Category Archives: Queries

Query: Is Now a Good Time to Buy in the Bay Area?

Q: Is this a good time to buy a home in the Bay Area?

A: Now is a perfect time to buy a home in the Bay Area. At least in San Francisco!

You might say, “Well, Cynthia, of course that’s your answer because you’re a San Francisco real estate agent and, according to San Francisco real estate agents, NOW is always the best time to buy.”

True. That’s because, as a longtime, fulltime Realtor, I’ve witnessed the market’s reliability  for 28 years: Up close and personal. Through several economic cycles. Helping hundreds of individuals buying hundreds of homes.

At the outset, purchasing property in San Francisco is especially daunting. Prices are ungodly. Competition is fierce. Doubts are plenteous. Yet in hindsight nearly every SF homeowner will tell you that purchasing their home was the wisest, luckiest investment they ever made.

This scenario assumes owner occupancy and a hold of at least five years. But nothing will pay if you don’t play.  Nothing will happen if you sit on the sidelines awaiting clear confirmation that NOW is the optimum time to buy.

Which brings up an important point: Buying a home in San Francisco is a sound investment, regardless of the exact timing. But it’s much more than an investment. It’s your HOME. It’s the place where you sleep in on weekends, empty the kitty litter, entertain friends, gargle saltwater for a sore throat, change kids’ diapers, plan vacations, argue with your husband, make up with your wife, unload groceries, take out the recycling, pay the bills, soak in the bathtub and putter in the garden.

So. If you want to enjoy a profusion of colorful tulips in April, you’ll need to plant those bulbs soon. Time to start shopping for some dirt. Now!

Cynthia Cummins is a Top Producer and Partner at McGuire. For info on SF real estate visit http://CynthiaCummins.com. A version of this post originally appeared as an answer on Quora, and it was re-posted at McGuire.com.

Query: Is My Agent Crazy Trying to Save Me Money?

Q: Why would a Realtor you are buying with want to negotiate down the cost of the property?

A: The last time I looked in the mirror I didn’t have dollar signs for pupils. 28 years as a successful Realtor in San Francisco, and I still haven’t abracadabra’d my blue eyes to the color of bright green cash.

That’s because my commission is — honestly — THE VERY LAST THING on my mind.

If you haven’t stood in my shoes, or if you’ve never purchased or sold a home with the help of a truly professional agent, it’s probably difficult to imagine that someone could be motivated by a wish to serve rather than a financial incentive. Yes, this is my livelihood. Yes, I like making money. Yes, we Realtors are paid relatively “big bucks.” (Though there’s more — or, I should say, less — to that than meets the eye. A topic for another time.)

But I work primarily for my clients’ happiness. Sometimes that means I “make a sale.” Many times not. But their happiness translates into referrals to their friends, family and associates. And THAT is how my business grows. Call me dumb like a fox, but I like making my clients happy.

Hence, I’m always shocked and taken aback when people assume I am a money-grubbing shark. I feel injured when they regard my profession as one where you get “money for nothin,” as in the famous Dire Straits song about rock and roll.

To quote an even older smash hit: “She works hard for the money, but you never treat her right.” Perhaps that’s an unfortunate comparison, since Donna Summer was singing about a ladies bathroom attendant, but I KNOW I have a heart of gold.

So do the majority of my successful peers. Which explains why an agent would strive to negotiate a lower price for a buyer!

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 originally appeared as the answer to a Quora question.

Query: Do a “Bubble Assessment” Before Buying?

BubbleWrap

Q: When buying a first home, is it important to assess if the market is in a bubble, or just buy and go with it?

A: In my 28 years as a Realtor, I’ve watched at least half a dozen would-be buyers struggle with the bubble question. They waited for a clear sign that we weren‘t in a bubble or that we were at the so-called bottom of the market.

I’ve seen them sitting on the sidelines in a runaway buyer’s market. I’ve witnessed them kicking themselves with regret in a seller’s market. I’ve watched them invest in the stock market instead and lose all their savings.

I’ve also seen them accidentally buy at just the right time and double their investment in 18 months.

Buying a home — especially in a place like San Francisco — takes a giant commitment and huge leap of faith. It’s beyond challenging to pony up the down payment required for a median priced home of $1,000,000. It’s nerve-wracking to contemplate making those mortgage payments. It’s frightening to think about when the next earthquake is coming.

