Category Archives: by Cynthia Cummins

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.

Small Pleasures

If you’ve lived or listed property in a doorman building, you know all about the culture of full-service living. You probably have your own story (or stories).

Mine today concerns a stunning listing that I had on (and off) the market over about nine months. In other words, it took as long to find our perfect buyer as it takes to grow a new human. Yet – after sampling all the proverbial porridge available in similar buildings – our “Goldilocks” finally turned up and made a satisfactory offer.

This stock-cooperative had an exceptional door staff. The doormen (all were male) saw me in and out of the building at all times of day, in all kinds of weather, accompanied by all sorts of agents and buyers. I got to know them, and grew to like them.

Three of them had watched the door for 40, 30 and 20 years, respectively. Of those three, two consistently greeted me cheerfully by name. One always put an extra flourish on the last syllable of my name: Cynthi-AH.

But the most seasoned doorman – let’s call him Bob – never chitchatted or spoke my name. He performed his duties solemnly and formally. Every time I entered, it was as if he’d never seen me before: Which unit was I there to see? Did I already have a key? Would I sign the guest book?

Despite my concerted effort to bring a smile to his face, I never saw the corners of his mouth lift even a micro-inch.

Until the day we closed. In a last ditch attempt to get Bob to crack (and because I wanted to thank the entire staff) I personally delivered an expensive, large and gorgeously girly strawberry cake. Bob greeted me soberly, and waved me over to the podium to – once again – sign and date the guest book.

Beaming at the audaciousness of my gift, I proffered the cake. At first Bob just stared at the pink confection like he’d never seen a desert before. But when I explained it was for him and the crew, he broke into a big grin and laughed and squeezed my arm.

It made my day.

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.

Something Good

I’m shy about announcing my success in 2016 – my personal best as a Realtor. At McGuire’s flagship Lombard office, I was #2 in production. Among the 200ish agents in our seven Bay Area offices, I was #3 and had the year’s biggest sale.

Sharing this news makes me squirm a little. I wouldn’t want anyone to get the wrong idea, since – to begin with – there are many misconceptions about my profession.

The primary myth is akin to the sentiment expressed in the famous Dire Straits song: “Get your money for nothin’ get your chicks for free.”

Chicks aside and stated differently, the refrain about Realtors goes something like “Real estate agents aren’t smart, don’t care and don’t actually do anything for anybody. They are lucky and make a bunch of money doing nothing.”

Ah! Would that it t’were so simple. (Speaking of simple, check out this clip from Hail, Caesar!)

I’m mindful and grateful that I’m not digging ditches all day for my living, nor cleaning toilets all night. But what I do is not “nothing.” I do a lot of somethings to steadfastly serve. Occasionally that results in a sale (and me being paid). More often it brings the simple reward of knowing I helped. In that way, my job is a practice.

Literal “house calls” are part of my practice. Interrupted Christmas dinners, missed school plays and tropical vacations spent on the phone are included in the job description. If an offer has to be written, there’s no saying “later” or “tomorrow.” If water is coming through a ceiling, there’s no waiting until Monday to locate a roofer.

Buying or selling a home is inevitably stressful, yet I bring a buffer of calm to the process. In interacting with my buyers and sellers, I am pleasant, non-reactive, curious, accessible, enthusiastic, selfless, informative, tireless, attentive and bluntly honest.

On their behalf – as I cooperate with other professionals (agents, title officers, lenders, contractors, accountants, attorneys, city personnel, etc.) and steer toward closing – I am quietly vigilant, exacting, strategic, anticipatory, educated, competitive, respectful, creative, organized and communicative.

Of course, I can be the best damn agent west of the Mississippi and still not make a dollar. But this diligence and dedication – if all goes well – can translate into dollars. Which translates into being a top Top Producer.

I’d like to think I’m an A+ agent in 2016 not because I made a bunch of sales but because I care, because I’ve paid my (30 years of) proverbial dues, because I’m good at what I do, and because my clients keep recommending me to their friends, co-workers and relatives.

