Category Archives: Real Estate Concierge

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. 

Outdoors San Francisco for the Non-Outdoorsy

I can relate: Your friends are all like “Hey, let’s hike up Mt. Tam and then run over to Sol Food for Cubanos and Ponches.”

And you’re all like you don’t want to drive across the bridge and crawl through west Marin and get all hot and sweaty and wait in line for food  and then fight traffic INTO the city on a Saturday night when you could just stay home on the sofa.

You don’t particularly like the great outdoors. I confess that I didn’t either, until I was in my late 30s. So here are a few tips for face-saving things to do IN THE CITY with your outdoorsy friends.

Bearish (as in Polar) in the Bay

You: Walk to the end of the pier at Aquatic Park. Look for seals, sea lions, other wildlife.

They: Drop in as guests at the Dolphin Club or the South End Rowing Club (depending on which club is open to public that day). Swim in the (most recently) 58-degree water. Meet you at Buena Vista Café for Irish Coffees.

Continue reading Outdoors San Francisco for the Non-Outdoorsy

If You’re New to the Richmond: Part I

Imagine that you’ve just purchased 614 21st Avenue (or another wonderful property) and you’re new to the Richmond district. Lucky you!

You need some ideas about things to do in the neighborhood. A prized quotable quote of mine is “I’ve never met a neighborhood I didn’t like.” Yet of all the spots in our cool grey city of love, the Richmond is among my top-five favorites. There is so much to explore and enjoy.

Reliable tourist guides will send you to Golden Gate Park, the California Academy of Science, the Japanese Tea Garden and many other worthwhile places. And be sure to consult the Not For Tourists guide, for tips on restaurants and shops, many of which are “under the radar.”
But here are my less-than-obvious suggestions for things to do:

1. Skip the Japanese Tea Garden and instead bring a thermos of tea to the Moon Viewing Garden in Strybing Botanical Garden. Even better, join a Full Moon nighttime walk, scheduled at different times throughout the year. Next one is on Earth Day, April 22nd.

2. Enjoy a pizza pie and a pitcher of beer at Gaspare’s. It’s been on Geary Boulevard since 1985 and yet it feels like you’ve time traveled to 1963. The food is delicious and the ambiance is straight out of central casting.

3. Pop through the park (on foot) to enjoy a plethora of restaurants and shops at 9th and Irving. A really fun route is to enter Golden Gate Park on the southeast corner of Park Presidio and Fulton. Walk through the Rose Garden, take the pedestrian path from JFK to MLK between the Japanese Tea Garden and Stow Lake, then either shortcut through Strybing Botanical Garden to its south gate, or follow MLK until it meets Lincoln and turns into 9th Avenue.

4. Walk west through GG Park all the way to Ocean Beach and have a snack at Beach Chalet or Park Chalet. While you’re there, check out the sensational wood carvings, mosaics and murals that were part of a 1936-1937 WPA project.

5. It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but the Richmond District YMCA is one happening place. You can’t go wrong if you’re looking or a great workout, inspiration and community. The group exercise schedule ROCKS.

6. Go to Sutro Park and head for the ruins at the far west of the property. The view south over Ocean Beach is magnificent. Sunsets aren’t bad either. Roll downhill to the Cliff House’s Zinc Bar for a cocktail afterward.

7. Keep it simple. Stop and smell the roses in the Rose Garden of Golden Gate Park.

8. Have the Beet Borscht at Katia’s. Or the Potato Vareniki (with carmelized onions, YUM). Or the Pel’meni. Or the Piroshki. Or anything else on the menu. Tell Katia that I sent you. 

9. Get yourself over to House of Bagels for some REAL bagels. Or, better yet, get some Cragels.

And keep your eyes peeled for Part II of this post for more ideas on how to help you settle in and explore!

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

Katie Scarlett, Better Call Off the Stager

You’ve seen that movie: There’s a horrible crisis and a character is obsessing about some silly, irrelevant and possibly symbolic detail?

Scarlett O’Hara’s dad, for example. In Gone With The Wind. Scarlett has just come home to Tara after delivering Melanie’s baby and escaping Atlanta on fire and hiding from marauding Yankees only to learn that her mother has died. The mansion needs some serious cleaning and renovation, but her grief-stricken dad just stares at his deceased wife’s sewing box and mutters to himself.

What I mean to say is it’s normal to pay attention to the “wrong” things in the midst of a real estate transaction. For example, I’ve witnessed:

  • The market debut of a $4 million home delayed for crucial weeks by seller’s wish for Salvation Army to accept an antique sideboard for donation.
  • A closing delayed by a dispute over whether or not a countertop microwave is included in the sale.
  • An offer failing because a buyer wants a one-day inspection clause on a developer-warranted all-new house

Smart sellers and buyers need to ask their agents “Is there anything I’m doing or choosing to focus on that is sabotaging my chances for success?” Clever clients should insist their agents muster the courage to be brutally frank. That’s because, sometimes – in the name of pleasing the client and choosing battles wisely – an agent is reluctant to speak up.

This arises most often in the midst of clearing out a house in preparation for market. Longtime owners get mired in the marsh of socks, scarves, old Christmas cards, tchotchkes and – most insidious of all – books. Meanwhile, the market for a $2 million condo is slipping away as seller deliberates over whether Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance should be given to a grandson, sold at Green Apple Books or donated.

Here’s where the smart and caring agent shows up with resources and tips to liberate the seller from the swamp of stuff – both literal and psychological. In my years as a Realtor, I have collected many proverbial ropes and winches to free clients from the muck. One of these days I’ll share some here.

