Category Archives: HouseStories

Is Buyer’s Remorse Inevitable?

“Remorse, the fatal egg by pleasure laid.”William Cowper, 18th century poet and hymnodist

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What pleasure to instantly find a suitable quote about “remorse” as soon as I Googled it!

Yet imagine my remorse at having taken so much time reading online about William Cowper (whose life was apparently filled to the brim with pleasure and remorse, joy and sadness, soundness and insanity) that I had to work an extra hour to make up for my diversion.

Where there’s pleasure, there’s remorse.

I’ve been blind-sided by remorse on many auspicious occasions: Right before walking down the aisle to get married. Just after bringing my first child home from the hospital. Midway through a trans-Pacific flight to a dream vacation in Tahiti.

It’s a regular occurrence with real estate purchases. Especially in San Francisco where buyers are required to strip naked, place large baskets of money on their heads and dance like their lives depended on it. All for the chance to be the lucky owners of a one-plus-million-dollar, two-bedroom condo without parking but in a fairly nice area.

It goes something like this:

Buyer’s agent: Guess what? You won!

Buyer: (Holding cell phone at arm’s length and screaming) Oh! My! God! How many offers were there?

Buyer’s agent: Fourteen. Twelve were for waaaaaaay more than the asking price. Only two had loan contingencies. But apparently your willingness to close in just four days and let the sellers stay for three months for free really made the difference.

Buyer: That and offering 60% more than the asking price.

Buyer’s agent: Well, yes. Plus they really liked the sculpture you submitted with your offer.

Even if you don’t create original artwork or donate to seller’s favorite charity or provide two roundtrip tickets to anywhere in the continental U.S. with your offer, there will be a twinge of buyer’s remorse when you visit your new home for the first time after closing.

You fiddle with the keys. You shove open the door. It’s dark. It’s vacant. It’s cold. And it smells funny because the stagers removed the potpourri along with the staging.

Yet it doesn’t have to be “fatal,” as in Cowper’s quote. Instead, now is when it gets interesting: After the closing. Before the destination. Following the honeymoon. During the journey. That’s when life is richest.

Cynthia Cummins is a Top Producer and Partner at McGuire. For info on SF real estate visit http://CynthiaCummins.com. This throwback post originally appeared in April 2014.

“Must Haves” You Might Not Need

Guess what? There are some things on your “must have” list that aren’t must-haves.

You don’t need a dishwasher. Seriously, some of the your most productive and creative ideas can arise while doing the dishes (or taking a shower – what is it about water and creativity?). I’ve lived without a dishwasher for 7 years and I don’t miss it. In the time it takes to rinse and load, you can wash the dishes by hand.

You don’t need a garage. Because you don’t need a car! At least not in San Francisco. You can walk, use public transportation, take advantage of Uber or Lyft, call a taxicab, use a car-share service for the occasional errand, rent a vehicle for that out-of-town weekend, ride a bicycle, drive a scooter, or arrange carpools. All of which costs less than a vehicle and its upkeep, and much less than the additional funds needed to purchase a house with parking vs. without parking. (Even with a job that requires regular use of a car at all hours of the day and night, I’ve survived without a garage. And I live just a half block from Dolores Park – epicenter of one of the worst neighborhoods for street parking EVER.)

You don’t need a wood-burning fireplace. Some big candles and a faux mantelpiece substitute very nicely and you won’t be filling the air with Presto-log exhaust or smoke.

You don’t need an en suite bathroom. You can accomplish everything you need to accomplish in a bathroom located in a hallway. Put a lock on the door if privacy is a concern.

You don’t need private outdoor space. Have you seen the condition in which most outdoor-space owners keep their outdoor space? We’re talking dry grass, wilted and rambling plants, bicycle storage, layers of city soot, moldy mushy lemons, dead plastic toys, cigarette butts from that party last February. Note the numerous, well-maintained and inviting public spaces in San Francisco.

You don’t need a remodeled kitchen. Fabulous food can be prepped on a cutting board on a two-foot-wide sink-side Formica countertop and cooked on an electric Kenmore stove that doesn’t vent to the exterior. If you want something grilled or odiferous, go to a restaurant. San Francisco has more eateries than any other city in the United States.

You don’t need to be in a top floor condo. I’ve lived on the top and on the bottom and, trust me, noise travels both ways. If you’re on top, you have an added responsibility to tread gently. Trying to avoid making unwanted noise can quickly become as annoying as hearing unwanted noise.