I’d like to think it’s because “I must have done something good.” So, take it away Seth MacFarlane as I thank you ALL for a rewarding year as a San Francisco real estate agent!

A high point of 2016. A hike to the top of Mt. Eddy with my sons. Shasta in the background.
A high point of 2016. A hike to the top of Mt. Eddy with my sons. Shasta in the background.

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 Non-Toothache for Solstice

I sat down on the Solstice to write something about home and holidays. I wanted to evoke in myself some fitting Christmas spirit to share with others.

But neither spirit nor words arose. Instead came the slow realization that I could be quiet and stop trying. I could be at home in and at peace with myself. Period.

No running around short-of-breath with my shopping list in hand. No decorating. No tree. No cards. No elaborate Christmas dinner plans except an ordinary stew in the pressure cooker. No writing just the right thing.

I’ve been gradually stripping away the winter holiday trimmings from my life over the last half-dozen years or so. Every December there’s been a diminishment in the fuss and bustle, matched with an increase in presence and non-efforting. More time being unproductive, inefficient and aimless.

More time being grateful for home, family and health, especially in these darkest days of the year.

As Thich Nhat Hanh said, real happiness derives in part from noticing and being grateful for any moment of contentment: “Suffering from your toothache you get enlightened: you say: ‘It’s wonderful not to have a toothache.’ So, how to enjoy your non-toothache? Just remember the time when you had a toothache. Suffering plays a very important role in helping you to be happy.”

Gratitude for my “non-toothache” makes me more aware of the pleasure in my life and – simultaneously – aware of the pain in every life. And that is followed by compassion. Compassion for myself not “measuring up” to some crazy holiday standard I learned as a child. Compassion for all beings. A wish for everyone to have a safe home, a loving family and abiding love in their lives.

That’s enough for today, and for tomorrow. And it’s what I offer you at the end of 2016: Light and love in 2017!

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.

(Saint) Nick-of-Time Gift Ideas for Homeowners

Forgive me (or thank me!) for jumping on the end-of-year-list-making bandwagon with my own roster of ideas for seasonal giving. In ascending order of price:

A favorite recipe. Write it out by hand. Free but for the cost of stationery. If you don’t have a favorite recipe use this one, for Apricot Basil Cheese Nibbles: Warm a few dozen dried apricots in oven or microwave until somewhat supple. Top each with a smudge of any ol’ goat cheese and a fresh basil leaf. Serve.

Perfect egg timer. I generally eschew one-job kitchen gadgets, but this one is magic. Put the timer and eggs in water. Boil. The half-egg-shaped timer changes color to indicate doneness. I got mine for $6 at Crate and Barrel, but you can probably find them at the nearest hardware store. Here’s an Amazon link.

The Big Orange Splot. A kid’s picture book by Daniel. Suitable for all ages and especially nice for new homeowners. $7 in paperback. “My house is me, and I am it. My house is where I like to be, and it looks like all my dreams.” Here’s a Powell’s link.

Hardware-store presents. It’s fun and refreshing to confine gift choices to whatever’s handy at Ace 5 & 10 or Walgreen’s or – in San Francisco – Cliff’s Variety on Castro. Grab whatever appeals, but you can’t go wrong with flashlights, dustpans, magnifying glasses, Goo gone, binder clips, lemon squeezers, etc. $20 or less.

Solight lights. You can literally give someone the gift of light this season. I especially like the “Solar Puff” for use at home, or while traveling or camping or beach-partying or…? Everybody on my list got one this year. Even better, I sent a dozen puffs to people in need in Syria. At Solight’s website you can donate light wherever it’s darkest – Haiti, Nepal, Ghana, Senegal, Ecuador, Cameroon, Liberia. $35ish.

A home inspection. Usually reserved for investigating a property when it’s being sold, general-contractor inspections are a nice gift for longtime owners. They provide a professional and objective review of conditions that affect a home’s livability and future value. Pricing in San Francisco starts around $500, depending on type and size of property. Contact me for inspector recommendations or visit the American Society of Home Inspectors website.