In the meantime, contact me if you’d like some new purging, cleaning and decluttering tips.

 

Query: How Do I Find A Realtor?

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Q: How do you currently find a Realtor?

A: The best way to find a trustworthy Realtor — your ally and advocate — is to keep it  simple. You can set personal goals, make a list of must-haves, analyze statistics and search the internet. But there’s no substitute for two tried-and-true methods:

  • Ask reliable friends whom they recommend (and why).
  • Go agent shopping by visiting open houses. Look for someone who “feels” right — who is kind, relaxed and a good listener. You don’t want an agent who tries to “sell” you on anything.

A thoughtful and seasoned professional will help you formulate your questions and refine your goals. They’ll help you glean an education that will allow you to make informed decisions. And then they’ll help you find and close on a home you love. You’ll think of them as a friend by the time the transaction closes.

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 on Quora.

10 Things Smart Buyers Look For in a Home

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If you’re listing your home for sale, keep this list in mind. When I’m representing buyers, I’m always on the lookout for a “run-don’t-walk” property which…

  1. Is vacant and unstaged.
  2. Does not have a dedicated website.
  3. Is listed by an out-of-town broker.
  4. Has one grainy photo on MLS (or no photo).
  5. Doesn’t appear on MLS at all.
  6. Is shown on lockbox.
  7. Is asking $50,000 more than the most recent comparable.
  8. Isn’t listed on broker’s tour.
  9. Advertises “offers as they come.”
  10. Smells like a cat has been peeing on the carpet over in the corner.

Such a dream-come-true property is hard to find, but the search is well worth it.

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

Before You Pass Go: Get An Agent!

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Most homebuyers wend their way to me through personal referral, which – even in this age of electronic connectivity – is the warmest means of finding trusted resources.

Yet I receive “cold” inquiries almost daily from folks shopping on their own. They’re calling or emailing or texting on a listing they spied on Trulia or Zillow.

Many of these cold callers believe they’ll benefit by not aligning themselves with an agent. They are misguided in that assumption.

Because I am busy and don’t want to seem pushy, I seldom take time to explain to them why they need an agent. But because I’ve received so many of these calls lately, I thought I’d take a few minutes and write about it. Here goes, in no particular order:

  1. Your Buyer’s agent’s services are free. Seller’s agent has agreed in advance with the Seller that they’ll share half their commission with the prevailing Buyer’s agent. Seller pays that commission.
  2. On any property you might ask the Seller’s agent to represent you as a Buyer. In which case, the Seller’s agent would take the whole commission while splitting their allegiance between Buyer and Seller. Or you can – at no additional cost – be represented by your very own agent who only cares about YOUR happiness.
  3. And, guess what? Your agent is only paid when you find, win and close on a property you want. In the meantime, your agent works for you – free of charge.
  4. Let’s add emphasis to items 1, 2 and 3 above: Seller’s agent’s fiduciary allegiance is to the Seller. As such, her/his primary goal is selling Seller’s property. Buyer’s agent’s fiduciary allegiance is to the Buyer and her/his primary goal is finding Buyer the ideal property. There’s a huge difference between the two.
  5. Your agent comes equipped with a wealth of knowledge gleaned from years of hands-on practice. No matter how clever you think you are, you will never be able to replicate the service they provide.
  6. Your agent:
  • knows the market and has access to sales data
  • is a savvy negotiator
  • understands strategies for competing in multiple-offer scenarios
  • is connected to other professionals like inspectors, lenders and contractors
  • possesses insider knowledge of off-market opportunities
  • has seen hundreds or thousands of properties
  • has solved hundreds or thousands of transaction problems
  • knows about property maintenance, improvement and expansion
  • understands contracts and has a vested interest in keeping you out of legal trouble
  • realizes the hybrid nature of real estate transactions where personal emotions exert tremendous influence on business decisions – for good or ill
  • is likely to become a trusted friend and advisor who will be there for you over many years to come (provided you choose your agent wisely)

Take note: There’s a strong chance you won’t truly comprehend or appreciate any of what I’ve just written until after you’ve completed your first transaction.

In the meantime, you must take a leap of faith and search for YOUR agent. To that end, ask friends and co-workers for recommendations, or visit open houses. Sit down in person with prospective Realtors to interview them and be interviewed by them.

And trust your intuition. If you get that feeling that you’re being “sold” or pushed, keep searching. If you feel at ease and their references check out, then “hire” them.

But never engage more than one agent on your behalf. That’s not fair and, in the end, it’ll undermine your chances of finding and winning a property you love. San Francisco is a small town with very little for sale and – if you’re working with more than one agent – it’s only a matter of time before they discover each other and dump you for more loyal clients.

That’s it. Happy agent hunting!

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Real Estate Concierge: Clap On! On! On!

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At Real Estate School, the first thing they teach wannabe Realtors is how to locate and switch on every available light in a house.

I’m not joking.

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Okay. I’m joking. In order to make a point: The time to conserve energy by turning off household lights is not when you’re selling your house.

It’s taken me many years to get comfortable with that notion – years during which I stood twitching with my hand poised atop a dimmer knob, trying to silence my father’s voice booming inside my head, “Don’t go turning on every light in the house, young lady!”

A buyer’s first impressions – especially subconscious ones gleaned through the senses – are critical. No surprise that last night’s Eau de Salmon can put the kibosh on a sale, but so can a burned-out light bulb.

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Before marketing a house, do a brightness inventory. Change out puny fixtures. Maximize the wattage in beefier lights. Place torchiere floor lamps in dark corners, and accent lamps on tables.

Let every light shine, and then some!

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