Category Archives: Heart and Home

Crows and Cupcakes

So, I’m holding open a house on one of those all-too-rare sunny hot San Francisco Sundays. The house has a gorgeous garden. All the favorite Realtors’ adjectives apply: incredible, amazing, unparalleled, stunning, spectacular, unrivaled, and so on.

There are Meyer lemons and vining roses. There are agapanthus, salvia and lavender. There are tree leaves shimmering in the soft, warm breeze. And in the center is an attractive bird bath where tiny songbirds are splashing joyfully.

Mother Nature herself is helping to stage this beautiful home!

Into this urban idyll flaps a gianormous black crow with — get this — a whole cupcake in its beak, purloined from a kid birthday two fences over. And BAM! He (or she) bombs it right into the birdbath. The cupcake disintegrates upon impact, forming a scummy soup with a ridged pink paper wrapper floating on top.

So much for Staging by Mother Nature. And guess who gets to clean it up?

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

The view from 1201 California #802

Historic Hip on Nob Hill: 9 Ways to See For Yourself

If you’ve never walked around Nob Hill in San Francisco, you’re missing an authentic slice of our cool grey city of love. There are many reasons this delightful neighborhood was the original preferred destination of the West’s wealthiest citizens. It has big views, fantastic architecture and plenty of charming attractions. Catch a cable car up from Union Square one afternoon and give yourself a few hours to explore. You won’t be disappointed.

 

  • Look at the city from any Nob Hill vantage point on a foggy night and you’ll know you’re in the real San Francisco

 

  • Skip Uber and take a Cable Car up, down or across the hill

Continue reading Historic Hip on Nob Hill: 9 Ways to See For Yourself

Home: Where We Start and End

I’ve written a lot about how a house is not just an investment. How a house is, first and foremost, your home. It’s the sanctuary where you do your LIVING.

And – if you get any say in the matter – it’s where you do your DYING.

If I’ve killed your real-estate buzz with talk of death, please forgive but don’t forget.

In your house, you will celebrate birthdays, host Thanksgiving dinners, and bring home your new baby. You will also endure illnesses, recover from accidents, and overcome crises. Your rooms will ring with laughter, but also with crying.

Viewed through this lens, your list of requisites may change. That big entertainment space may become less essential than a quiet bedroom and a cozy bathroom with a heated toilet seat.

Or you may say, “Who cares about the toilet seat? As Prince sang, ‘Life is just a party and parties weren’t meant to last.’ Give me the loft space with no rules about quiet hours!”

I’m not suggesting that thoughts about life’s end should drive your real estate decisions. Yet it’s wise not to focus exclusively on the deal (price, interest rates, competition, resale potential), the décor (remodeling choices, having the latest and greatest), or validation from others (your parents’ approval, your friends’ admiration, your colleagues’ envy).

Just take time to get clear on the meaning of “home.” As in what “home” means to YOU.

After all, as T. S. Eliot wrote, “Home is where one starts from.”

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

This post was also featured on McGuire: http://www.mcguire.com/blog/2016/04/home-where-we-start-and-end/

What New Zealand Taught Me About Home

“I dislike feeling at home when I am abroad.”

Agreed, George Bernard Shaw!

One of the best reasons to travel is to gain a new perspective of HOME, and my recent two weeks in New Zealand opened up new views of my Chateau Shack in San Francisco.

The takeaway, gleaned from our stays at various Airbnb cottages:

Up-to-the-minute décor is gratuitous: (Apologies to my designer friends and dear clients in the middle of a major renovation. I’m not talking about YOU.) The latest and greatest is pretty ho hum. Once you’ve seen a few stunning remodels, you’ve seen ‘em all. But what pleasure there is in letting rooms mellow. What comfort exists in living in a home that is OUT of style. Change up your linens. Paint a room. Or install a simple outdoor shower. But skip the rest. Relax and enjoy what you have. Today’s new will be next year’s old.

Disregard the Nerdo Riche: I didn’t see any white-on-white décor schemes in New Zealand. How refreshing to escape that techie trend! No wide-plank oak floors. No 15’ x 3’ kitchen islands. No iPads in the walls. Simply put, as Janeane Garofalo said, “Taking into account the public’s regrettable lack of taste, it is incumbent upon you not to fit in.”

All you need is a spoon: Plus a spatula and a good knife. After my time in New Zealand, I’m planning to clean out my kitchen drawers and discard the extra peelers, pitters, zesters, tongs, whisks, scoopers, openers and strainers. An ordinary table fork can do the work of a dozen gadgets.

Linens matter: Quality bed linens equal luxury. Nothing ruins a night’s sleep quite like crappy bedding. If a space is clean, quiet, possessed of a comfortable chair and outfitted with soothing sheets, you’re all set. (And forget about thread count. Just choose percale cotton.)

