Category Archives: San Francisco Real Estate

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.

Help Your Realtor Keep It Real

Things get personal with residential real estate. They get intimate. No wonder, since “home” is where you live, eat, sleep and do all the other things that humans do.

This is why good agents become their clients’ familiar friends. A close relationship – if client and agent are lucky – inevitably develops. It’s one of the most rewarding aspects of my practice.

Yet there’s a downside. In interacting with people we love, it’s a challenge to remain honest. We align ourselves with our friends’ wishes and dreams, and pretty soon objectivity and candor go flying out the nano windows.

Example: Betty and Bob’s condo has it all. A panoramic bay view, 3 bedrooms, 2.5 baths, 2-car parking, a remodeled kitchen and a private deck. 75 prospective buyers have visited the house over three weeks of marketing. Nobody has made an offer.

Betty is now reviewing all marketing materials. She asks their agent, Joan, to change the order of the photos on the website. She suggests that Joan should highlight the fact that there’s a garbage chute in the hall: “We have just LOVED having that trash chute,” she says, in all sincerity, “I don’t think people appreciate how convenient it is not to have to walk the garbage downstairs.”

Okay. The truth is that spotlighting the garbage chute’s presence won’t make one iota of a difference, and the photo sequence on the website is inconsequential. 75 buyers were drawn to see the property. The problem is simple: The price is too high.

But Joan, who has guided Betty and Bob through property preparation and staging over the course of several months, has begun to see the house through Betty’s and Bob’s lenses. As her clients’ perception of the value of the condo has risen – in proportion to the amount of effort and thought expended on readying it for sale – so has Joan’s opinion of value.

Joan belatedly realizes they’ve set the price too high by $100,000. Yet she hesitates to share this sobering truth. She doesn’t want to upset Betty and Bob because she cares about them, and she knows this will upset them.

Smart clients can help their agents avoid this trap by explicitly inviting the truth they don’t want to hear.

It’s sort of like parenting. You ask your teenager to be honest about how that bag of weed ended up in the glove box of the Prius. You promise him or her that – as long as he or she is truthful – you won’t get upset. Once the air is cleared, next steps can be calmly and coolly identified.

So, prudent buyer, be sure to ask for blunt answers to questions like these:

  • Is it wishful thinking to hold out for 3 bedrooms at this price in this neighborhood?
  • What offering price would make you feel 98% confident about our chances of winning?
  • Are there terms in this offer we should eliminate in order to be more competitive?
  • Is my lender up to the challenge of this market?
  • How have other buyers solved this issue/overcome this difficulty?
  • Am I sabotaging myself in any way?

Savvy sellers, request frank responses to questions like these:

  •  Do we need to follow the stager’s recommendation that we remove the carpet and refinish the hardwood underneath the entry stairs?
  • Is this listing price one that will evoke a “run-don’t-walk” response from buyers?
  • Are there enhancements we’ve refused to consider that you think would bring us a great return on investment?
  • What are our blindspots where our home is concerned?
  • If you could wave a magic wand and change one thing about our approach to selling the house, what would it be?
  • For which selling-related tasks (purging, organizing, painting, etc.) should we get professional help rather than trying to DIY?

Buying or selling a home is a process that unfolds differently in every situation. But the relationship between agent and client is the key to every successful transaction.

Show your agent that you, too, are invested in the relationship. Let them know you’ll love ‘em even if the truth hurts. Then, listen carefully and keep an open mind.

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 House Painters Wish You Knew

Today I’m writing the first of what I hope will be a regular feature at RealEstateTherapy. Let’s call it What They Wish You Knew. “They” being various professionals associated with the business of real estate.

First up: What House Painters Wish You Knew.

Painting is one of the trinity of property improvements guaranteed to enhance value when selling. (The other two are floors and lighting.) Painting is about as close to magic as you can get, and if you want the spell done right, you hire a magician.

And that magician – your painter – would like you to know these things:

Catalog your colors for when you move out or sell. It’ll save you money because the painter won’t have to charge you for the time it takes to match the color.

Ideally, you’ll go one step further and save your paint. This also cuts costs because it makes touchups easier in the future. Even if you have the color formula, a new mix may not match an old mix. Results vary from store-to-store and over time. But the paint stored in a can will age along with what’s on the wall.

If you’d rather not pay your magician to do detective work, don’t just point to a pile of old paint cans and say, “I’m pretty sure the paint you need is there.” Sort through yourself in advance.

Painters aren’t movers, and it’s less costly to paint vacant rooms. So if you say you’ll empty a room’s contents prior to painting, then do it. If you agree to move everything into the center of the room, then do that. Otherwise, be ready for additional costs or delays.

