Category Archives: Musing

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.

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.

Realtor Haikus: Taking The Form To A New Level

Should I stage or not?
Is this even a question?
Look at sold photos.

~

Title insurance,
is it something I MUST buy?
Everyone says so.

~

Market is shifting.
Seller says, “offers as they come.”
At showings, shoes on!

~

Signing loan papers
as her attorney in fact,
his wrist is worn out.

~

How many square feet?
It’s quite unclear! Play it safe.
Underestimate.

~

Help out your painter.
Don’t make him guess the color.
Label your paint cans.

~

It only leaked once
in a heavy sideways rain.
Still, you must disclose!

~

Don’t get me started:
Way too many acronyms!
Please sign this AVID?

~

Tax year calendar:
July first to June thirty
first. Let me explain.

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

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.

What does “Luxury” mean to you?

I’ve been thinking about the concept of “luxury.”

Thomas Hardy, writing in 1865:

“My wife Sophia, myself, and the beginning of a happy line, formerly lived in the suburbs of London, in the sort of house called a Highly Desirable Semi-detached Villa. But in reality our residence was the very opposite of what we wished it to be. We had no room for our friends when they visited us, and we were obliged to keep our coals out of doors in a heap against the back-wall. If we managed to squeeze a few acquaintances round our table to dinner, there was very great difficulty in serving it; and on such occasions the maid, for want of sideboard room, would take to putting the dishes in the staircase, or on stools and chairs in the passage, so that if anybody else came after we had sat down, he usually went away again, disgusted at seeing the remains of what we had already got through standing in these places, and perhaps the celery waiting in a corner hard by. It was therefore only natural that on wet days, chimney-sweepings, and those cleaning times when chairs may be seen with their legs upwards, a tub blocking a doorway, and yourself walking about edgeways among the things, we called the villa hard names, and that we resolved to escape from it as soon as it would be politic, in a monetary sense, to carry out a notion which had long been in our minds.”

This charming passage reminds me that life today is not altogether unlike life 150 years ago. As David Byrne sings in “Once in a Lifetime” it’s the “same as it ever was.”

That very same Talking Heads song alludes to “a shotgun shack,” and my 109-year-old Victorian in San Francisco is not too far from that. It’s wider – at 25 feet instead of the usual 12 – and it has two stories, yet it has a clapboard front and a peaked roof. It’s fun and funky house that is lucky to have survived past efforts at urban renewal.

Unlike the “shack’s” original inhabitants, we have Wi-Fi and a nice deck. But we don’t have parking, and the square footage is low enough to qualify the single-family home as a “condo alternative.” Before the kids went off to college, one of them slept in an office (meant as formal dining room), and another tucked his six-foot frame – along with a bed, a bookshelf, a dresser and an aquarium containing two frogs – into a teeny tiny fainting room sans closet.

What I mean to say is that space is now and has long been scarce and expensive in San Francisco. As Mr. Hardy writes above, the lack of space often leads us to call our beloved homes by “hard names.”

And yet having to walk “edgeways” among things, or having to use rooms for multiple purposes, is not inherently disagreeable. It’s part of urban living, and it’s part of sustainable living.

The fact is that we can’t all live in places that Realtors would describe as “luxurious.” Nor should we. Nor should we WANT to. And NOT WANTING to live “luxuriously” is a concept that chafes against a favorite marketing emphasis of the real estate industry.

My own definition of “luxurious living” involves doing more with less, giving more than getting, and welcoming the creative possibilities presented by modest deprivation.

I am (we are) among the luckiest people on the planet simply because we happen to live in the United States (and California, and San Francisco). I hope we all – Realtors especially – can be mindful that luxury is truly the exception rather than the rule. Let’s enjoy the luxury of being able to be GRATEFUL.

What’s your idea of “luxurious living”? I’d love to hear.

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

Throwback Thursday: Grrrrrrrreat!

Garry_Moore_Tony_the_Tiger_1955

Beautiful, Wonderful and Great: Also known as the three weariest adjectives in Realtorland.

Of these, “great” is the most worn out because it fits so conveniently in so many places. When in doubt, throw the word “great” into your copy.

Note, for example, the Brief Property Report I printed from Multiple Listing Service (MLS) yesterday. My intent was to refer to it during a meeting with buyers. But it works nicely as a random sampling of Realtors’ MLS comments for my investigation of the over-exploitation of the word “great.”

Here’s what it revealed:

  • Property #1 is listed at a “great price”
  • Property #2 is a “great property for the first- time homebuyer”
  • Property #3 is a “great value”
  • Property #4 skips the word ‘great’ (as well as ‘beautiful’ and ‘wonderful’), so extra points for the agent for Property #4
  • Property #5 uses great twice, as in “great light” and “great room,” the latter describing the type of room not the quality of the room
  • Property #6 has no comments at all (aside to agent for Property #6: Come on, you can do better than that!)
  • Property #7 points to the “great weather” in the neighborhood

Okay, so you’re asking, “What’s the big deal? Who cares whether an agent uses the word ‘great’ one time, fourteen times or not at all?”

