Category Archives: Heart and Home

This Must Be The Place

As a young adult – just out of college – I moved to Sun Valley, Idaho to be a ski bum. The idea was to wait tables for a living big enough to pay rent, feed myself, party with new friends and slide downhill on my secondhand Rossignols every once in a while.

Turns out my tip jar didn’t exactly runneth over, so for the first year I lived with roommates. But soon I got a job as the junior reporter at the Idaho Mountain Express newspaper and a salary of $14,500 a year. I decided it was time to get a place of my own.

My housing budget of $400 a month didn’t go very far.

After an extensive search, I rented a ground level apartment near the Warm Springs chairlift. It was a one-bedroom in-law unit beneath a two-story “Swiss chalet” that housed a family of five. At the front of my apartment was a picture window, but the bedroom and bathroom were subterranean.

Deprived of natural light, it wasn’t long before I started feeling anxious and depressed. Getting out of bed in the morning became increasingly difficult. My appetite waned.

As the winter progressed and the snow piled up in front of my single window, my mood worsened. My alcohol intake increased. The glare of the white landscape gave me headaches, and sunset made me homesick for Virginia. I cried daily, and began to feel jealous of the good fortune of those around me.

It never occurred to me that my rabbit hole of an apartment might be partly to blame. But when I moved from that dark cave, everything instantly brightened up.

Which is to say: Home can make us happy or it can make us unhappy. So when you’re contemplating signing a lease or a contract for a purchase, take these five steps:

  1. Make a point of observing your sensations when you enter the space. Then notice if there’s any sort of lift or excitement in your body.
  2. Follow your nose when you first walk inside. In most people, smell is the most direct, intense and tricky of the senses. If you’re twitching, you’d better figure out why.
  3. Be sure you take a seat in every room, because most people don’t stand the whole time they’re home. (Good news: It’s likely this test will make you feel better about the house.)
  4. Ask yourself if there’s anything about the home that feels like a sacrifice or compromise, apart from the financial outlay and the limits within a limitless universe.
  5. Pay attention if anything inside – or outside – the house irritates you. If there is irritation, will you be able to learn to accept it? Or can you change it? Be honest.

In other words, don’t ignore your intuition. If you’re not getting at least a tiny feeling of “This Must Be The Place,” then best to keep looking.

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.

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.

Feels Like the First Time (30 Years Later)

Real estate and me go way back. 35 years in fact, to a time when I was a reporter for the Idaho Mountain Express and one of my beats was real estate in Sun Valley.

Funny thing is I didn’t know one thing about real estate back then. Points? What are points? And why do we need them?

But then I moved to San Francisco and – after a couple of years freelancing and working in PR – I got my real estate license. That was 30 years ago this month.

I’d tell you that I’ve “seen it all” over three decades, but there’s something new every day.

For example, just last week, I visited the soon-to-be home of my client “A.” A’s middle-school kids came along, and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen children get so excited about a house. They even asked to sample the Hetch Hetchy tapwater from the kitchen faucet and declared its temperature and taste “perfect.”

To see people so happy – or frustrated, angry, sad, pensive, anticipatory, surprised – is a job perk that cannot be overvalued. Mine is a very human business, and I love the intimacy of it.

So, as a way of celebrating my 30th anniversary as a Realtor, here are snapshots of five memorable moments from my career:

Standing on the large deck of my listing with a buyer’s agent and her newly-married clients, the wife asked if she could please turn a cartwheel. She turned three and about three weeks later that property became her home.

Out on brokers’ tour and in the middle of walking through a tenant-occupied property, my buyer became ill and had to run for the bathroom. Let’s just say the mark was missed and I’ll never forget how cheerful and reassuring the listing agent was while helping me clean up the mess. (That agent, whom I now consider a friend, won’t soon forget either.)

Back in the days when multiple and over-asking offers were a new thing, I sat down with my sellers at the kitchen table where they’d eaten meals for 20 years. It had been hard to let go and even harder to get the house ready to sell. (Plus the husband had been skeptical about my price-low-sell-high strategy.) When I read the price of the winning offer, the husband grimaced. His wife looked at him and then me, her face drained of color. We all were silent. I wondered how he could be unhappy with the 25%-over-asking offer. Then he put his hands over his face and wept with relief.

While reviewing company listings on a Wednesday, a colleague and I walked through an entire Pac Heights mansion, from garage to the attic. As we left – scratching our heads about how poorly the house “showed” – a maid, dressed in a starched uniform, approached us and asked if she could help us. Turns out we were in the wrong house!

