Category Archives: Homewords

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.

Boogie-Boarding Home

During our initial interview, my client Sandra handed me a spreadsheet. It specified all the features her new home should have, arranged in descending order of importance. Here are the top 10.

  1. Fireplace
  2. Parking
  3. Single family home
  4. Not on a busy street
  5. View of some water
  6. 3 bedrooms or 2 + den
  7. 2 bathrooms
  8. Walk to coffee
  9. In-unit laundry.
  10. East of Arguello and north of Fell

We conducted an exhaustive search, touring and/or considering several dozen properties over a dozen weeks.

Guess how many of those top-10 features her eventual home included? Two. The property was on a quiet block and had its own washer and dryer.

This incongruity between aspiration and actuality happens because our dream of home can’t be translated neatly into a checklist. There are too many intangibles.

In Sandra’s case, she knew her future home (a condo, not a single family home) was “the place” as soon as we entered the front door. And I guessed it from the hesitant excitement I read in her sideways glance towards me.

“Property sells itself” is one of my favorite real-estate adages. By that I mean there’s nothing anyone can say to “sell” someone on the desirability of a home. The buyer either feels it, or they don’t feel it.

It’s like boogie-boarding. You belly onto the wave as soon as you enter a property, but you sense almost instantly whether or not you’ll ride the board into shore.

It’s kismet. It’s chemistry. It’s love, not real estate.

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 (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.

Resisting Reality in Real Estate = Suffering

buddhas-jed-adan

It’s exciting when you list your home for sale and 16 people show up with over-asking-price offers. It’s just as exhilarating when you’re the winner among those 16 buyers.

The sun is shining! Children are laughing! The band is playing a rousing Souza march!

Everything is jake. Except when it isn’t. Which is often the case.

Even in San Francisco, where you consistently hear tall and true tales of astounding real-estate triumphs, there are plenty of fantasies that don’t take flight.

When reality fails to match our imaginations, we resist it and we suffer. It’s true in marriages, friendships, workplaces and families, and it’s true with residential real estate.

After inspecting, repairing, painting, cleaning, staging and PRIMPING a property as if it were a beauty-pageant contestant, it’s bewildering to hear crickets instead of requests for disclosure packages. After three weeks of silence, apprehension turns to dread. When your agent says, “It’s time to consider a price reduction,” it’s a stone cold bummer.

Same goes for writing 12 offers and being told “thanks but no thanks” 12 times. Somebody else paid cash. Somebody else could close in 10 days. There were five offers better than yours. There were fifteen offers better than yours. You were tied with one other offer on price but the winning offer had 50% down instead of your 35%.

This can feel very personal, as in World vs. You. But it’s not personal at all! It is just reality. And struggling against reality brings nothing but pain.

There’s an old real estate axiom that goes like this: Sellers sell and Buyers buy. At first glance, you might think “Duh?!” But if you let those words sink in, you’ll realize they are profound.

In order to achieve what you set out to do – Sell or Buy – you must pay attention to reality. This could mean

  • Lowering your asking price by 10% or more.
  • Expanding your search to include areas on your B list.
  • Remodeling instead of selling.
  • Renting instead of buying.
  • Purchasing a condo instead of a house.
  • Being grateful to have one buyer making an offer instead of five.
  • Making do with two bedrooms instead of three.
  • Remembering – continually – that your agent is your ally.
  • Returning to the essential goal you had when starting this process.

Hundreds of times, I’ve walked this reality-resisting walk with my clients: Waking up at 4 a.m. worrying. Going over what could have been done differently. Assigning blame (usually to myself). Comparing. Projecting. Regretting.

I’ve heard my buyers’ voices crack when they ask how many offers were better than theirs.

I’ve watched my sellers’ mouths go slack when they realize nobody is offering their fantasy price. Or their asking price. Or – maybe – nobody is making an offer at all!

You never know how it’s going to be. Yet the process takes so much thought, planning and care, that it’s challenging to keep our wish list in check. Desire is an essential part of the business. Too little and there’s no movement. Too much and we’re yoked to it like oxen.

The key is to resist resisting and adapt to reality. (For more on this, check out the Buddhist concept of detachment.)

It’s all just part of living. And real estate is just part of the business of living.

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.

“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.

 

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.

Homewords: All You Have

 

humble_house

“Be grateful for the home you have, knowing that at this moment, all you have is all you need.” Sarah Ban Breathnach

Home and “Possibilities”

Group_of_Five

Here is a lovely poem — with a wispy and wistful real estate connection — which appeared on Writer’s Almanac recently.

 

Possibilities by Linda Pastan

 

Today I drove past a house

we almost bought and heard

through the open window music

 

made by some other family.

We don’t make music ourselves, in fact

we define our differences

 

by what we listen to.

And what we mean by family

has changed since then

 

as we grew larger then smaller again

in ways we knew would happen

and yet didn’t expect.

 

Each choice is a winnowing,

and sometimes at night I hear

all the possibilities creak open

 

and shut like screendoors

in the wind,

making an almost musical

 

accompaniment

to what I know

of love and history.

Buddha, Come Back

SAMSUNG

I’ve noticed a significant decrease in the number of Buddhas being used in staging San Francisco properties for sale.

Did we grow tired of the Buddha home decor fad? With likenesses sprouting on mantelpieces like oxalis in sidewalk cracks?

Or does their sudden scarcity signify a market in which listing agents and sellers have become thoughtless and, sometimes, downright cruel? I’m just asking.

Meanwhile, I’m away to Tassajara Zen Mountain Center for a mindfulness retreat and I won’t be posting for a few days.

 

 

Homewords: Beauty for Sale

Waterlogue

“Endeavoring to purchase something we think beautiful may in fact be the most unimaginative way of dealing with the longing it excites in us, just as trying to sleep with someone may be the bluntest response to a feeling of love.”

― Alain de Botton, The Architecture of Happiness