Naturally, there are exceptions. Maybe you’re a secret agent working on a top-secret project that’s vital to our nation’s security and, therefore, you must have a garage for Spymobile. Maybe you’re a Red Witch from Game of Thrones whose job requires that a wood-burning fire be available 24/7 for flame-reading what the Lord of Light has in mind. Maybe you’re Jacques Pepin and you can’t get your knife on over Formica.

But if you think it through, many of your must-haves can be eliminated. And “doing without” can be refreshing and freeing. In a city where real estate always involves compromise, cutting down on required features makes all the difference.

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

Sentimental but Useless? Snap a Photo!

Stuff gets in our way. As I’ve said before (and will probably say again), it’s our belongings that most often entrap us and prevent us from moving smoothly and happily through the stages of our lives.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard these remarks:

  • We can’t downsize because there’s no place to put all our stuff.
  • We can’t entertain because our dining room is cluttered with our stuff.
  • We can’t sell because I need to first find time to go through all my stuff.
  • We can’t move because my spouse can’t let go of all her/his stuff.

With very few exceptions, most would-be home sellers are trapped by the possessions they’ve accumulated over time. Decluttering is difficult enough, but it’s especially challenging when it comes to sentimental items: Children’s art, hand-me-down quilts, pottery hand-thrown by a beloved uncle, glasses from 20 years of Napa Valley wine tastings, bongo drums purchased for the 5-year-old kid who’s now 38, half-crumbled dough ornaments from Christmas 1994.

Luckily, items with “meaning” (but no present-day value or practical use) can be easily disposed of IF you follow this advice, gleaned from a Real Simple article: Tear down the museum!

If it’s out of sight and out of mind on a regular basis – tucked into a box in the basement or stacked in a corner of the garage – you should sell it, give it away, recycle it, or throw it in the trash. But, first, snap a picture of it.

The very act of taking a picture creates a small ritual for saying goodbye and thanking the object for its service or existence. Plus you can promise yourself that you’ll always have a digital record of the red bunny rabbit that Billy drew on the back of a Pasta Pomodoro menu in 3rd grade.

Not that you’ll ever look at the photo EVER again. It’ll simply allow you to LET GO.

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.

What Stagers Wish You Knew

Staging may be the single most vital investment homeowners can make in the successful sale of their home. Akin to hiring a Fairy Godmother to transform a mushroom into a mansion, staging – done well – is miraculous.

Yet it’s often misunderstood and underappreciated. That’s why this post (my second installment of a regular featured called “What They Wish You Knew”) focuses on stagers.

Here are seven “good-to-knows” regarding home staging:

Resist the urge to become an instant expert in interior design while your home is being staged. Thinking you know best what should and shouldn’t go in a staged room is sort of like telling your dentist how to extract a tooth. Some things are better left to the expert.

Asking the stager to “work with” your things or some of your things won’t save money and the result (with few exceptions) won’t be as alluring. Your stager conjures a fresh, unique vision for your property and your old possessions tend to just gum up the flow. Plus, any savings from keeping stuff in place will be offset by the cost and effort of moving twice or thrice.

Remember that stagers are not designing the space to appeal to your taste. The whole idea is that you are selling and moving. So just because you don’t like that particular table doesn’t mean it should be swapped out. The point is to appeal to buyers. And stager are the professionals who understand what “sells” a home in today’s market.

Nobody – not you and not even most agents – can imagine a space better than it can be staged.

If a stager suggests that you do any of these half dozen possibly painful (and seemingly unnecessary) things, don’t resist: 1) Refinish or re-carpet entry stairs. 2) Paint kitchen cabinets. 3) Refinish floors. 4) Paint walls. 5) Get new appliances. 6) Clean up the garden. Don’t think of it as “wasting” money on something you didn’t get to enjoy. Think of it as being clever and getting a high ROI on your cleverness.

Stagers care. They put their hearts into the choice of items for your home. It’s not just a bunch of stuff. As one of my favorite pros told me, “I have a deep, personal attachment to each and every accessory in my design collection. I remember where each piece came from. So when anything – even the cheapest candle holder from Ross or a napkin ring from Goodwill – breaks or gets lost or stolen, it hurts.”

Stagers are some of the best designers and interior decorators in the business. I hear a variation on this all the time: “Wow. Everything looks great. I should have had the stager in when I first bought my house.” To which I reply, “Yes. What a great idea! How about you give her/him a call – right now – about your new place?”