I have tremendous compassion for potential buyers. Home ownership looks scary when you’ve been renting. But once you’ve closed and moved in, it feels normal.

There’s an old Realtor’s adage that goes like this: “Buyers Buy.” In other words, they don’t spend too much time hemming and hawing. They don’t analyze everything to the nth degree. They buy. Because if they don’t buy, they aren’t invested. And if they aren’t invested it doesn’t matter WHAT the market does.

My advice is to not worry about the bubble. Do your due diligence. Work with a professional agent. Plan on staying for at least five years. You’ll be okay.

For more on the subject of bubbles, click here.

Cynthia Cummins is a Top Producer and Partner at McGuire. For info on SF real estate visit http://CynthiaCummins.com. This article was first the answer to a Quora question and was re-posted at McGuire.com.

Query: Common Contract Mistakes

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Q: What are easy mistakes to make when writing a real estate contract?

A: The easiest mistakes have to do with math and spelling. That’s why I always double-check that the good faith deposit, loan and closing balance add up to the purchase price. (Of course, online contract writing programs like California Association of Realtors’ ZipForms have made it nigh-on impossible to get the arithmetic wrong.)

Misspellings are the more likely error. The only thing more embarrassing than misspelling a property address is misspelling a client’s name. (And yes, I’ve done it. More than once. Under deadline.) Luckily, spelling mistakes can be corrected without too much trouble.

More grievous errors — ones with adverse monetary consequences — are much harder to make. Especially here in San Francisco, where our standard contract is a simple, well-oiled, clean machine that’s been nitpicked over for decades. Agents handle the contract while title companies handle the escrow and search the title; attorneys get involved only in exotic circumstances.

But that’s in San Francisco which, in many respects (climate, gender fluidity, percentage of vegans), is located on a different planet than the rest of the nation. That’s just one reason everybody wants to live here and the real estate prices are interstellar!

Cynthia Cummins is a Top Producer and Partner at McGuire. For info on SF real estate visit http://CynthiaCummins.com. This originally appeared as a Quora answer and was re-posted at McGuire.com.

Query: New Ways to Save $$$

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Q: What are some unique ways to save for a down payment to buy a new house or condo?

A: The tired Nike phrase, “Just Do It,” comes to mind because – apart from creatively hiding your cash in a red-velvet sack placed inside a Ziploc bag submerged in your grandmother’s toilet tank – you don’t need a unique way to save.

Ordinary, tried-and-true approaches will suffice. Yet, like birth control, they don’t work unless you actually use them.

You might find inspiration from the blogger J. Money (dubbed “the Miley Cyrus of finance”). Here’s the link to a great pictorial guide to squirreling away your hard-earned dollars: How I Save Money… [In Pictures]

Although: You may first want to read Mr. Money’s thoughts on whether or not it makes sense to buy a home in the first place:  What it Cost Us to Own Our Home Last Year + A Question I Ask Myself Every Morning

Then: Think twice about how large your down payment needs to be. Size does matter and you might be someone for whom a low-money-down loan makes sense. See this NYT article: The New York Times

Finally: I can offer a relatively unique way to relate to money and savings. Check out Bari Tessler Linden, who says, “money is the final frontier of a conscious lifestyle.” Her website: Bari Tessler – Art of Money.

Bon chance! (And if you’re thinking of buying in San Francisco, reach out to 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, and originally appeared on Quora.

 

"Platt brunch" by Japanexperterna. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Platt_brunch.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Platt_brunch.jpg

Query: House Flipping

"Platt brunch" by Japanexperterna. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Platt_brunch.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Platt_brunch.jpg

Q: How do I flip Houses?

A: With much more care than flipping a pancake, a pursuit which requires just the right balance of providence and panache. And — as with hotcakes — you must always be ready to accept a flop. Especially in San Francisco where the griddle is especially hot. What’s not required is the use of silly breakfast bread metaphors.

…Although…as I sit here re-posting what I wrote on Quora, I think I should add a few metaphors about staging a house in order to sell it after you’ve fluffed it up. If you want the property to sell like hotcakes, then you must present it in an appealing fashion.

That means hiring a professional stager who’ll gussy it up like a plate at Mission Beach Cafe. Make it look like the real-estate equivalent of a $15 short stack: Fresh fruit garnish, hot maple syrup, a pat of butter melting on top, a side of bacon, maybe a wee vase of fresh nasturtiums on the table.

Yum. More coffee, please?