As a new agent, I went door knocking. This was a suggested way to generate business. Since I was new to the city, new to real estate, totally without connections and someone who followed directions, I did what my manager recommended. On my second afternoon of canvassing, a man answered the door and – I kid you not – said, “Oh! You must have been sent from heaven. I just arrived here from New York City last night. I’m staying here with my friend and I have a week to find a place to live.” I got so excited that I failed to give him my card or obtain his name and phone number, and instead ran home to tell my boyfriend about my luck. Later that evening I returned to the house and left a note under the door. We closed on his condo – my first sale – about a month later.

That was in 1987. Still today, whenever someone chooses me as their representative or whenever a client reaches their end goal, the thrill is there. It always feels like the first time. 

I am grateful.

A portrait of the Realtor as a young woman.

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.

Every Time We Yearn

Armchair real-estate-shopping can be immensely pleasurable. Like traveling to Paris via the pages of Travel + Leisure, it’s fun to tour a la internet through a $15 million Pacific Heights mansion.

When fantasy moves closer to reality things get trickier.

As a friend and client lamented about her partner who spends several hours each week trolling Trulia: “She’s always looking at places just a little more expensive than the house we bought. Like she’s just wishing we could have spent a tiny bit more. And meanwhile, I’m like, ‘Hey, honey, we still have boxes to unpack! Help me!’ ”

In Status Anxiety, Alain de Botton writes, “Wealth is not an absolute. It is relative to desire. Every time we yearn for something we cannot afford, we grow poorer, whatever our resources. And every time we feel satisfied with what we have, we can be counted as rich, however little we may actually possess.”

This is one reason my kitchen is extremely non-updated and likely to remain so. I’d rather focus on being content with its “as-is” funkiness than on planning, executing and paying for a remodel I hope will make me happier. (Besides, my depression-era Blue Ridge Pottery dishes match the vintage chartreuse cabinets and I adore the 1940s O’Keeffe and Merritt range.)

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for renovation and decorating. I believe the aesthetics of our environment have a profound impact on our health and well being. We just need to be mindful of why we’re visiting and revisiting the photo of that $5,000 Art Deco sofa on Houzz.com.

Desire – for more, for different, for better – is essential to all human commerce. If we didn’t buy and sell real estate, the world would keep on spinning. But it’s unlikely I’ll be out of work anytime soon. Buyers will be buying and sellers will be selling and brokers will be brokering so long as people keep on switching jobs, getting married, having children, divorcing, dying, remarrying, downsizing, retiring or moving.

What matters – before, during and after these transitions – is the presence and acceptance we bring to every moment of our lives, regardless of where we sleep, where we hang our flat-screen TV, and whether or not we have parking or low HOA dues or directly-accessible outdoor space.

To quote Alain de Botton again, this time in The Art of Travel, “The sole cause of a man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room.”

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. Originally posted in May 2014 under a different title.

Striking out in San Francisco? Here’s a Giant heaping of help.

The game of baseball serves as a metaphor for just about every aspect of living. Buying real estate is no exception.

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.

Will This Floor Plan Work For An Orgy?

Years ago I represented a single female buyer (let’s call her “Eve”) who belonged to an exclusive community of sexually adventurous yet socially conscious people. Their organization’s primary raison d’etre was the staging and attendance of private “play” parties.

As a member of the board of directors of the association (let’s call it “Honeycomb”), Eve wanted to be able to host events at her home.

And because she had practiced being respectful of others’ needs and explicit about stating her own needs – at sex parties, for example – she was exceptionally unequivocal about the features her home should have.

Eve knew how to ask a new Honeycomb member if he or she had been recently tested for STDs and could she see a copy of the results. She wasn’t shy about requesting more lubrication, or less pressure, or no talking. So, it was easy for her to tell me that her house had to have either 3 bathrooms or the capacity to create 3 bathrooms.

Her list also included:

• A neighborhood where street parking or paid parking was relatively abundant. (This was before Uber and Lyft.)
• A single family home, preferably detached, where a dusk-to-dawn gathering wouldn’t upset neighbors.
• A good heating system so scantily-clad Honeycombers could stay warm.
• Windows that could be fitted with effective privacy coverings.
• A preference for more rooms vs. large rooms, to accommodate a variety of small group encounters.