There’s no such thing as “just touching up.” Homeowners envision they’ll save money if the painter can simply dab a little paint here and there. But touch-ups only go so far, especially given the difficulty (and costs associated with) matching paint. It’s often easier to paint whole walls or rooms.

If you’re not already committed to a particular paint color (and, therefore, brand) ask your painter if he/she has a preference about brand(s). Brand preference has to do not only with ease of application, but also with location of the paint store. If your San Francisco painter has to drive to Serramonte to procure paint from Home Depot, it’s going to cost you extra.

Unless your painter is a professional colorist, don’t ask him or her to advise on paint colors and finishes. (One of the best painters I know is color blind!) Give him or her exact instructions about shade and sheen.

Realize that the best painters may be ones who are so experienced and skilled that they get their work done speedily. In other words, more time doesn’t necessarily mean a better result. Look for painters with great references and ones who bid by the job, not by the hour.

Prep time, plus procurement of and cost of materials add up quickly, so resist the temptation to look at a finished room and think or say, “What was so darn expensive about that? That was easy. I could have done it myself!”

The truth is that very few of us mortals are qualified to do painting all by ourselves. Better to go pro, then stand back and enjoy the results.

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.

Real Estate Trivia: Who Said It?

1. “There’s no place like home.”

Origin debatable. Number 23 in the top 100 American movie quotations, this phrase was invoked by Dorothy Gale in The Wizard of Oz. The character says something almost identical in the Frank Baum novel of 1900, but it was also the last line in the 1822 song Home! Sweet Home! Regardless of its source, it’s true – possibly because it’s vague enough to cover any unique home experience.

2. “The way you live in a place and the way you sell are two entirely different things.”

Cynthia Cummins. I remind sellers of this, as they contemplate purging possessions, moving out before marketing, or paying for staging. In a sophisticated market like San Francisco, selling a house is about 3 parts theater to 1 part realism.

3. “Home is where one starts from.”

T. S. Eliot. A great first line from Four Quartets “East Crocker,” a poem you might want to read sometime. Eliot started in St. Louis, Missouri and suffered from a congenital double inguinal hernia as a child. This meant he didn’t get to play with other children and spent a lot of time alone. Hence, he became interested in – you guessed it – literature!

4. “Sellers stage.”

Cynthia Cummins. Another of my favorite sayings. It’s a nod to the old real estate adage “Sellers sell,” which means that if you’re selling you take steps that result in a sale. In the classic sense, this means you hire a professional agent, follow her advice, respond in good faith to offers and so forth. In San Francisco, one of those crucial sale-producing steps is staging.

5. “The fellow who owns his own home is always just coming out of a hardware store.”

Kin Hubbard. The humorist’s humorist, who also said, “The only way to entertain some folks is to listen to them.” The hardware-store quote is self-explanatory.

6. “Buyers don’t buy in a buyer’s market.”

Cynthia Cummins. The “right moment” always seems to be in the past. This is a phenomenon buyers inevitably experience if they wait for the market to reach the bottom.

7. “Home is the nicest word there is.”

Laura Ingalls Wilder. Her “Little House” books notwithstanding, Wilder endured plenty of “not nice” hardships growing up on the prairie, including near starvation, poverty, violence and life-threatening winter weather.

8.  “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.”

Not Mark Twain. This favorite San Francisco aphorism is usually misattributed to Twain. He did say, “If you don’t like the weather in New England, just wait a few minutes.” But nobody knows where that famous SF summer quote originated.

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

This Must Be The Place

As a young adult – just out of college – I moved to Sun Valley, Idaho to be a ski bum. The idea was to wait tables for a living big enough to pay rent, feed myself, party with new friends and slide downhill on my secondhand Rossignols every once in a while.

Turns out my tip jar didn’t exactly runneth over, so for the first year I lived with roommates. But soon I got a job as the junior reporter at the Idaho Mountain Express newspaper and a salary of $14,500 a year. I decided it was time to get a place of my own.

My housing budget of $400 a month didn’t go very far.

After an extensive search, I rented a ground level apartment near the Warm Springs chairlift. It was a one-bedroom in-law unit beneath a two-story “Swiss chalet” that housed a family of five. At the front of my apartment was a picture window, but the bedroom and bathroom were subterranean.

Deprived of natural light, it wasn’t long before I started feeling anxious and depressed. Getting out of bed in the morning became increasingly difficult. My appetite waned.

As the winter progressed and the snow piled up in front of my single window, my mood worsened. My alcohol intake increased. The glare of the white landscape gave me headaches, and sunset made me homesick for Virginia. I cried daily, and began to feel jealous of the good fortune of those around me.

It never occurred to me that my rabbit hole of an apartment might be partly to blame. But when I moved from that dark cave, everything instantly brightened up.

