Category Archives: For Sale in San Francisco

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.

The Life Changing Magic of Clobbering Your Crap

HeatherZabriskie

The word “clobber” is on my mind. I was thinking about the word “cobbler” and a slip of my mind’s tongue shifted the “L” so it became “clobber.”

The words mean totally different things. Yet they have a symmetry that has not to do with their sounds.

Cobbler is sweet, satisfying, earthy, down home and righteous. Clobber is sassy, satisfying, earthy, down home and righteous.

Ever want to clobber someone? I know I do. About 15 times a day.

Usually my clobbering impulses run toward a relatively innocent person who doesn’t deserve to be clobbered.

Like the lady at Garnet Hill customer service who can’t find my percale-sheet-set order.

Or the drunken guy in front of me at Bi-Rite deli deliberating over which sandwich will soak up the 6-pack he just consumed at Dolores Park.

Or the man at my recent garage sale who wanted to buy a $10 table for $10, but tells me his wife insists on paying only $5. (Note: it’s a $200 table.) I’m not amused when he asks, “Can you please just talk to her? Talk her into paying more?”

This makes me want to clobber him. After I clobber his wife. I negotiate multi-million-dollar transactions for a living, and I don’t want to waste my precious time haggling over five bucks at a garage sale.

“Just take it,” I say, “My son will help you get it into your truck.”

The whole purpose of the garage sale – and the reason I gave them the table for free – was to clobber the crap that had accumulated in my ex-husband house. I’d contributed heavily to that heavy load, as had our children. We’d moved 15+ years’ worth of clutter into it from our last house and then added 7 more years’ of stuff to the pile. The house had practically begged us to take up hoarding, with a storage room larger than most studio apartments. As a result, my “wasbund” and I easily punted the pain of decluttering down the field again and again.

Now, with him moving to a new, drastically smaller space, the reckoning time had come. 30 years of photographs in albums crammed into file boxes. 20 years of children’s art, trophies, award certificates, recital DVDs, sports equipment and birthday-party favors. Boxes of tax receipts. Cabinets full of Tupperware and water bottles.

And crawling out of every drawer like swarming roaches in a horror movie came paper, binders, Allen wrenches, screws, push-pins, paper clips, pens, reading glasses, puffy ski jackets, snow boots, ratty beach towels, dirty bathmats, lumpy pillows, grocery totes, paint, cleaning supplies, pit-stained t-shirts, misshapen coat hangers, dead flashlights, dried-up tubes of sunscreen, random batteries, earbuds, estranged socks, faded business cards and lonely half-wrapped-fuzz-encrusted Ricola cough drops.

There was a huge bag of rocks collected on hikes and beach walks. A collection of San Francisco-themed highball glasses my grandmother purchased in the 1950s. A jumbo Rubbermaid box filled with more boxes. And I’m not even talking about all the furniture!

The criteria for deciding on an object’s dispensation became: If this were to spontaneously combust right now, how would I feel?

 The answer – almost always – was: Where’s a match when you need it?

The mantra became: If in doubt, throw it out.

Even while being ruthless to the point of cold-bloodedness, the stuff just kept coming and coming and coming. Like zombies. We’d clobber one closet and then scream in terror when confronted by another we’d overlooked.

Just when one room seemed safe AKA vacant, we’d reenter to find more stuff crawling out of the walls and spreading across the floor into heaps of menacing detritus.

Which is all a long way of saying: One thing I’ve learned as a Realtor is that the Number One Impediment to Making Beneficial Changes In Our Living Situations is OUR STUFF.

Want to live a happy life? Want to remain flexible and open and ready to meet every daunting challenge or delightful change? GET RID OF YOUR CRAP. The sooner the better. Wait until you’re 78 and selling your house of 40 years and the mountain of stuff will literally crush you.

Do it. Now. Any way you can. Gift, sell, donate, recycle, toss or SET IT ON FIRE. Just clobber your crap now before it’s too late.