Give me a cup of civility: Tea! So nice. So peaceable. So perfect anytime of day. Coffee is so, uh, A-muhr-ican. Yes, please, a cuppa for me.

Compost, recycle, repurpose: Farming is a big part of NZ life, and a basic tenent is not to waste anything. Even I, who am pretty conscious about recycling, composting and reusing, was impressed by the Kiwis’ commitment to sustainability.

Let it all hang out: It’s not like the sun shines every day down under, but clothes dryers aren’t de rigeur in New Zealand. They’re good for backup when it’s raining or there’s a hurry, but line-dried clothes and linens feel/smell better and last longer. Plus it’s FUN to hang out the laundry. The energy saved is almost secondary.

Woolly bully: Wool is fantastic. Breathable, durable, warm and it doesn’t hold body odor. If you haven’t checked out New Zealand wool in the form of Icebreaker active wear, now’s your chance. Click here.

All present and accounted for: What a joyous relief to find that New Zealanders do not spend all day wearing earbuds and staring at handheld devices. They converse with one another and don’t seem to suffer from Text Neck. Technology is great, but enough is enough. I now vow to use my various “devices” more perspicaciously. (Bonus points to me for using the word “perspicaciously.”)

Cynthia Cummins is a Partner at McGuire Real Estate. For info on San Francisco property visit http://CynthiaCummins.com. This post also appeared on the McGuire.com blog.

“This Could Be You”

I recently wrote about “luxury” and its place (or, perhaps, misplacement) in real estate marketing.  I was fumbling with the notion that it’s insensitive to uphold the attainment of luxury as a worthy life goal.

The comments I received were thoughtful and supportive. I was happy to learn some others share my view. Yet much of my writing now strikes me as hypocritical and guilt-trippy.

What I mean to say is I’m not yet trading my real estate practice for a life of service to the poor:

  • I’m touring $2 million condos with my clients and then posting a video about Syrian refugees on Facebook.
  • I’m writing an offer on a Pacific Heights house and then snapping a photo of a homeless person asleep against the fence around a future multi-million-dollar development site.
  •  I’m leaving my car at home and taking the J-train downtown to show property and feeling solidarity with my fellow riders – many of whom ride MUNI because they can’t afford any other choice.
  •  I’m stopping by Target to pick up a cute, “cheap” $50 vest I saw online and noticing the tired-looking mom in her janitor’s uniform digging for one more dollar to complete her purchase of diapers at the checkstand.

As you know, I could go on and on. Down through the layers of suffering from horrific and unthinkable to ordinary and every-day. There is suffering of every type and scope and it lives everywhere on the planet. It’s entirely unique for each person and it’s entirely universal at the same time.

Which is why lately I’ve been reading and re-reading Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem called Kindness. In a world full of suffering it’s hard to know where to even begin. So, I take heart from the wise advice that kindness and compassion begin with noticing. Noticing and then understanding, as she writes, “That this could be you.”

Go about your business. Feed your children. Find your joy. But don’t forget to SEE the suffering. SEE the toothless woman begging for drug money outside Macy’s as you head in to pick up some last-minute Christmas gifts before meeting friends for dinner.

Seeing can lead to compassion, and compassion can ease suffering. There will never be an end to it, but there can always be a beginning. Let’s begin now?

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.

 

Saying a Gracious Goodbye…to your HOME

“He makes his home where the living is best.”

At the end there’s a rush of details. Papers to sign. Cobwebs to clear. Straggler coat hangers in the closet. Keys that need labeling and winnowing.

The focus is on vacating, and on where you’ll be living next. So it’s easy to forget that the house you just sold was also your home.

Home is where life happens. The eating, sleeping and teeth-brushing. The naps and TV-watching. The wakeful nights and arguments. The birthday parties, flus, Thanksgiving dinners and baby’s first steps.

In my role as Realtor, I do the marketing, negotiate the terms, cinch up the contracts and usher everyone through escrow to closing. Also, whenever possible, I like to help people create a ritual for saying goodbye.

In the midst of packing and moving, it can be difficult to convince partners and kids to stop and mark the occasion. So it helps to have a third party (me) facilitate it.

It can be something simple. Maybe I snap your photo in front of the house. Or we walk through and recount happy memories, room by room. Or we burn some sage. Or we invite neighbors and the new owners over for wine and hors d’ouevres.

The exact details don’t matter because – in this case – it’s the thought that counts. When we’re saying goodbye to your property, I’ll work with you to design a perfect closing ritual.

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 Balancing Act of #SanFrancisco “Home” Work

San Francisco real estate is a three-ring circus. As an agent, I’m accustomed to the vertiginous view– standing on a high platform waiting for the trapeze bar to swing my way.

I know all the tricks, from Piggyback to Reverse Whip Return, and I’ve had my share of facedown spills into the net.

