Category Archives: Story

Will This Floor Plan Work For An Orgy?

Years ago I represented a single female buyer (let’s call her “Eve”) who belonged to an exclusive community of sexually adventurous yet socially conscious people. Their organization’s primary raison d’etre was the staging and attendance of private “play” parties.

As a member of the board of directors of the association (let’s call it “Honeycomb”), Eve wanted to be able to host events at her home.

And because she had practiced being respectful of others’ needs and explicit about stating her own needs – at sex parties, for example – she was exceptionally unequivocal about the features her home should have.

Eve knew how to ask a new Honeycomb member if he or she had been recently tested for STDs and could she see a copy of the results. She wasn’t shy about requesting more lubrication, or less pressure, or no talking. So, it was easy for her to tell me that her house had to have either 3 bathrooms or the capacity to create 3 bathrooms.

Her list also included:

• A neighborhood where street parking or paid parking was relatively abundant. (This was before Uber and Lyft.)
• A single family home, preferably detached, where a dusk-to-dawn gathering wouldn’t upset neighbors.
• A good heating system so scantily-clad Honeycombers could stay warm.
• Windows that could be fitted with effective privacy coverings.
• A preference for more rooms vs. large rooms, to accommodate a variety of small group encounters.

Eve’s shopping list provides a more-eccentric-than-average example of how vital it is for a buyer’s agent to observe and evaluate properties as if looking through his/her client’s lens.

I can instantly check all the boxes on someone’s list – bedrooms, bathrooms, outdoor space, kitchen/dining configuration, tech-shuttle proximity, etc. But there’s almost always an unstated or indefinable list of needs that require some divination on my part. I can’t count how many times I’ve seen a property that lacks a critical feature on a buyer’s list, yet has something that makes me think, “This must be the place.”

So, somebody buys a house with no parking – even though that somebody told me, “No way. Do not even tell me about it if it doesn’t have parking!” All because somebody fell in love with the lemon and avocado trees off the back deck.

I’ve represented buyers with very particular needs: A single family home with no steps to the front door. A Noe Valley property with western views that didn’t include Sutro Tower. A home with a garage big enough for six dragon boats and a car. A house with a yard suitable for a pizza oven.

In every case:
1. We found the “right” place.
2. The end result didn’t precisely match our starting vision.
3. The homeowner’s exact needs changed over time.
4. The way they inhabited the property changed, too.

As for Eve, she got her “right” house, and she’s lived there happily for 15 years. She let her Honeycomb membership lapse and got married. And the property near Golden Gate Park – with radiant heat and 3 bathrooms – is now home to an active family of five.

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

What Argentina Taught Me About Home

“Argentines are Italians who speak Spanish who think they are British.” ~ unknown

There’s nothing like traveling abroad to refresh one’s perspective on life back home. It’s been more than a month since I returned from a wonderful vacation and – before I forget – here are the lessons learned about HOME from my sojourn in Argentina.

Wood is good. Old wood is especially good.
Argentines haven’t gotten the memo about painting out or replacing all the wood in their houses, hotels and restaurants. It’s everywhere and in every condition from rotting away to brand new, and there’s something very comforting about it.

In the kitchen, simplicity is a gift.
Having the latest appliance or gadget doesn’t count for a fig when it comes to making scrumptious food. In the Airbnbs where we stayed, we’d find a hot plate, running water, an electric kettle, a refrigerator, at least one decent knife and a good bottle of olive oil. Never a dishwasher, seldom a microwave, sometimes an oven. We nonetheless ate well when we cooked at home, and enjoyed the simplicity and lack of fuss prompted by the pared-down equipment.

Bidets rock.
I was sad to come home and see the toilet sitting there all by itself. How lovely to have the companionship and convenience of a bidet. So civilized. So European. (Americans don’t get it.)

San Francisco groundwork such as sidewalks and streets are (relatively) fantastic.
One of our guides mentioned that jay-walking is a sport in Argentina. Well, plain-ol-walking in Argentine towns and cities challenges one’s physical fortitude. If you aren’t vigilant and wearing sensible shoes, you’ll end up in a hole or a ditch or the hospital.

Same goes for roads and highway infrastructure.
In Argentina, they don’t “need no stinking” road signs. On the day we were flying back home, it’s good we had a six-hour window to make the one-hour trip to the Buenos Aires International Airport in our rental car (admittedly, sans GPS). I won’t go into detail; let’s just say it was an adventure.

Americans aren’t friendly.
We’d heard about the Argentine reputation for arrogance, but didn’t experience that firsthand. Instead we were struck by how very friendly everyone was. Cheerful, helpful, kind, generous and possessed of a playful sense of humor.

It takes a lot of Argentine pesos to get around.
I felt rich carrying two-inch wad of bills – 5s, 10s, 20s, 100s and 500s. When you consider that the exchange rate was then roughly 15.6 pesos to 1 USD, you’ll understand why.

The wine is fine.
And relatively inexpensive, and offered throughout the day. Going for a swim? How would you like a glass of champagne poolside? Going for a horseback ride? May we bring you a nice Sauvignon Blanc as you dismount? Checking in to your hotel? How about a pour of Malbec while you sign this form? And if you don’t care for wine, may we bring you a beer?

