Category Archives: For Sale in San Francisco

Best Time to Buy? Right Now.

The first home I owned — in San Francisco — was a 2-unit building purchased with my ex-husband (call him Bob) and my clients (call them Greg and Ann).

Loma Prieta had shaken us silly that October of 1989, but it didn’t slow our real estate search. It was two weeks after the earthquake when Curt, Sally, Pablo and I first viewed our future home – a spacious hunk of Victorian history in the neighborhood now known as NOPA. By the time we closed in December the market was trending downward. Seems we’d bought at the peak.

But we enjoyed living there for the next five years, even as the market continued falling. We remodeled, added parking, started families, celebrated holidays together and hoped the market would change. We converted our flats to condominiums, sold them, and purchased neighboring single family homes in the Richmond district.

In retrospect, we were smart to get in (and out) when we did. We sold the condos at the bottom of the curve. But — hey! — we bought our houses at the bottom, too. $250,000 condos turned into $350,000 houses turned into $650,000 houses turned into $1,300,000 houses just before the 2009 adjustment. Those same houses are worth $2,000,000 or more today (though we’ve all moved on).

Ask any agent – on any day during any month during almost any year – if it’s a good time to buy and they’ll say one of three things:

  1. Now is a perfect time to buy.
  2. Five years ago was a better time to buy.
  3. Tomorrow will also prove to be a great time to buy.

The San Francisco real estate market is daunting and rewarding. The main thing is to get your foot in the proverbial (or literal) door. But you’ll need an agent’s help:

  1. Ready? Interview a couple of agents (or just call me) and choose your ally.
  2. Set? Follow her/his (my) advice on preparing for the journey.
  3. 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.

Great San Francisco views. How can I get one?

If a breathtaking view is at the top of your wish list, you’ll need a breathtaking budget to afford it.

San Francisco is home to some of the best views anywhere on the planet. And, happily, hundreds of them are available for free. To everyone.

To watch the full video click on the photo.

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 Rancher Reverie

I daydream about living in a one-level house built in the 1950s or 1960s. Why is this?

Could be I’m starved for mid-century ranchers because I sell residential real estate in a city dominated by homes from earlier or later eras. Ranchers tend to be mutually exclusive with 25’ x 100’ lots (standard in San Francisco).

A better theory is it’s because I spent a lot of my childhood in one-story houses. In the 60s and 70s that style was in style, and as I’ve gotten older I’ve noticed a strange correlation between certain architectural characteristics and feelings of comfort and sanctuary.

As a teenager, I yearned for vaulty Victorian ceilings, turret-windowed rooms and expansive porches. That’s because we lived in a new 1970s subdivision and I envied the storybook turn-of-the-century houses where many of my friends lived. That hankering stuck with me and I eschewed anything built after World War II for a long time.

But now I’ve gone retro. I’ve gone back to…

  • Clerestory windows like the ones in the bedroom of my grade-school friend Jennifer. During sleepovers, I’d lie awake – slightly nervous – watching car headlights flashing off the ceiling.
  • Flagstone on facades, like the ones adorning our first rented house in Grundy, Virginia.
  • Wide-plank hardwood floors, perfect for scooting around on a blanket pretending to steer a boat.
  • Harvest gold and decorative brick in the kitchen, a palette that perfectly matched autumn.
  • Oversized picture windows with rain slapping down them, like the one in the piano niche of my piano teacher’s living room, where I’d struggle through Mozart, Czerny and Debussy after having not practiced all week.
  • Widely detached houses, which could be circled for hours in order to evade capture by your little brother during a prolonged game of Hide n Seek or Let’s Pretend We’re the Men from Uncle.
  • Split level floor plans that made spying on the grownups easier than with a traditional staircase.

But, alas, such homes are scarce in San Francisco and so I live in a quaint and distinctive Victorian on a block well-traveled by tourists and locals on their way to Dolores Park. At least once a week as I exit or enter my front door, somebody hails me and asks if I actually live there.

“Yes,” I reply, with a barely perceptible sigh, “I do.”

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.

Is Buyer’s Remorse Inevitable?

“Remorse, the fatal egg by pleasure laid.”William Cowper, 18th century poet and hymnodist

Image

What pleasure to instantly find a suitable quote about “remorse” as soon as I Googled it!

Yet imagine my remorse at having taken so much time reading online about William Cowper (whose life was apparently filled to the brim with pleasure and remorse, joy and sadness, soundness and insanity) that I had to work an extra hour to make up for my diversion.