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

The Exclamation Index

Oh, exclamation point! Oh, Realtor’s friend! Your slender line and dot speak volumes!

Who needs statistics!? When it comes to assessing the state of the San Francisco real estate market, one has only to review a copy of last week’s brokers tour.

Its bounty of exclamation points tells the tale of our surprise at a newly observable shift. After months of tracking the tide in anticipation of its turn, we find ourselves stranded on a proverbial spit of sand, looking at the high water mark on shore.

Surprise! The market is changing.

Brokers tour, in its printed form, allows two lines of type for each property. The first line lists basics like address and price. The second line – consisting of a maximum 60 characters (including spaces and punctuation) – lets the agent say something extra about the property’s attributes.

Given the scant space allotted for elaboration, the exclamation point becomes a shortcut. It is a one-character plea for attention. A skinny line conveying delight, excitement, urgency or panic.

This week, after reviewing the first of 23 pages of brokers tour, I abandoned counting exclamation points and looked instead at the words preceding them. I saw multiple variations on “Price Reduction!” and “Don’t Miss This!” and “Must See!

Other exclamation-point and word pairings included:

Come for pastries!
Parking!
Great flow!
View rooftop with BBQ!
Stunning!
Amazing!
Time to make the offer!
Best in show!
Offers encouraged!
Decks!
Location!
Views!
VIEWS, VIEWS & more VIEWS!
Light!
Charm!
Seller says SELL!
Cookies!

When inventory was too scarce to meet demand, the exclamation point took a sabbatical from brokers tour. No need to shriek about rooftop BBQs. No need to shout about cookies, or a $5,000 selling bonus, or two years of paid leased parking.

But that was 2015 and this is now. Next thing you know, nobody will be asking open-house visitors to remove their shoes. There will be a corresponding decrease in use of the adjective “exclusive.” Agents will cease to post offer dates. And we’ll all be saying, “Welcome home, exclamation point! We need you!”

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

Outdoors San Francisco for the Non-Outdoorsy

I can relate: Your friends are all like “Hey, let’s hike up Mt. Tam and then run over to Sol Food for Cubanos and Ponches.”

And you’re all like you don’t want to drive across the bridge and crawl through west Marin and get all hot and sweaty and wait in line for food  and then fight traffic INTO the city on a Saturday night when you could just stay home on the sofa.

You don’t particularly like the great outdoors. I confess that I didn’t either, until I was in my late 30s. So here are a few tips for face-saving things to do IN THE CITY with your outdoorsy friends.

Bearish (as in Polar) in the Bay

You: Walk to the end of the pier at Aquatic Park. Look for seals, sea lions, other wildlife.

They: Drop in as guests at the Dolphin Club or the South End Rowing Club (depending on which club is open to public that day). Swim in the (most recently) 58-degree water. Meet you at Buena Vista Café for Irish Coffees.

Continue reading Outdoors San Francisco for the Non-Outdoorsy

7 Hills and 7 (or 8) Views

Dream of San Francisco and you’re likely to conjure a picture of the Golden Gate Bridge: Hands down, the most iconic image associated with our city.

Yet with 7 hills in a 7-by-7-mile square space, San Francisco can’t help but offer hundreds of stunning views. Just hike up any ol’ slope and have a look around.

My new listing at 1201 California, situated at the apex of Nob Hill, has knockout panoramic views. We’re talking southern sky and cityscape, from the water of the southeast Bay to Twin Peaks. It’s not instantly recognizable as San Francisco. But if you’ve lived here for at least two weeks you’ll know what you’re looking at because you can’t miss Sutro Tower framing the sunset.

Number 802 at Cathedral Apartments is one of those rare spaces where you really can “live in the view.” You can watch the pink of sunrise over coffee, note the creep of fog bumping against distant hills, toast the sunset with a glass of wine at dusk, wonder at the sea of twinkling city lights during a wee-hours bathroom break. Lucky you!