Which is to say: Home can make us happy or it can make us unhappy. So when you’re contemplating signing a lease or a contract for a purchase, take these five steps:

  1. Make a point of observing your sensations when you enter the space. Then notice if there’s any sort of lift or excitement in your body.
  2. Follow your nose when you first walk inside. In most people, smell is the most direct, intense and tricky of the senses. If you’re twitching, you’d better figure out why.
  3. Be sure you take a seat in every room, because most people don’t stand the whole time they’re home. (Good news: It’s likely this test will make you feel better about the house.)
  4. Ask yourself if there’s anything about the home that feels like a sacrifice or compromise, apart from the financial outlay and the limits within a limitless universe.
  5. Pay attention if anything inside – or outside – the house irritates you. If there is irritation, will you be able to learn to accept it? Or can you change it? Be honest.

In other words, don’t ignore your intuition. If you’re not getting at least a tiny feeling of “This Must Be The Place,” then best to keep looking.

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.

Could You Be Loved

Selling real estate is a delicious, high-stakes game. It’s completely extraordinary – because most people don’t spend millions of dollars every day. And yet it’s completely ordinary – because lots of people buy homes.

Still, it’s a game.

I loathed Monopoly as a kid – except for the tactile pleasure of handling the color-banded deeds, the understated Chance and Community Chest cards, the fake money, the dice, and the iron, my favorite token.

The plastic houses and hotels scared me. I was okay with paying $200 for Reading Railroad; that seemed like an honest deal.  But no adult had ever bothered to explain what a mortgage was and I was terrified of going bankrupt. I didn’t want to put up a big red hotel on Connecticut Avenue just to watch that pale-blue deed be plucked away by my landlord brother.

I didn’t know I’d be a Realtor one day.

After three decades spent selling real estate, I can name a few parts of the game I don’t appreciate. Yet, I’ve learned it’s a noble and fun profession. I help others navigate a route to home ownership, a destination with no clear map or legible key – no matter how many apps they come up with.

The layperson thinks the game is about dollars and interest rates and market trends and bedroom counts and school districts. It is. And it isn’t.

Buying or selling a home is really about love. It’s about people just wanting to know that they’re going to be okay. It’s about them wanting to know, “Will I be loved?”

Could you be loved? Yes, you could. Yes, my clients are.

You see, my personal real estate playlist is heavy on Bob Marley. Because I get high on helping my clients feel AND BE safe and empowered while playing with big big big bucks. Real bucks, not funny money.

“Don’t worry about a thing,” I say, when the game gets scary, “cause every little thing is gonna be alright.”

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.

Striking out in San Francisco? Here’s a Giant heaping of help.

The game of baseball serves as a metaphor for just about every aspect of living. Buying real estate is no exception.

To learn more watch the full video click on the picture.


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.

Glen Park Central

How I love my city! Divine and diverse San Francisco – sanctuary for all, home for the lucky and a favorite tourist destination for many.

Part of its allure is its multitude of neighborhoods, each with particular traits and charms. Which is why I’m fond of saying “I’ve yet to meet a San Francisco neighborhood I don’t like.”

One of my favorites is Glen Park, because it manifests as if it were a town separate from San Francisco. Like you could pick it up and transport it somewhere 200 miles away and it would function exactly as it is now. Except that, in reality, it links to the entire Bay Area via BART, 101 and 280.

When you’re standing at the intersection of Diamond and Chenery – in Glen Park’s heart – you feel you’re part of something vibrant and welcoming. Glen Park Canyon is to your west. Tyger’s Coffee Shop and Higher Grounds sits kitty corner. Just half a block away is Canyon Market and the Glen Park branch of SF Public Library. Plus there are myriad restaurants, a hardware store, a fitness center, an independent bookstore, a nail salon…You name it. You’ve got it.

Once again, I’m privileged to have a listing located in wonderful Glen Park. Click here to learn more about it, or come by this weekend. And – if possible – aim for Sunday because the 19th Annual Glen Park Festival will be happening. Parking could be challenging, but you will have a great chance to see exactly what the village of Glen Park is all about.

It’s possibly THE best village within the city. (But – sshhhh – don’t tell West Portal I said that!)

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.

Less Lipstick = More Value

Last week, I offered some home-buying tips on how not to be fooled by staging. This week, my focus is on why empty and unstaged properties should be ranked at the top of every buyer’s must-see list.

I always say that my “dream home” for buyers is one with stained shag carpeting, an active roof leak and cat pee in every corner. Anything that combines ugly, stinky and neglected is enticing to me.

Or, as a contractor friend once said to me, “More pig, less lipstick.”

Some piggy properties are major fixers suited only for developers. I’m not talking about those oinkers. I’m talking about properties where the seller didn’t bother taking any pains with presentation. These empty or non-staged homes offer special advantages for buyers.