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.

Remodeling? Watch What You Wish For

I’m good at instant remodeling. I can walk through a property in San Francisco, and add a second bathroom, redo the kitchen, knock out the wall between the living and dining rooms, and landscape the garden.

All in ten minutes.

Verbally.

Luckily, if a client who’s considering a remodel needs more information than what’s available with a wave of my hand, there are professionals who can provide estimates of what renovations will cost.

But there are less-tangible costs that can’t be neatly quantified or anticipated. Some examples:

You lusted after white walls, raw wood and Carrara marble for months before buying your own fixer. For another year, you obsessed over which white, where to put the wood and how to afford the Carrara. Now everybody wants green walls, bamboo floors and mosaic tiles.
Immeasurable cost: The pain of not being able to re-remodel anytime soon.

While the kitchen was being smoked and reborn to the tune of $200K, your family camped out in the dining room for six months with the old fridge, a countertop microwave and a toaster oven. Now it’s all over and you’re missing the intimacy of cramming everything and everybody into one room. It’s lonely in your new culinary showplace.
Immeasurable cost: Realizing that remodeling doesn’t necessarily bring you closer as a family.

Ah, inertia! That pale-blue-on-dark-blue-on-Williamsburg-blue-on-cobalt-blue bathroom really had to go, and you spent $10,000 on plans (and nearly got a divorce arguing over the shower design.) The Japanese-inspired motif was understated and would have been stunning. But instead of hiring a contractor you let 15 years go by and now it’s time to sell. For staging purposes, you pay $500 to have the tub and sink re-porcelained in white. It looks pretty darn good.
Immeasurable cost: Kicking yourself for having not mini-remodeled sooner.

The traffic on your busy street has only gotten worse since you moved in 5 years ago. So, that triple-pane glass you installed made a huge difference. You’re definitely sleeping better. But there’s no getting around the fact that thousands of cars driving by on a daily basis throw a lot of soot into the air. That, coupled with the noise, makes opening the window untenable. You may as well have a solid wall there.
Immeasurable cost: Regret that you didn’t spend an extra $50,000 to buy the property one block removed from the “vibrant” street where you now live.

What you thought would take one year morphed into a five-year project. Now your vacation getaway is finished and it’s truly stunning. It has breathtaking views, an infinity pool, a fire pit and a two-bedroom guest cottage. Too bad your daughter’s in high school now and never wants to go there – with you.
Immeasurable cost: The time you spent poring over tile samples for the kitchen, bath, family room and courtyard could have been devoted to playing on Ocean Beach with your 12-year-old. Before she got a smartphone and ceased knowing you exist.

Moral of the story? Watch what you wish for by taking time to dive deeper into what you really want. I’m expert at guiding you through easy exercises to help shape your vision. A cup of tea, an hour, and we’re done.

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.

It’s Raining

When sellers fill out a Real Estate Transfer Disclosure Statement in advance of listing a house for sale, I often hear something like this:

“Remember that huge rainstorm we had last winter? Right around Valentine’s Day? Some water came in along the bottom of this window. See? But, you know, the wind was blowing in this funny direction. It never blows that way. So we think it was a freaky one-time occurrence. Do we need to disclose it?”

“Yes, you need to disclose it,” I will say.

Then my client will ask, “So how do I disclose that? What do I write?”

And I reply, “Write down what you just told me, but don’t theorize about the cause of the leak or suggest it was a freaky one-time occurrence.”

In other words, when it comes to disclosure, there’s no need to put any spin on the truth.

And when in doubt, dear Sellers, ask yourselves, “If we were buying this house, what would we want to know?” Common sense and kindness go a long way toward protecting everyone involved and upholding the spirit of the law regarding disclosure.
However, full disclosure doesn’t mean a new homeowner isn’t going to have water intrusion problems. When rain comes pounding down for 7 weeks in a row, all that water is going to figure out some new places to go.

It’ll makes it way through foundation walls when the earth becomes saturated. It’ll overflow a lightwell when the drain gets overwhelmed or clogged. It’ll creep in the gap created when the wind blew a couple of roof shingles away.

The problem with water intrusion is that it can be mysterious and difficult to diagnose accurately. Better to have a roof leak – usually easily pinpointed and its resolution pretty clear – than a slow-spreading stain down an interior wall or a puzzling puddle in the basement.

