Category Archives: Advice for Sellers

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.

What Stagers Wish You Knew

Staging may be the single most vital investment homeowners can make in the successful sale of their home. Akin to hiring a Fairy Godmother to transform a mushroom into a mansion, staging – done well – is miraculous.

Yet it’s often misunderstood and underappreciated. That’s why this post (my second installment of a regular featured called “What They Wish You Knew”) focuses on stagers.

Here are seven “good-to-knows” regarding home staging:

Resist the urge to become an instant expert in interior design while your home is being staged. Thinking you know best what should and shouldn’t go in a staged room is sort of like telling your dentist how to extract a tooth. Some things are better left to the expert.

Asking the stager to “work with” your things or some of your things won’t save money and the result (with few exceptions) won’t be as alluring. Your stager conjures a fresh, unique vision for your property and your old possessions tend to just gum up the flow. Plus, any savings from keeping stuff in place will be offset by the cost and effort of moving twice or thrice.

Remember that stagers are not designing the space to appeal to your taste. The whole idea is that you are selling and moving. So just because you don’t like that particular table doesn’t mean it should be swapped out. The point is to appeal to buyers. And stager are the professionals who understand what “sells” a home in today’s market.

Nobody – not you and not even most agents – can imagine a space better than it can be staged.

If a stager suggests that you do any of these half dozen possibly painful (and seemingly unnecessary) things, don’t resist: 1) Refinish or re-carpet entry stairs. 2) Paint kitchen cabinets. 3) Refinish floors. 4) Paint walls. 5) Get new appliances. 6) Clean up the garden. Don’t think of it as “wasting” money on something you didn’t get to enjoy. Think of it as being clever and getting a high ROI on your cleverness.

Stagers care. They put their hearts into the choice of items for your home. It’s not just a bunch of stuff. As one of my favorite pros told me, “I have a deep, personal attachment to each and every accessory in my design collection. I remember where each piece came from. So when anything – even the cheapest candle holder from Ross or a napkin ring from Goodwill – breaks or gets lost or stolen, it hurts.”

Stagers are some of the best designers and interior decorators in the business. I hear a variation on this all the time: “Wow. Everything looks great. I should have had the stager in when I first bought my house.” To which I reply, “Yes. What a great idea! How about you give her/him a call – right now – about your new place?”

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.

Real Estate Trivia: Who Said It?

1. “There’s no place like home.”

Origin debatable. Number 23 in the top 100 American movie quotations, this phrase was invoked by Dorothy Gale in The Wizard of Oz. The character says something almost identical in the Frank Baum novel of 1900, but it was also the last line in the 1822 song Home! Sweet Home! Regardless of its source, it’s true – possibly because it’s vague enough to cover any unique home experience.

2. “The way you live in a place and the way you sell are two entirely different things.”

Cynthia Cummins. I remind sellers of this, as they contemplate purging possessions, moving out before marketing, or paying for staging. In a sophisticated market like San Francisco, selling a house is about 3 parts theater to 1 part realism.

3. “Home is where one starts from.”

T. S. Eliot. A great first line from Four Quartets “East Crocker,” a poem you might want to read sometime. Eliot started in St. Louis, Missouri and suffered from a congenital double inguinal hernia as a child. This meant he didn’t get to play with other children and spent a lot of time alone. Hence, he became interested in – you guessed it – literature!

4. “Sellers stage.”

Cynthia Cummins. Another of my favorite sayings. It’s a nod to the old real estate adage “Sellers sell,” which means that if you’re selling you take steps that result in a sale. In the classic sense, this means you hire a professional agent, follow her advice, respond in good faith to offers and so forth. In San Francisco, one of those crucial sale-producing steps is staging.

5. “The fellow who owns his own home is always just coming out of a hardware store.”

Kin Hubbard. The humorist’s humorist, who also said, “The only way to entertain some folks is to listen to them.” The hardware-store quote is self-explanatory.

6. “Buyers don’t buy in a buyer’s market.”

Cynthia Cummins. The “right moment” always seems to be in the past. This is a phenomenon buyers inevitably experience if they wait for the market to reach the bottom.

7. “Home is the nicest word there is.”

Laura Ingalls Wilder. Her “Little House” books notwithstanding, Wilder endured plenty of “not nice” hardships growing up on the prairie, including near starvation, poverty, violence and life-threatening winter weather.

8.  “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.”

Not Mark Twain. This favorite San Francisco aphorism is usually misattributed to Twain. He did say, “If you don’t like the weather in New England, just wait a few minutes.” But nobody knows where that famous SF summer quote originated.

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

Could You Be Loved

Selling real estate is a delicious, high-stakes game. It’s completely extraordinary – because most people don’t spend millions of dollars every day. And yet it’s completely ordinary – because lots of people buy homes.

Still, it’s a game.

I loathed Monopoly as a kid – except for the tactile pleasure of handling the color-banded deeds, the understated Chance and Community Chest cards, the fake money, the dice, and the iron, my favorite token.

The plastic houses and hotels scared me. I was okay with paying $200 for Reading Railroad; that seemed like an honest deal.  But no adult had ever bothered to explain what a mortgage was and I was terrified of going bankrupt. I didn’t want to put up a big red hotel on Connecticut Avenue just to watch that pale-blue deed be plucked away by my landlord brother.

I didn’t know I’d be a Realtor one day.

After three decades spent selling real estate, I can name a few parts of the game I don’t appreciate. Yet, I’ve learned it’s a noble and fun profession. I help others navigate a route to home ownership, a destination with no clear map or legible key – no matter how many apps they come up with.

The layperson thinks the game is about dollars and interest rates and market trends and bedroom counts and school districts. It is. And it isn’t.

Buying or selling a home is really about love. It’s about people just wanting to know that they’re going to be okay. It’s about them wanting to know, “Will I be loved?”

Could you be loved? Yes, you could. Yes, my clients are.

You see, my personal real estate playlist is heavy on Bob Marley. Because I get high on helping my clients feel AND BE safe and empowered while playing with big big big bucks. Real bucks, not funny money.

“Don’t worry about a thing,” I say, when the game gets scary, “cause every little thing is gonna be alright.”

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.

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. 

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.