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

Query: Advice for New Googler Moving to SF

Googleplex-Patio-Aug-2014
Image by Jijithecat
Q: What are some things a recent college graduate should know before moving to San Francisco to work at Google?
A: Congratulations to you for a) graduating from college, b) securing a job and c) having that job be at Google. Hooray! You’re way ahead of the game, since many graduates these days have no prospect of making a living wage.
I’m not sure where you have lived previously, but it is true that the cost of living in San Francisco is shockingly high. You would be wise to sit down soberly, do some advance budgeting and make some agreements with yourself about your financial priorities. You might also pledge to do without a car because they are expensive to maintain in San Francisco and the city is actively discouraging their use.
Once you’re here, watch out getting sidetracked by San Francisco’s infectious-hipster party-time atmosphere. If Millennials aren’t careful, they can quickly squander all their earnings on techie gadgets, lattes and nights out at the expensive and fabulous restaurants located on nearly every corner of the city.
Maintain your balance, learn to cook meals at home, count your blessings, have LOTS of fun, and be careful about sitting on the ground in Dolores Park. Great views of the changing skyline, but you won’t believe all the nasty germs lurking in that grass!
Finally, as soon as you can scrape together a down payment, you’d be wise to invest in the residential real estate market. There’s no market like San Francisco’s and there’s no better time than NOW to get started. As a wise woman once said, “Sex and Real Estate: Get Lots While You’re Young.”

Cynthia Cummins is a Top Producer and Partner at McGuire. For info on SF real estate visit http://CynthiaCummins.com. This post originally appeared as an answer to a question on Quora.

Query: What About The B Word?

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Burbling about the bubble is always in fashion. Experts and amateurs offer all sorts of theories about whether we are entering, leaving, or returning to a bubble, and they all have data to support their claims.

If I had a crystal ball, I could answer your question with absolute authority. Sadly, I don’t own one. But I do have access to three alternative tools that can forecast the San Francisco real estate future about as accurately as the Case-Shiller index:

My Tarot deck said MAYBE we are in a bubble. I drew the Moon card, which basically means “Things aren’t as simple or as clear as you’d like them to be, so stop asking and chillax already.”

The hawks-perching-on-light-standards test said YES we are in a bubble. I spotted three hawks on three light standards on three consecutive days. This clearly denotes three (or nine) years of bubble, although it doesn’t tell us which years.

My ever-reliable Angel Cards answered with a resounding NO we are not in a bubble.The word was Balance and, even though it starts with a B, Balance is not the same as a Bubble.

Using these indicators, we can say with conviction that the bubble question is unanswerable. The good news is that the effects of bubbling have historically been mild in San Francisco. Go ahead. Buy your home, stay put a few years and you’ll be okay. Meanwhile, here are two wise quotes to help put it all in perspective:

“Those who have knowledge, don’t predict. Those who predict, don’t have knowledge.” Lao Tzu

and

“I predict one of these two teams will win the Super Bowl.” Gilbert Gottfried

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

Query: How much to overcome competing cash offers?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User_talk:Benjwong
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User_talk:Benjwong

Q: How does the current San Francisco market trade off “all cash” offers with the value of a bid? In other words, if I anticipate competing with all-cash offers, by how much do I have to outbid them (all other contingencies waived and 20% down)?

A: The percentage will vary wildly depending on the particular players in any multiple-offer situation, so it’s something you really can’t quantify. And there’s always the chance that a savvy listing agent will issue simultaneous counteroffers at your higher price to the cash bidders — in order to maximize terms and price.

Go as high as you possibly can and hope for the best, because there will be a price where cash no longer “talks.” Another effective strategy is to carefully watch for listings that don’t sell in the first two weeks. The longer a property languishes on the market, the better your chances of being the only buyer. And this means a return to the good ol’ days of one-on-one negotiations.

Try to resist the validation of choice that competing offers bring: As in, “It must be a great place because 14 other buyers wanted it. Too bad we didn’t win.” If you DO prevail in a multiple-offer scenario, you can be pretty darn certain you overpaid by at least a little. And, of course, that’s okay in San Francisco because it’s only weeks before the market catches up to you.

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

Query: “What is the best way to market luxury real estate?”

courtesy of Barclays Jewlers
courtesy of Barclay’s 

Q: What is the best way to market luxury real estate? 

A: Start by stopping use of the term “luxury.” Most luxury real estate buyers (in San Francisco) don’t think of themselves as such. They think of themselves as hipsters.

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