Category Archives: Heart and Home

The (Grown) Kids Are Alright

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cynthia Cummins is a Top Producer and Partner at McGuire. For info on SF real estate visit http://CynthiaCummins.com. This was re-posted at McGuire.com’s blog.

True Real Estate Tales

by Bogdan Dada

Two months ago, my newsletter featured a post about the inevitable surprises that arise during real estate transactions. (You can read it by clicking here.)

In the interim, new astonishments have risen, written their stories and become the stuff of legend.

There was the hair-raising Case of the Too-Fast Closing.

And the confusing Case of the Car Included in the Sale.

And who can forget the just-plain-dumb Case of the Last-Minute Pre-Closing Lender Requirement to Paint a 2’ x 4’ Patch of Exterior Wood Siding.

The latest thriller I’ve encountered is one I’m entitling the Case of the Emotional Roller Coaster of Trying to Buy a Bank-Owned House. It bears telling, though some details have been changed to prevent identification of property or players.

The house in question was a cozy storybook cottage in a quaint San Francisco neighborhood. It had languished on the market for 45 days at a too-high price of $1,000,000.

Jack and Jill – the cutest couple of first-time homebuyers you’d ever want to meet – encountered the house on a hot, sunny, slow-open-house Sunday. It was love at first sight.

(I’m talking about the sort of love that’s reserved for the runt of the litter down at the SPCA. The house was going to need some grooming and fattening up, but its basic bones and personality were great.)

Jack, Jill and I talked it over and decided to write an offer. Soon, the horror began.

Monday, 9:00 am: We offered $975,000 ($25,000 less than asking) with clean terms. Sensible.

1:00 pm. The listing agent called me to say the bank (which owned the property) was considering our offer. Encouraging.

Tuesday, 9:00am: The bank countered us at $999,000. Discouraging.

12:00 pm: We restated our offer of $975,000. Persistent.

1:00 pm: The bank agreed verbally to $975,000. Amazing.

4:00 pm: The bank sent its version of the contract for Jack and Jill to sign. Bureaucratic.

4:05 pm: Jack and Jill signed the contract and I prepared to return it to the bank for signature. Procedural.

4:15 pm: The listing agent informed us the deal was off because a competing offer had been submitted by another agent in the listing office! Bummer.

5:00 pm: The bank countered Jack and Jill and the competing offer with a simultaneous “highest and best” demand. Depressing.

Tuesday, 9:00 am: The listing agent called to say the bank had changed its mind and was honoring and accepting our $975,000 offer after all! Wonderful.

9:15 am: The listing agent called to say the bank had changed its mind again and wanted our “highest and best” instead. Cruel.

11 am: Jack and Jill submitted their highest and best offer of $1,05,000. Courageous.

5 pm: The listing agent called to say that the competing offer from his/her colleague’s clients was just a little higher and just a little better than Jack and Jill’s highest and best. Utterly deflating and upsetting.

And so the tale ends. Jack and Jill will not be buying THAT cozy storybook cottage, but I trust we will soon find a far superior house in which they will live happily ever after – or at least until it’s time to upsize.

Cynthia Cummins is a Top Producer and Partner at McGuire. For info on SF real estate visit http://CynthiaCummins.com. This entry was re-posted at the McGuire Real Estate blog.

 

 

 

Keep It Simple Sellers

jeffrey-wegrzyn-simple

My wise therapist – Karen – once told me that intimacy is achieved through revelation: “Think of it as InToMe-cy instead of Intimacy.”

The idea is that only by revealing what’s inside ourselves can we truly connect with others. This means looking inside and expressing what we find. Directly and simply.

There’s nothing much more intimate than home. Where everything begins and ends. And the first three rules of real estate – when it comes to meaningful and litigation-avoiding communication from Seller to Buyer – are Disclose, Disclose, Disclose.

Mr. and Mrs. Sellers have owned their home for 15 years and are downsizing because the kids are in college and they want to travel more. They’re filling out the Real Estate Transfer Disclosure Statement, the California-mandated form wherein sellers disclose things that might be a little (or a lot) wrong with the property.

Sally Sellers calls me.

“Hey, Cynthia,” she says, “Two years ago we had a leak in the downstairs bedroom. It happened twice during windy rainstorms.  No big deal, but the carpet got a little damp. We re-sealed around the window and there was no leak this last winter. Do we need to disclose this? And, if so, how do we say it?”

My answer is “yes” and “say it like you just said it.”

Same goes for personal communications. Sally asks her therapist, “I love my friend Jane, but she’s always bailing last-minute on plans we’ve made. It’s inconvenient and annoying. What do I say to her?”

The answer is to say exactly that: “Jane, I love you, but when you cancel our plans last-minute, it’s annoying.”

There’s no need to spin it a certain way. There’s no need to dance around or squirm or mince words. Say it simply – at work, at play and at home.

As William Penn – real estate entrepreneur, philosopher, Quaker and founder of Pennsylvania – said, “Speak properly, and in as few words as you can, but always plainly; for the end of speech is not ostentation, but to be understood.”

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 Good In Misunderstood

One of my writing students recently learned I am a Realtor in San Francisco.

“How,” he asked, “do you reconcile your gentle, supportive, Zen-like teaching persona with your evil real estate persona?”

He didn’t mean it as an insult. He was genuinely surprised. He’d always heard that real estate agents are scumbags* and I didn’t seem to fit that mold.

Similarly, another acquaintance asked to “pick my brain” about getting started in the real estate business. I explained that newly licensed agents often begin by working for their friend.

“Oh, no,” she said, “I could never take advantage of my friends that way.”

Again. Not meant as an insult. But she, too, thinks she knows that agents are leeches.

These two encounters – and plenty of others like them – made me go “ouch” for a nanosecond. Those words can’t help but hurt. Yet I’m not sharing this because I’m complaining, or because I feel misunderstood or unappreciated.

You see, I believe it’s GOOD to be misunderstood. For at least two reasons.

First, it makes me stop and do a self-assessment. Am I, indeed, a parasite? Am I a malefactor? And if not, am I doing or have I done anything specific to invite this judgment?

Second, and more importantly, it reminds me to practice not misunderstanding others.

I practice calling bullshit on my own assumptions. For example, if I hear the label “tech,” I try to notice my tendency to translate that as “lucky to be in the right place at the right time.” Or if I hear “trust fund,” I strive not to automatically think “rich.” Other examples might be not associating “developer” with “greedy.” Or “protected tenant” with “taking advantage.” Or “low-income housing” with “crime-ridden.” Or “foreign investor” with “cash.”

At times I guiltily believe I am the only person on the planet who rushes to judgment. But I know better. It’s impossible to block our biases from popping up like gophers on the greens at Bushwood Country Club.

As Anonymous famously said, “When you assume things you make an ass out of you and me.”

We are asses because we are human, and there’s always a push-pull between our donkey-like conduct and our higher capacities. The practice is to learn from our errors, even as we forgive others’ missteps.

Day by day, encounter by encounter, we can strengthen our ability to see people as whole, multifaceted and unique. Our lives become richer as a result.

*In direct contrast to what would be expected of a scumbag, I offered him some information about San Francisco rent-control law that benefits him directly and for which he was grateful.

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

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.