Eve’s shopping list provides a more-eccentric-than-average example of how vital it is for a buyer’s agent to observe and evaluate properties as if looking through his/her client’s lens.

I can instantly check all the boxes on someone’s list – bedrooms, bathrooms, outdoor space, kitchen/dining configuration, tech-shuttle proximity, etc. But there’s almost always an unstated or indefinable list of needs that require some divination on my part. I can’t count how many times I’ve seen a property that lacks a critical feature on a buyer’s list, yet has something that makes me think, “This must be the place.”

So, somebody buys a house with no parking – even though that somebody told me, “No way. Do not even tell me about it if it doesn’t have parking!” All because somebody fell in love with the lemon and avocado trees off the back deck.

I’ve represented buyers with very particular needs: A single family home with no steps to the front door. A Noe Valley property with western views that didn’t include Sutro Tower. A home with a garage big enough for six dragon boats and a car. A house with a yard suitable for a pizza oven.

In every case:
1. We found the “right” place.
2. The end result didn’t precisely match our starting vision.
3. The homeowner’s exact needs changed over time.
4. The way they inhabited the property changed, too.

As for Eve, she got her “right” house, and she’s lived there happily for 15 years. She let her Honeycomb membership lapse and got married. And the property near Golden Gate Park – with radiant heat and 3 bathrooms – is now home to an active family of five.

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

What Argentina Taught Me About Home

“Argentines are Italians who speak Spanish who think they are British.” ~ unknown

There’s nothing like traveling abroad to refresh one’s perspective on life back home. It’s been more than a month since I returned from a wonderful vacation and – before I forget – here are the lessons learned about HOME from my sojourn in Argentina.

Wood is good. Old wood is especially good.
Argentines haven’t gotten the memo about painting out or replacing all the wood in their houses, hotels and restaurants. It’s everywhere and in every condition from rotting away to brand new, and there’s something very comforting about it.

In the kitchen, simplicity is a gift.
Having the latest appliance or gadget doesn’t count for a fig when it comes to making scrumptious food. In the Airbnbs where we stayed, we’d find a hot plate, running water, an electric kettle, a refrigerator, at least one decent knife and a good bottle of olive oil. Never a dishwasher, seldom a microwave, sometimes an oven. We nonetheless ate well when we cooked at home, and enjoyed the simplicity and lack of fuss prompted by the pared-down equipment.

Bidets rock.
I was sad to come home and see the toilet sitting there all by itself. How lovely to have the companionship and convenience of a bidet. So civilized. So European. (Americans don’t get it.)

San Francisco groundwork such as sidewalks and streets are (relatively) fantastic.
One of our guides mentioned that jay-walking is a sport in Argentina. Well, plain-ol-walking in Argentine towns and cities challenges one’s physical fortitude. If you aren’t vigilant and wearing sensible shoes, you’ll end up in a hole or a ditch or the hospital.

Same goes for roads and highway infrastructure.
In Argentina, they don’t “need no stinking” road signs. On the day we were flying back home, it’s good we had a six-hour window to make the one-hour trip to the Buenos Aires International Airport in our rental car (admittedly, sans GPS). I won’t go into detail; let’s just say it was an adventure.

Americans aren’t friendly.
We’d heard about the Argentine reputation for arrogance, but didn’t experience that firsthand. Instead we were struck by how very friendly everyone was. Cheerful, helpful, kind, generous and possessed of a playful sense of humor.

It takes a lot of Argentine pesos to get around.
I felt rich carrying two-inch wad of bills – 5s, 10s, 20s, 100s and 500s. When you consider that the exchange rate was then roughly 15.6 pesos to 1 USD, you’ll understand why.

The wine is fine.
And relatively inexpensive, and offered throughout the day. Going for a swim? How would you like a glass of champagne poolside? Going for a horseback ride? May we bring you a nice Sauvignon Blanc as you dismount? Checking in to your hotel? How about a pour of Malbec while you sign this form? And if you don’t care for wine, may we bring you a beer?

Argentine dogs are something else altogether.
We encountered plenty of dogs that were leashed and pampered and treated as beloved pets. But there are semi-feral dogs roaming free everywhere, and my partner learned – the hard way – the meaning of the expression “Let sleeping dogs lie.” Don’t interrupt a wild dog’s nap to snap a silly photo of him on your cell phone. He’ll tear your leg off.