Yet if you’re not fortunate enough to “own” a view, there are plenty to be had in San Francisco for free. Here’s a list of my favorite seven unexpected (and slightly “secret”) public vistas:

1. Strawberry Hill. In Golden Gate Park, cross one of the two pedestrian bridges that lead to the island in Stow Lake. Head uphill. Enjoy a tree-filtered 360-degree view of the St. Ignatius spires, the surprisingly hilly Sunset, Ocean Beach, the Pacific Ocean, the Richmond, Golden Gate Bridge, the Marin headlands and more.

2. Twin Peaks. Approach by car (and preferably at night) from Portola near Laguna Honda or from Clarendon. Drive to where the Martians will land when they invade San Francisco. Imagine you are a Martian surveying the splendid city you’re about to conquer. Take note of how Market Street makes a glowing runway of light from your feet to the Bay Bridge.

3. Grandview Park. Get it? Grand? View? The park is roughly bordered by 14th and 15th avenues and Noriega in Golden Gate Heights, although I highly recommend walking up the magical Moraga Street steps for access (at 16th and Moraga). From the top you can see downtown, Golden Gate Park, Pt. Reyes and Lake Merced.

4. Lake Merced. A trail encircles the entire lake, though there’s a lot of traffic whizzing by. Instead, park in the lot at Harding Park off Skyline. Walk past the boathouse, cut across the golf course and take the trail that goes along the northernmost part of the lake. Lots of green. Lots of green water. Birds. Cattails.

5. Sutro Park. We’re talking higher on the cliff than the Cliff House. Drive out Geary Boulevard (which turns into Point Lobos) to 48th Avenue. Or take the 38 bus to its last stop. Walk into the park. Look south for an amazing perspective on magnificent Ocean Beach. You can look in other directions that are equally nice. But the Ocean Beach vista is surprising.

6. Zellerbach Garden of Perennials. Once upon a time, admission to the Strybing Botanical Garden in Golden Gate Park was free to all. Now you must pay if you aren’t a resident of San Francisco. (But it’s worth it.) There are actually many beautiful views here, but one of my favorites is looking slightly south and mostly east from the Zellerbach Garden of Perrennials. A long lane of lush green lawn framed by trees. Bring a picnic while you’re at it.

7. The “notch” at Sanchez and Liberty. Skip the frat party/parade at Dolores Park. Walk west up 20th Street and south up Sanchez (there are stairs available for this last part). At the top of the hill are some very fine views to the south, east and west. Breathtaking any time of day.

Cynthia Cummins is a Top Producer and Partner at McGuire. For more details about 1201 California #802, visit NobHillViews.com. For info on SF real estate visit http://CynthiaCummins.com. This post also appeared at McGuire.com.

Happy 2021!!!

Where do you want to be in 2021?

“Wait,” you may say, “We just got to 2016, Cynthia!”

Yet when you’re looking back to today from 2021, you’ll be glad you made a five-year plan.

“Ugh,” you think, “that’ll take a lot of effort and I have plenty of stuff to do already.”

How about if it’s easy? What if you could pinpoint the highlights of a five-year plan in only five minutes? Want to try?

 You’ll need a clock or timer and a way to record a few things in writing.

First, sit down and take one minute to tune into your breathing. Scan your body from head to toe, feel your weight in your chair and notice the sense of calm that arises.

Spend the next minute imagining how you want to feel in 2021. Scan your body again. Notice your jaw, your chest, your hands, your abdomen. What is the predominant feeling?

Then, answer these three prompts, taking one minute to write your reply to each. Write down the first things that pop into your mind, whether they make sense or not.

  1. It’s 2021 and every time I enter the front door, my home feels like _______________________________.
  2. It’s 2021 and when I wake each morning (or go to sleep each night) I _____________________________.
  3. It’s 2021 and I am so grateful that, five years ago, I chose to _________________________.

Sometimes, we are surprised by the answers this exercise can provoke. Sometimes, it merely confirms what we already know.

Whatever surfaces, I can help you translate it into a tangible plan. In a one-hour consultation, we can tease out your wishes and priorities, then create a detailed map and timeline for how to answer your questions and achieve your goals.

or 415.713.8008. We’ll have tea.