It’s always a thrill (whether positive or negative) to

  • Witness hungry agents and buyers storming a new listing.
  • Congratulate my clients on obtaining a home they love.
  • Note the weekly litany of record-breaking sales prices.
  • Watch a buyer’s face light up with hope, then darken when he/she does the math.
  • Listen to sellers explaining how much money they “need to get” and why.
  • Hear a buyer say, “Okay, let’s raise our offer price to one gazillion dollars.” (First I think, “One gazillion is too much.” Next I think, “One gazillion isn’t going to do it.”)
  • Observe a listing agent speaking coyly about having distributed 28 disclosure packages.
  • Fill out a Buyer’s Waiver of Inspections form to accompany an offer.
  • Call ten buyers’ agents to say, “Sorry, we accepted another offer.”
  • Calculate the carrying costs on a $1.6 million, 1200 square-foot, two-bedroom condo.
  • See a neighborhood transforming.
  • Update a client on the value of their property.
  • Give a would-be homeowner the lowdown on exactly what it takes to buy in San Francisco.

Exhilarating. Exhausting. Extraordinary.

And at the end of every day spent doing “Homework,” I’m grateful to have a home. In San Francisco, that’s no small thing.

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

The Gift of Staging

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Staging is magical. It’s “theater” that evokes a buyer’s emotional response and thereby enhances a seller’s bottom line.

It makes it easier for buyers to envision themselves living in a home. It psychically de-personalizes the property and displays furnishings in context. It makes a house more inviting in every way.

But there’s another unexpected and little-discussed benefit: By creating an idealized version of a home, staging makes it easier for sellers to LET GO.

An owner’s initial reaction to viewing their staged home inevitably goes something like this: “Wow. I wish we’d done this while we were living here.”

That “shouldawouldacoulda” cringe is normal. Yet nobody ever actually lives that way. Ergo one of my real estate mantras: “The way you live in a house and the way you sell it are two entirely different things.”

A cruder twist on that bit of wisdom is: “If your home looks like it’s staged, you probably should examine the sacrifices you’re making in the name of keeping up appearances.”

Life is messy. Shit happens. Stuff accumulates. There’s a healthy difference between ideal and reality, and it’s evident in your home. After all, THE HOUSE is the dream metaphor for THE SELF.

So, with staging, there is a pivotal moment that presents a homeowner with a wonderful opportunity for closure and progression.

Consider the story of my lovely client Jane (not her real name). Preparing her house for sale required four stressful months of cleaning out and organizing 40 years’ worth of belongings. Another month was needed for cosmetic fixes and staging. I spent 10 days marketing the house before we considered offers. We closed seven days later.

Prior to de-staging, Jane visited her longtime home. Alone. She sat in the living room. She let the serene and clean feeling of the staged house wash over her. She walked through the rooms and looked out the windows. It was as if she were seeing some of those views for the first time.

There were brief waves of regret – the shouldawouldacoulda. There were flashes of memories – both happy and sad. There was appreciation for the years of service the house had given.

This was followed by a curious contentment and detachment. Jane assimilated the staged version of the house as the one she’ll remember in years ahead. Then, without resisting, she let go of her longtime home.

“The staging,” she explained, “was a gift for me.”

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.

Spoiler Alert: Stop Reading if You’re New to San Francisco

Not for sale: Mark Twain's "Stormfield"
Not for sale: Mark Twain’s “Stormfield”

Turns out Mark Twain never actually said that cool thing about summer in San Francisco being the coldest winter ever. I was going to use the quote on my blog today but when I checked its accuracy, up popped a Snopes link to quash my clever intro.

Twain did sorta say something about summer in Paris and he definitely wrote, “If you don’t like the weather in New England, just wait a few minutes.” But nary a word did he pen about our cool grey city’s climate.

It’s the second half of August and – although I live on what is arguably the sunniest block in the whole dadgum town – I’ve been wearing wool since June. If you’re a local you understand why I’ve been wearing wool. Just as you understand why nobody has air conditioning and why those beyond-ugly $50 sweatshirts from Pier 39 are so popular with tourists.

(Ixnay on the weatshirtsay if anyone asks! Do your bit to keep our economy going!)

Spoiler Alert (if you’re newly local and this is your first time through a whole San Francisco calendar year): Summer starts in 10 days.

The bad news is that vacation is over and it’s back to school for you kids and parents. The good news is it’s prime selling season for San Francisco residential real estate. See you soon at an open house near you!

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

“Any Way Except a Slow Way”

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I came across this quote about coping with leaving a longtime home. Beautiful. And good advice:

“I have learned that if you must leave a place that you have lived in and loved and where all your yesteryears are buried deep, leave it any way except a slow way, leave it the fastest way you can. Never turn back and never believe that an hour you remember is a better hour because it is dead. Passed years seem safe ones, vanquished ones, while the future lives in a cloud, formidable from a distance.”

― Beryl Markham, West with the Night

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