I want a Parilla.
Everybody in Argentina seems to have a built-in, brick-walled, wood-fired BBQ in their yard. And they really know how to cook chicken and meat. If I had a parilla here in San Francisco, I’d roast some vegetables too.

And a six-pack of Quilmes
Quilmes Cristal quickly became our local beer of choice. (It’s also the choice of 75% of Argentine beer drinkers.) Founded in 1888 by a German immigrant, the name comes from an indigenous tribe of people who fought off the Incas for 100+ years and then resisted the Spaniards for 100+ years, only to be systematically eradicated. Only a few Quilmes people remain today, while their name is displayed prominently in every grocery store, bar and restaurant in the country. Sound familiar?

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.

Realtor Candy Hearts

You know what I’m talking about. Those pastel-colored heart-shaped sugar lumps stamped with blurry all-caps hashtag-able messages:

BEAR HUG
CLOUD NINE
BE MINE
MY STAR
BEES KNEES

I want the real estate advertisement set.

NEW ON MKT
PANO VU
REDUCED
JUST SOLD
EXCLUSIVE

Or the escrow and lending set.

EARNEST $
COE
WIRE FRAUD
SIGN MY DOC
NO POINTS

Or the real estate/Valentines hybrid with sentiments appropriate for both property-marketing or online-dating purposes.

BE MINE
FALL IN LOVE
PRICELESS
I’M YOURS
JUST LISTED

Or the slightly risqué real estate/Valentine hybrid

MOVE IN
INITIAL DEPOSIT
WET SIGNATURE
ONE OWNER
BIG DECK

Please be my Valentine and send me your favorite candy-heart inscriptions! I’d love to do a follow-up to this post and list them there.

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.

Be It Ever So Humble (or Not)

Last year I was privileged to sell a significant and extraordinary home – the grandest of my career.

During the escrow I carefully avoided calculating my commission. Instead I faithfully cleaved to my 29-year practice of bringing the highest level of care to every transaction, regardless of price tag. I rooted myself in my fiduciary role, and I wouldn’t let myself or anyone else count proverbial chickens.

The house was newly constructed on spec, but as soon as I entered I sensed its character. It was grand but homey, impressive but understated. No spurious details or garish flash. (Except perhaps an overabundance of laundry rooms and too many video screens over the family room bar.)

This house felt right. Big, but right.

It was designed and built by people who brought artistry and integrity to their work. People who dreamed into its manifestation and who offered it up for the lucky stewards – my clients – who would make those dreams a reality.

I found myself daydreaming into the house on every visit. There was the window seat where the couple could read side by side on a rainy afternoon. There was the pool where the future kids could swim on a hot, sunny day. There was the outdoor hearth where friends could gather on a crisp Sunday afternoon in October.

The dream was alight in the eyes of the affable listing agent and in the smile of his capable assistant. I watched them watching my clients as they, too, caught the dream. The builder and developer gave us all a grand tour, beaming with pride in their labor. The foyer lit up with our shared excitement.

Of course, even a dream house isn’t perfect. The escrow for its purchase included a few prickly patches. The months ahead would bring punch-list and maintenance issues. And life after closing won’t be “happily ever after” because that only happens in fairytales.

In the aftermath and middle of a real estate transaction, it’s easy to get mired in details of the deal. As an agent, I must focus on the nitty-gritty elements while simultaneously holding to a bigger vision of “home” and what it means for my clients.

In 1987, I sold my very first buyer a home. I remember being deeply worried about my ability to be a “salesperson.” The first surprise of my new career was the discovery that I wasn’t really selling anything. The property sold itself to my client, and I facilitated the purchase.

The second, more profound surprise was that I deeply, earnestly wished for my client to have his dream come true. I wanted him to obtain his personal version of – say – Hearst Castle.

His castle turned out to be a $250,000 condo that needed some cosmetic refreshment. Yet it was located in a pleasant “quintessential-San Francisco” neighborhood and the wee patio outside the living room was sheltered and inviting.

Even as a rookie, I observed how the space spoke to him. I understood how his desire for sanctuary swept him toward making an offer. My job was to help him obtain his ideal SF nest while watching out for his safety and bottom line.

This is something some buyers and sellers (and, regrettably, many agents) don’t grok: The model Realtor makes the sale, but also shares and preserves the client’s vision of home, even when the client loses sight of it.

Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam
Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home
–from the song Home! Sweet Home! by Bishop and Payne

Whether it’s a downtown studio condo or a wine-country estate, there truly is no place like home. Holding that dream is my calling.

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.