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

How Icebergs Are Like Realtors

So, you’ve been selling San Francisco real estate for almost 29 years. You’ve embraced the changes: Learning to gather signatures electronically rather than in person. Trading the 5-pound Multiple Listing book inked on newsprint for an online search site. Wielding an electronic lockbox key rather than twisting the dial of a combination lock.

You’ve learned how to avoid trouble for your clients. Unlike a lot of newbies, you understand what the Liquidated Damages clause in the SFAR contract means. Just as you know the Real Estate Transfer Disclosure loophole hasn’t been cinched until your Agent’s Visual Inspection Disclosure is signed.

You know to warn all your clients that something surprising almost always goes wrong with an escrow. “It’s not a matter of if,” you say, sagely, “It’s a matter of when and what.”

And then the federal government passes new legislation about lending disclosures. This new law is designed to protect consumers. (As if improved Truth In Lending documentation – rather than sweeping reform of the banking and credit system – will prevent another economic meltdown.)

For months before its October 2015 debut, the San Francisco Association of Realtors warns of the impending arrival of the TILA/RESPA Integrated Disclosure (TRID) Rule. Seminars are held. Bulletins are posted. One title company gives everyone a plastic Frisbee-sized wheel for determining “Consummation Dates.”

TRID wheel

But this is all meaningless until you actually see a transaction through:

You make your closing a week longer than normal, to allow for TRID’s 3-day waiting period and Murphy’s Law. You explain to your Buyer that he will be among the first TRID guinea pigs.

You powwow in advance with Seller’s Agent, just to be sure she will explain to Seller that things could get weird. Seller’s Agent says it’s all cool. She and Seller will hang loose, even though Seller has another closing that hinges on this one. There’s enough spaciousness for a small delay, she says.

The loan is approved.

Title gathers all the info needed to close both sides of the deal. This includes property taxes, homeowners dues, move-in fees, move-out fees, HO-6 insurance, prepaid interest, loan fees, credits, commissions, city fees, transfer taxes, home warranty plans and so forth.

Lender takes all the detail supplied by Title and translates it into a federally-mandated format which Buyer must review and approve before the 3-day waiting period begins. Easy, right?

Wrong.

When doing their transcription, Lender mistakenly gives Buyer an $18,000 credit from Seller. Lender also omits Title Insurance Premium and forgets to fill in Prepaid Property Taxes. Altogether, this creates a $25,000 shortfall on Cash Due at Closing.

Buyer receives the form and calls you. He is delighted that he doesn’t have to come up with as much money as he’d anticipated. The amount is $25,000 less than he’d estimated. He’s going to call Schwab and reduce the amount of his wire. How fantastic is that?!?

Wait a minute, you say. You say this because your spidey sense tells you something ain’t right. Plus you’re keenly aware that, under the new regulations, any material change to the TRID disclosure kicks off another 3-day waiting period. Which delays loan documents. Which delays closing. Which damages Seller. Which costs Buyer. Which is your fiduciary obligation to prevent.

So you start investigating. And – after a day of confusing back and forth with Lender and Title and Seller’s Agent – you find the errors and get them corrected. The transaction closes on time. Everyone is happy.

You add this experience to your Iceberg. As in:

A lot of people think what we Realtors do is easy. They think we drive around in nice cars and look at pretty houses and get our clients to sign some papers and – voila – we’re paid a gazillion dollars.

A real estate agent is like an iceberg (as SF real-estate-guru Ray Brown famously said). Folks can only see a tiny portion of what he or she does and knows. The true mass of the Iceberg is invisible. And GINORMOUS. And it’s made up of tons of ice crystals, each one consisting of a tale akin to the TRID saga (which I’ve boiled down to a succinct outline).

It’s impossible for agents to fully convey to potential clients their value and depth. To do so would be as time-consuming, boring and futile as rowing a dinghy down to Antarctica and saying, “Here. Check out this iceberg. You can only see 5% of it but, trust me, what’s out of sight is quite impressive!”