And I’m answering. Or I’m starting to answer and then shutting my mouth. I’m thinking. What IS the big deal? Who DOES care? Why AM I railing about the verbiage in MLS comments?

It has only to do with my interest in words and writing. It has nothing to do with real estate or selling real estate. I can use the word “great” as much as I want, but in the end no buyers are going to take my word for it. They’re going to see the property themselves and decide if it rates a “great.”

Meanwhile, it’s another great day in San Francisco. What a great place to live. What a great place to work. What a great place to sell real estate.

Cynthia Cummins is a Top Producer and Partner at McGuire. For info on SF real estate visit http://CynthiaCummins.com. This post originally appeared at McGuire.com a few years ago.

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.

Six or a Half-Dozen Divinations for SF Real Estate in 2015

(Image of tea leaves by Richard Corner)

The weather vane is whipping to and fro. Tea leaves are magically shifting. Stats are twitchy and erratic.

The only thing you can be sure of is change. So — if you’re thinking about buying or selling — act before you get confirmation that the market has turned in whatever direction you’re waiting upon or dreading. When everything becomes crystal-clear, it’ll be way too late.

For 2015, I predict:

  • The San Francisco market will continue in its girls-gone-crazy-bikini-party mode. Here’s curbed.com’s take on our “steadfastly bonkers” market.
  • Rents will continue to be the highest in the nation.  Maybe it’s time to buy?
  • San Francisco is still a great place to raise kids (click for video), so don’t leave town!
  • As the year progresses and interest rates rise, it’ll only get more competitive for buyers. Stop watching sales prices from the sidelines and make your move before money prices increase.
  • Drive times to, from and within SF will continue to increase. Plus, parking will be increasingly harder to find and more expensive when you do find it. Consider locating where you won’t need a car. Transit first, baby!
  • 2015 will be a lot like 2014. To refresh your short-term memory, here’s what Q4 of 2014 looked like.

In addition, top-10 lists (as well as top-5, -6, -14 and -20 lists) will continue grabbing your already-scant attention. (I encountered at least TEN top-ten lists re. 2015 real estate while researching this.)

My advice is to shun statistics, analysis and speculation, and do whatever it is you’re yearning to do. Sell now. Buy now. Or stay put now. It’s six of one, half dozen of 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.

Open House “Boring” Says 7-Year-Old

"unknown," posted on http://katiapellicciotta.blogspot.com
“unknown,” posted on http://katiapellicciotta.blogspot.com

I’m quite familiar with the look.

Sometimes it says, “How dare you show this property and let my parents drag me to umpteen open houses on Sunday afternoon when I’d rather be playing with my toys?”

Or it says, “Please don’t let them buy this condo because I hated it the instant we walked in. I want a blue house.”

Or it’s something like this, “I can see you’re as trapped as me. You have to stand here and be nice and greet everyone and you can’t leave until 4 o’clock. And I have to come in and look around and not touch anything and I can’t leave until they say it’s okay. Since we’re both stuck here, have you anything to offer me in the way of refreshment or entertainment?”

Or maybe, “You might fool my parents with your friendliness, but you can’t fool me. Stand back three feet or I’ll start screaming.”

Don’t get me wrong. I love kids. (I even raised two myself.) But children coming through the front door of an open house can be as nervous-making as an unsteady high-heeled matron holding a latte in one hand and a shih tzu in the other while navigating the white-carpeted stairs.

You never know what you’re going to get, including:

  • Serious disruption of staging – vases smashed into smithereens, chess pieces sent down the toilet, pillows thrown out the window.
  • Nasty messes – unflushed number twos hiding in the powder room, newly planted impatiens wrenched from the ground, every glass surface streaked with yogurt paws.
  • Pandemonium – door slamming, stair running, door locking, cat chasing, crying, biting and violent pulling on parental arms just as they’re about to request your business card.

I prefer quiet children who tell their folks to get lost while they sit on the front steps with me. Like Maizy, a seven-year-old who attended my last open house.

Maizy: Do you live here?

Me: No. I am the real estate agent. I am showing the house for the owners.

Maizy: Do you like this house?

Me: Yes. I think it’s a terrific house. How about you?

Maizy: I guess so. I like our old house better but Mommy says we need more room for my baby brother.

Me: I bet you’re a great big sister. Is it fun being a big sister?

Maizy: (puzzling her lips together and to one side) No. He’s pretty boring. But he’s still little. Do you have some candy?

Me: No. I might have some Altoids.

Maizy: I like Altoids.

Me: Is it okay with your parents for you to have an Altoid?

Maizy: Oh, yes, of course it’s okay. They let me have Altoids all the time.

Me: (offering the Altoids tin) Here you go. Help yourself.

Maizy: Thank you. This is so boring.

Me: Yes, I know what you mean.

Maizy: Are you bored? I thought grownups didn’t mind boring things.

Me: Well, perhaps not as much as kids mind them.

Maizy: I don’t want to be a grownup.

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 and on Undermom.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.