Advantage 1: Non-staged properties photograph badly. The lighting is dim and the empty rooms look small and sad. On MLS, dismal photos (or a lack of any photos) repel many buyers. These buyers swipe ahead to the next, more attractive looking listing. This means less competition for the poorly-presented house.

Advantage 2: Non-staged properties convey the impression that something is amiss, otherwise the sellers and their agent would care more. Busy buyers have infinite choices but finite time for viewing them, so they eliminate the “houses that must have something wrong with them” first. Fewer shoppers mean fewer offers.

Advantage 3: Lack of staging may mean the seller isn’t being well represented. The listing agent isn’t employing an effective marketing strategy (which would include staging), so there’s a chance he/she will not be very strategic about pricing or offers or negotiations. This also can mean a better value for the eventual buyer.

Advantage 4: Lack of staging magnifies flaws and implies neglect. For example, in a warm, well-lit, furnished living room a tiny superficial plaster crack strikes a buyer as a good excuse to change the paint color after closing. In a cold, dark, vacant living room that same crack worries the buyer that the foundation is crumbling. It’s all psychology, but this psychology works in favor of the buyer rather than the seller in an unstaged house.

Bottom line for San Francisco buyers: Don’t skip homes with no staging and/or no online photos. Go see them. And when you see them, consciously strive – with your agent’s help – to see them as if they are staged. Apply the lipstick yourself. Then make an offer.

For part one of this two-part post, go to link here.

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.

Buyers: Don’t Let Staging Fool You

“Sellers sell” is a real estate adage you’ve probably heard. It means that if homeowners are, in fact, committed to selling, they act in ways that lead to a sale. They engage a professional agent and follow her guidance.

But in San Francisco that adage may as well be “Sellers stage,” since home staging is almost always the #1 suggestion for serious sellers.

Staging warms up a house and makes its floor plan easy to grok, but its main purpose is to 1) make photos look good and 2) induce an emotional response in prospective buyers.

Buyers may think and say, “I can see past the staging.” Yet the truth is that staging always exerts a subtle (or not so subtle) influence on home shoppers’ psyches.

Here’s are eight ways to be sure staging doesn’t sabotage your home search and the choice you ultimately make:

Acknowledge that staging does have an influence on your perception. Consciously strive to imagine the space as if it were vacant and ask your agent to help you with that visualization. (Example: The staged bonus room behind the garage looks cozy and bright, yet there is no heat source and the ceilings are too low; you would never want anybody to actually sleep there.)

Be seated in every room. Don’t just walk around and view things from a standing perspective. This will give you a more realistic read on the house’s utility and overall vibe. (Example: From the sofa, you can’t see the trees across the street, but — once seated —  you can feel and hear the freeway just on the other side of those trees.)

Play house in the kitchen. Pretend you’re taking stuff out of the fridge or out of a cabinet, placing it on the countertop, chopping it up and throwing it in a pan. You may be surprised at what you learn. (Example: The cabinets are hung so high you can’t reach them unless you’re an NBA player.)

Note how the house is oriented on its lot. Check outside spaces for any surfaces tinted with green. Notice what variety of florae are growing there and guess how recently they were planted. (Example: Pots full of fuchsias may indicate that the sun never shines on the deck.)

Check window coverings. Stagers usually remove drapes and blinds to let in light and open up rooms. Only after you move in do you realize there’s a problem. (Example: The huge windows in a loft may allow so much light that it’s hard to stay cool or enjoy even a modicum of privacy and the floor-to-ceiling drapes you must install as a result may greatly alter the “airy” feeling of the space.)

Notice if the listing agent has turned on music during the open house and ask yourself (or your agent) why. Look for air filters and white-noise devices. (Example: The amazing sound system may be a great feature which deserves to be showcased, but make certain it’s not there to distract from the bass line seeping through the floor from the cafe downstairs.)

Identify nearby uses in ever direction. Don’t forget what is “behind” you – through the block. (Example: The condo is on a quiet residential block yet backs up to a restaurant whose exhaust fan runs 18 hours a day – fine if you’re not sensitive to noise or smells, but terrible if you don’t like pizza.)

Consider how you will use each room. Don’t simply accept the staged implication. (Example: The unfinished attic, staged with cushions and yoga mats, inspires you to begin a home meditation practice. But – honestly – how likely will you be to pull down the ladder and climb up there every day? And what if you discover that meditation isn’t really your thing?)

A best practice for buyers is to minimize the time spent looking online. Instead, get out there and see your choices live in person. There’s no substitute for being there.

This is the first of two posts on the effect of staging on buyer psyche. Look for part two next week: Unstaged? Advantage 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.