us to Own Our Home Last Year + A Question I Ask Myself Every Morning

Then: Think twice about how large your down payment needs to be. Size does matter and you might be someone for whom a low-money-down loan makes sense. See this NYT article: The New York Times

Finally: I can offer a relatively unique way to relate to money and savings. Check out Bari Tessler Linden, who says, “money is the final frontier of a conscious lifestyle.” Her website: Bari Tessler – Art of Money.

Bon chance! (And if you’re thinking of buying in San Francisco, reach out to me!)

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, and originally appeared on Quora.