Where there’s pleasure, there’s remorse.

I’ve been blind-sided by remorse on many auspicious occasions: Right before walking down the aisle to get married. Just after bringing my first child home from the hospital. Midway through a trans-Pacific flight to a dream vacation in Tahiti.

It’s a regular occurrence with real estate purchases. Especially in San Francisco where buyers are required to strip naked, place large baskets of money on their heads and dance like their lives depended on it. All for the chance to be the lucky owners of a one-plus-million-dollar, two-bedroom condo without parking but in a fairly nice area.

It goes something like this:

Buyer’s agent: Guess what? You won!

Buyer: (Holding cell phone at arm’s length and screaming) Oh! My! God! How many offers were there?

Buyer’s agent: Fourteen. Twelve were for waaaaaaay more than the asking price. Only two had loan contingencies. But apparently your willingness to close in just four days and let the sellers stay for three months for free really made the difference.

Buyer: That and offering 60% more than the asking price.

Buyer’s agent: Well, yes. Plus they really liked the sculpture you submitted with your offer.

Even if you don’t create original artwork or donate to seller’s favorite charity or provide two roundtrip tickets to anywhere in the continental U.S. with your offer, there will be a twinge of buyer’s remorse when you visit your new home for the first time after closing.

You fiddle with the keys. You shove open the door. It’s dark. It’s vacant. It’s cold. And it smells funny because the stagers removed the potpourri along with the staging.

Yet it doesn’t have to be “fatal,” as in Cowper’s quote. Instead, now is when it gets interesting: After the closing. Before the destination. Following the honeymoon. During the journey. That’s when life is richest.

Cynthia Cummins is a Top Producer and Partner at McGuire. For info on SF real estate visit http://CynthiaCummins.com. This throwback post originally appeared in April 2014.

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.

Dulce Domum

Think “luxury” and the adjectives that arise are ones like “prestigious,” “opulent,” “expensive,” or “unique.”

But how about the deliciously plain and oft-neglected word “understated?”

It’s delightful to step into a grand, architecturally significant loft from a funky freight elevator. Or to drive up to a lavish estate via a gravel drive secured by a humble wooden gate. The surprise only heightens one’s sense of prosperity and good fortune.

A prime example of such restrained sensibility is 1050 Filbert Street, currently for sale in San Francisco. Located on the east slope of Russian Hill, it consists of a main house and separate guest quarters. All that’s evident from the street is a boxy two-car garage. The casual observer might say, “Meh.”

But behind its ordinary entry door and down a flight of simple stairs is an elegant oasis – one that’s been thoughtfully remodeled and reimagined for a luxurious yet understated lifestyle. Its muted design is key to its charm and value.

It reminds me of an episode from the book The Wind in the Willows (a children’s classic focused on a group of woodland critters whose genteel lifestyles feature some fabulous real estate): Mole and Rat are lost in The Wild Wood and stumble upon “a solid-looking little door” belonging to Mr. Badger’s house “in the side of what had seemed to be a snow-bank.”

Badger invites his unexpected visitors in for supper and ushers them “down a long, gloomy, and, to tell the truth, decidedly shabby passage, into a sort of a central hall” which leads to “a large firelit kitchen,” which author Kenneth Grahame describes in such delightful detail that it makes me wish I knew Badger myself:

The floor was well-worn red brick, and on the wide hearth burned a fire of logs, between two attractive chimney corners tucked away…Rows of spotless plates winked from the shelves of the dresser at the far end of the room, and from the rafters overhead hung hams, bundles of dried herbs, nets of onions, and baskets of eggs. It seemed a place where heroes could fitly feast after victory, where weary harvesters could line up in scores along the table and keep their Harvest Home with mirth and song, or where two or three friends of simple tastes could sit about as they pleased…in comfort and contentment. The ruddy brick floor smiled up at the smoky ceiling; the oaken settles, shiny with long wear, exchanged cheerful glances with each other; plates on the dresser grinned at pots on the shelf, and the merry firelight flickered and played over everything without distinction.

It’s the sort of kitchen you’d see in an Architectural Digest spread about an English country house. The restored cabinets date back to the 18th Century. A dishwasher has only recently been installed. Baskets hang by the door so the cook can gather vegetables from the kitchen garden. A well-worn table serves as additional counter space and for casual dining.

There’s nothing new or bespoke. The architect’s name is lost. But the understated estate is the very essence of luxury. It offers comfort and solace. It pleases the senses. It welcomes and delights friends. And it frames and supports a meaningful life.

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.