In my role as the always-available real estate concierge, I can help. I can’t (usually) stop the water myself, but I can refer you to appropriate tradespeople. Just give me a call, and remember that eventually wet turns to dry. One way or another.

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.

Catering to the Client

The job experience that best prepared me for a future as a Realtor was the year I spent working for a caterer in the resort town of Sun Valley, Idaho.

During that stint, I filled every available role except accounting and planning. I did shopping, ordering, recipe research, food prep and rental management. I worked as server, hostess, cocktail waitress, dishwasher, cook, busboy, sommelier and buckwheat crepe maker.

My boss Susan ran her business out of her house a few miles south of town. In the winter months, her garage served as walk-in cooler and freezer. Especially between Thanksgiving and New Year’s when we had at least one and sometimes three or four parties every day. I’d arrive at Susan’s before breakfast and work all day and night, pausing only to change out of my cooking clothes and into my waiting clothes.

I learned how to be adaptive, attentive and ready to do whatever odd task was essential. That might mean inspecting freshly killed ducks for shotgun pellets. Or putting a client’s kids to bed because the babysitter was a no-show. Or delivering pumpkin pies in a snowstorm.

I particularly recall a New Year’s Eve gig for a famous Motown diva who was wintering in a large and lavish ski “cabin” near Dollar Mountain. She wanted goose with all the trimmings for dinner, followed by brunch the next day. For 50 of her closest friends.

The Wood River Valley was experiencing a cold snap. Cold enough that we’d been chilling wine all week by just setting it outside for half an hour. Cold enough that Susan’s old Suburban wouldn’t start unless it had been plugged into an engine heater. Cold enough that we had to figure out how to safely defrost six frozen (plastic-sealed) geese that had been stored in a snow bank on the shady side of the house.

The solution was to put them in Susan’s bathtub, with some cold water, where they would gradually thaw without blooming with salmonella. It was the only bathroom in the house and the geese needed to defrost for at least 24 hours.

On the day before the diva’s party, I spent the morning prepping bouillabaisse for 100 – up to my elbows in fish and garlic and grossed out from all the shrimp deveining I’d done. It was imperative that I shower before heading out to tend bar and serve food.

So I ended up taking a cold shower while straddling the cold geese in Susan’s cold tub in cold water up over my cold ankles.

And while my job as a Realtor can be quite lovely and even glamorous, there are always times when I have to improvise and do the job nobody else wants to do: Use a paper clip to unlock the bedroom door where an open-house visitor has inadvertently trapped the tenants’ cats. Clean up raccoon poop from the tradesway. Persuade a homeless person to find another doorway to sleep in. Unclog a commode. Shine up a splattered kitchen faucet using toilet paper. Put an onion in the oven to mask last night’s fish smell.

Whatever it takes. Whatever is needed. I know how to cater, and I can shower with frozen geese.

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.

Small Pleasures

If you’ve lived or listed property in a doorman building, you know all about the culture of full-service living. You probably have your own story (or stories).

Mine today concerns a stunning listing that I had on (and off) the market over about nine months. In other words, it took as long to find our perfect buyer as it takes to grow a new human. Yet – after sampling all the proverbial porridge available in similar buildings – our “Goldilocks” finally turned up and made a satisfactory offer.

This stock-cooperative had an exceptional door staff. The doormen (all were male) saw me in and out of the building at all times of day, in all kinds of weather, accompanied by all sorts of agents and buyers. I got to know them, and grew to like them.

Three of them had watched the door for 40, 30 and 20 years, respectively. Of those three, two consistently greeted me cheerfully by name. One always put an extra flourish on the last syllable of my name: Cynthi-AH.

But the most seasoned doorman – let’s call him Bob – never chitchatted or spoke my name. He performed his duties solemnly and formally. Every time I entered, it was as if he’d never seen me before: Which unit was I there to see? Did I already have a key? Would I sign the guest book?

Despite my concerted effort to bring a smile to his face, I never saw the corners of his mouth lift even a micro-inch.

Until the day we closed. In a last ditch attempt to get Bob to crack (and because I wanted to thank the entire staff) I personally delivered an expensive, large and gorgeously girly strawberry cake. Bob greeted me soberly, and waved me over to the podium to – once again – sign and date the guest book.

Beaming at the audaciousness of my gift, I proffered the cake. At first Bob just stared at the pink confection like he’d never seen a desert before. But when I explained it was for him and the crew, he broke into a big grin and laughed and squeezed my arm.

It made my day.

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.