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 (Grown) Kids Are Alright

Books are filled with characters who struggle with transitions in their home lives.

  • Scarlett O’Hara: prattling on incessantly about getting back to Tara.
  • King Lear: using estate planning as a means of father-daughter bonding.
  • Emma Bovary: redecorating her house for the umpteenth time.

But for now, let’s consider Oliver Twist — plaintively mourning the mother and home he never knew “on a night for the well-housed and fed to draw round the bright fire, and thank God they were at home; and for the homeless starving wretch to lay him down and die.”

Sadly, there are many real-life examples of orphaned and displaced children who suffer unnecessarily. But with only a wee bit of attention from Moms and Dads, most children are amazingly resilient.

In my real estate practice in San Francisco, I often see parents agonizing about how the sale of a home will affect their progeny.

Parents worry that moving kids from one school to another will derail their education and cause their social ruin. Or they fret that a step “down” to a less expensive or rental property in the case of a divorce will irrevocably damage the child’s self esteem. Or they assume that staging and marketing will be overly disruptive of family rhythms.

These concerns aren’t frivolous, yet the impact of change is largely mitigated when parents focus simply on loving their children rather than on controlling the situation. The physical manifestation of “home” –castle, cottage or condo – doesn’t really matter.

This is especially true when it comes to the anxieties of soon-to-be empty nesters. Parents whose babies have flown the coop too often compromise the quality of their mature years by overestimating the effect their home sale will have on their GROWN children. For example:

  • Tim and Betsy who “can’t possibly” downsize because their adult children must “have a bedroom” whenever they visit. Never mind that one 35-year-old son lives in Australia and the other owns a four-bedroom house in Portland, Oregon.
  • John who broaches the subject of selling his Ashbury Heights house every six months with his daughters Amelia, Annabelle and Amy. The 40-something “girls” react emotionally and without thinking about John’s needs. Amelia cries. Amy becomes silent. Annabelle advocates for John go into the Bed and Breakfast business in order to keep the house.
  • Rick and Roger who can’t sell because Roger believes selling the family home is synonymous with selling out the family. Roger has nightmare visions of an empty house at Christmas, while Rick quietly fantasizes about a family Mele Kalikimaka on the beach at Maui.

For the parent or parents who opt to stay in place, fears can eventually become reality. The house empties of people while stuff accumulates. Dust gathers. The dining room becomes a year-round tax-prep headquarters. The basketball hoop over the garage door rusts and droops. The back stairs sag. The paint yellows. Nobody sets foot in the yard except to sneak a cigarette or let the dog out.

20 years pass in a flash. And suddenly it’s too late to buy that financial district condo, or NYC pied-a-terre, or Sonoma bungalow. There’s no time for a transitional scenario. It’s straight to…Okay, so maybe that’s me being overly dramatic.

My point is this: Take time to visualize and consider “life after kids.” Be honest about the qualities you want in your life as you age. Don’t give in to sentiment about the loss of the family home.

Your children will soon understand that YOUR HEART is where HOME is. But first – like Dorothy at the end of The Wizard of Oz – you’re going to have to learn it for yourself.***

***I can help. I’ve gone through it myself and I’ve counseled dozens of clients through these transitions. Email me or call.

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’s blog.

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.

Realtor Haikus: Taking The Form To A New Level

Should I stage or not?
Is this even a question?
Look at sold photos.

~

Title insurance,
is it something I MUST buy?
Everyone says so.

~

Market is shifting.
Seller says, “offers as they come.”
At showings, shoes on!

~

Signing loan papers
as her attorney in fact,
his wrist is worn out.

~

How many square feet?
It’s quite unclear! Play it safe.
Underestimate.

~

Help out your painter.
Don’t make him guess the color.
Label your paint cans.

~

It only leaked once
in a heavy sideways rain.
Still, you must disclose!

~

Don’t get me started:
Way too many acronyms!
Please sign this AVID?

~

Tax year calendar:
July first to June thirty
first. Let me explain.

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