Category Archives: SFRE

Great San Francisco views. How can I get one?

If a breathtaking view is at the top of your wish list, you’ll need a breathtaking budget to afford it.

San Francisco is home to some of the best views anywhere on the planet. And, happily, hundreds of them are available for free. To everyone.

To watch the full video click on the photo.

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

Spraying the Moss

I’ve written previously about how staging is a form of theater. Instead of setting a scene in which actors animate a story, stagers set a scene in which buyers can imagine living their lives.

It’s about contextualizing rooms, enhancing good design, downplaying flaws and heightening the effectiveness of photography. But it’s primarily about evoking a mood and creating a positive subliminal response.

Staging, however, doesn’t solve everything. Properties often need a few subtle (or funny) tweaks that only an agent can think of and handle.

Examples include:

• Moving the cat box out of the powder room and into the garage during an open house.
• Spraying lavender mist to mask the odor of last night’s salmon.
• Turning up the heat and closing all the windows.
• Turning off the heat and opening all the windows.
• Neatening the shoes stacked outside a neighboring condo’s door.
• Cleaning up dog poo from a carpet.
• Lighting candles.
• Asking a homeless person to please nap elsewhere.
• Roasting an onion.
• Emptying or taking out the trash.
• Angling shutters for optimum lighting.
• Sweeping up leaves and street detritus blown into an entry.
• Asking teenagers on their school lunch break to smoke somewhere else.
• Sorting mail for saving or recycling.
• Emptying a diaper pail.
• Windexing the fingerprints left by kid visitors on windows, doors, coffee tables.
• Freshening the fruit bowl.
• Unclogging a toilet used by an open house looker.
• Hiding the toilet paper to discourage future use.
• Carefully removing used syringes from a planter box.
• Shooing away (without success) those little flies that love the dead air in an entry.
• Guarding neighbors’ driveways and garages.
• Plucking dried orchid blooms from a dining centerpiece.
• Double-checking that nobody has spelled dirty words using the stagers’ Scrabble set.
• Making sure people don’t hurt themselves or damage the property.
• Putting the paper towels, knife block, toaster and dish drainer under the sink.
• Holding babies, watching strollers, minding dogs, stowing latte cups, monitoring double-parked cars.
• Gently relocating a spider to the exterior.
• And – perhaps the most fun and funny task ever – spraying the moss displayed in a sculptural bowl upon every visit to a property.

All seemingly insignificant details that make a difference and all part of my role as a professional real estate agent!

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.

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.

You Need an Agent

Finding a house is the easiest part of buying in San Francisco. Winning it and getting through escrow are much more challenging.

It’s a competitive marketplace for buyers, and those who get the keys to their dream home have the support of a topnotch team. Your team captain and primary ally is your real estate agent.

Always, always, always begin by shopping for your agent, not for your house.

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.

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.

Dulce Domum

Think “luxury” and the adjectives that arise are ones like “prestigious,” “opulent,” “expensive,” or “unique.”

But how about the deliciously plain and oft-neglected word “understated?”

It’s delightful to step into a grand, architecturally significant loft from a funky freight elevator. Or to drive up to a lavish estate via a gravel drive secured by a humble wooden gate. The surprise only heightens one’s sense of prosperity and good fortune.

A prime example of such restrained sensibility is 1050 Filbert Street, currently for sale in San Francisco. Located on the east slope of Russian Hill, it consists of a main house and separate guest quarters. All that’s evident from the street is a boxy two-car garage. The casual observer might say, “Meh.”

But behind its ordinary entry door and down a flight of simple stairs is an elegant oasis – one that’s been thoughtfully remodeled and reimagined for a luxurious yet understated lifestyle. Its muted design is key to its charm and value.

It reminds me of an episode from the book The Wind in the Willows (a children’s classic focused on a group of woodland critters whose genteel lifestyles feature some fabulous real estate): Mole and Rat are lost in The Wild Wood and stumble upon “a solid-looking little door” belonging to Mr. Badger’s house “in the side of what had seemed to be a snow-bank.”

Badger invites his unexpected visitors in for supper and ushers them “down a long, gloomy, and, to tell the truth, decidedly shabby passage, into a sort of a central hall” which leads to “a large firelit kitchen,” which author Kenneth Grahame describes in such delightful detail that it makes me wish I knew Badger myself:

The floor was well-worn red brick, and on the wide hearth burned a fire of logs, between two attractive chimney corners tucked away…Rows of spotless plates winked from the shelves of the dresser at the far end of the room, and from the rafters overhead hung hams, bundles of dried herbs, nets of onions, and baskets of eggs. It seemed a place where heroes could fitly feast after victory, where weary harvesters could line up in scores along the table and keep their Harvest Home with mirth and song, or where two or three friends of simple tastes could sit about as they pleased…in comfort and contentment. The ruddy brick floor smiled up at the smoky ceiling; the oaken settles, shiny with long wear, exchanged cheerful glances with each other; plates on the dresser grinned at pots on the shelf, and the merry firelight flickered and played over everything without distinction.

It’s the sort of kitchen you’d see in an Architectural Digest spread about an English country house. The restored cabinets date back to the 18th Century. A dishwasher has only recently been installed. Baskets hang by the door so the cook can gather vegetables from the kitchen garden. A well-worn table serves as additional counter space and for casual dining.

There’s nothing new or bespoke. The architect’s name is lost. But the understated estate is the very essence of luxury. It offers comfort and solace. It pleases the senses. It welcomes and delights friends. And it frames and supports a meaningful life.

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.