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.

20090115_0730. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Snowflake_-_Microphotograph_by_artgeek.jpg#/media/File:Snowflake_-_Microphotograph_by_artgeek.jpg

Merry and Bright. And White.

You might think you’re in heaven. OR some Hollywood version of it. Like at any moment Morgan Freeman will invite you to choose your harp, pull up a cloud and start plucking.

Or you might think you’re in an Apple store. Reaching blindly for your sunglasses in order to mitigate the bright, shiny, squeaky clean, sci-fi-spaceship environment.

Naturally, this current San Francisco home décor trend is most clearly displayed in the kitchen. It’s the heart of any home and the room that speaks loudest about its inhabitants’ taste and style.

In the early 80s we got “European” cabinetry. Off-white matte cabinet faces with a plain oak strip like a Scrabble easel at the bottom.

In the late 80s and early 90s everything became pickled, “distressed” and colored in pleasing pastels of baby blue, fresh peach and nursery pink.

In the years astride the Millennium, we saw a resurgence of hominess: Maple or cherry cabinets with Shaker lines, hulking KitchenAid mixers, and Wolf ranges so big you could roast your grandmother.

Over those decades, walls went from off-white to pale lilac to heritage golds and reds. And now? My house-painter partner hasn’t had to do much color matching over the last two years. It’s been a matter of WHICH WHITE –Simply White, Super White, Moonlight White, Linen White, Ultra Pure White, Alpine White or Frostline.

And why white? Some say it reflects the tech buyer’s conscious (or subconscious) preference to eliminate the distinction between life at work and life at home. White walls, white cabinets and white Carrera marble on a 10-foot long island that mimics a jumbo conference table.

Add nano windows and some wide-plank oak floors, and you’ve got a style so popular and au courant it’ll be passé faster than you can say “bubble.”

I can hear it now. My 2020 buyers will sigh and start doing the math. “Oh, well,” they’ll say, “The basic plan is okay. If we can get it at the right price, we can afford to remodel in a couple of years.”

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.

Katie Scarlett, Better Call Off the Stager

You’ve seen that movie: There’s a horrible crisis and a character is obsessing about some silly, irrelevant and possibly symbolic detail?

Scarlett O’Hara’s dad, for example. In Gone With The Wind. Scarlett has just come home to Tara after delivering Melanie’s baby and escaping Atlanta on fire and hiding from marauding Yankees only to learn that her mother has died. The mansion needs some serious cleaning and renovation, but her grief-stricken dad just stares at his deceased wife’s sewing box and mutters to himself.

What I mean to say is it’s normal to pay attention to the “wrong” things in the midst of a real estate transaction. For example, I’ve witnessed:

  • The market debut of a $4 million home delayed for crucial weeks by seller’s wish for Salvation Army to accept an antique sideboard for donation.
  • A closing delayed by a dispute over whether or not a countertop microwave is included in the sale.
  • An offer failing because a buyer wants a one-day inspection clause on a developer-warranted all-new house

Smart sellers and buyers need to ask their agents “Is there anything I’m doing or choosing to focus on that is sabotaging my chances for success?” Clever clients should insist their agents muster the courage to be brutally frank. That’s because, sometimes – in the name of pleasing the client and choosing battles wisely – an agent is reluctant to speak up.

This arises most often in the midst of clearing out a house in preparation for market. Longtime owners get mired in the marsh of socks, scarves, old Christmas cards, tchotchkes and – most insidious of all – books. Meanwhile, the market for a $2 million condo is slipping away as seller deliberates over whether Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance should be given to a grandson, sold at Green Apple Books or donated.

Here’s where the smart and caring agent shows up with resources and tips to liberate the seller from the swamp of stuff – both literal and psychological. In my years as a Realtor, I have collected many proverbial ropes and winches to free clients from the muck. One of these days I’ll share some here.

In the meantime, contact me if you’d like some new purging, cleaning and decluttering tips.

 

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.