Argentine dogs are something else altogether.
We encountered plenty of dogs that were leashed and pampered and treated as beloved pets. But there are semi-feral dogs roaming free everywhere, and my partner learned – the hard way – the meaning of the expression “Let sleeping dogs lie.” Don’t interrupt a wild dog’s nap to snap a silly photo of him on your cell phone. He’ll tear your leg off.

I want a Parilla.
Everybody in Argentina seems to have a built-in, brick-walled, wood-fired BBQ in their yard. And they really know how to cook chicken and meat. If I had a parilla here in San Francisco, I’d roast some vegetables too.

And a six-pack of Quilmes
Quilmes Cristal quickly became our local beer of choice. (It’s also the choice of 75% of Argentine beer drinkers.) Founded in 1888 by a German immigrant, the name comes from an indigenous tribe of people who fought off the Incas for 100+ years and then resisted the Spaniards for 100+ years, only to be systematically eradicated. Only a few Quilmes people remain today, while their name is displayed prominently in every grocery store, bar and restaurant in the country. Sound familiar?

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.

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. 

Be It Ever So Humble (or Not)

Last year I was privileged to sell a significant and extraordinary home – the grandest of my career.

During the escrow I carefully avoided calculating my commission. Instead I faithfully cleaved to my 29-year practice of bringing the highest level of care to every transaction, regardless of price tag. I rooted myself in my fiduciary role, and I wouldn’t let myself or anyone else count proverbial chickens.

The house was newly constructed on spec, but as soon as I entered I sensed its character. It was grand but homey, impressive but understated. No spurious details or garish flash. (Except perhaps an overabundance of laundry rooms and too many video screens over the family room bar.)

This house felt right. Big, but right.

It was designed and built by people who brought artistry and integrity to their work. People who dreamed into its manifestation and who offered it up for the lucky stewards – my clients – who would make those dreams a reality.

I found myself daydreaming into the house on every visit. There was the window seat where the couple could read side by side on a rainy afternoon. There was the pool where the future kids could swim on a hot, sunny day. There was the outdoor hearth where friends could gather on a crisp Sunday afternoon in October.

The dream was alight in the eyes of the affable listing agent and in the smile of his capable assistant. I watched them watching my clients as they, too, caught the dream. The builder and developer gave us all a grand tour, beaming with pride in their labor. The foyer lit up with our shared excitement.

Of course, even a dream house isn’t perfect. The escrow for its purchase included a few prickly patches. The months ahead would bring punch-list and maintenance issues. And life after closing won’t be “happily ever after” because that only happens in fairytales.

In the aftermath and middle of a real estate transaction, it’s easy to get mired in details of the deal. As an agent, I must focus on the nitty-gritty elements while simultaneously holding to a bigger vision of “home” and what it means for my clients.

In 1987, I sold my very first buyer a home. I remember being deeply worried about my ability to be a “salesperson.” The first surprise of my new career was the discovery that I wasn’t really selling anything. The property sold itself to my client, and I facilitated the purchase.

The second, more profound surprise was that I deeply, earnestly wished for my client to have his dream come true. I wanted him to obtain his personal version of – say – Hearst Castle.

His castle turned out to be a $250,000 condo that needed some cosmetic refreshment. Yet it was located in a pleasant “quintessential-San Francisco” neighborhood and the wee patio outside the living room was sheltered and inviting.

Even as a rookie, I observed how the space spoke to him. I understood how his desire for sanctuary swept him toward making an offer. My job was to help him obtain his ideal SF nest while watching out for his safety and bottom line.

This is something some buyers and sellers (and, regrettably, many agents) don’t grok: The model Realtor makes the sale, but also shares and preserves the client’s vision of home, even when the client loses sight of it.

Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam
Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home
–from the song Home! Sweet Home! by Bishop and Payne

Whether it’s a downtown studio condo or a wine-country estate, there truly is no place like home. Holding that dream is my calling.

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.

Catering to the Client

The job experience that best prepared me for a future as a Realtor was the year I spent working for a caterer in the resort town of Sun Valley, Idaho.

During that stint, I filled every available role except accounting and planning. I did shopping, ordering, recipe research, food prep and rental management. I worked as server, hostess, cocktail waitress, dishwasher, cook, busboy, sommelier and buckwheat crepe maker.

My boss Susan ran her business out of her house a few miles south of town. In the winter months, her garage served as walk-in cooler and freezer. Especially between Thanksgiving and New Year’s when we had at least one and sometimes three or four parties every day. I’d arrive at Susan’s before breakfast and work all day and night, pausing only to change out of my cooking clothes and into my waiting clothes.

I learned how to be adaptive, attentive and ready to do whatever odd task was essential. That might mean inspecting freshly killed ducks for shotgun pellets. Or putting a client’s kids to bed because the babysitter was a no-show. Or delivering pumpkin pies in a snowstorm.

I particularly recall a New Year’s Eve gig for a famous Motown diva who was wintering in a large and lavish ski “cabin” near Dollar Mountain. She wanted goose with all the trimmings for dinner, followed by brunch the next day. For 50 of her closest friends.

The Wood River Valley was experiencing a cold snap. Cold enough that we’d been chilling wine all week by just setting it outside for half an hour. Cold enough that Susan’s old Suburban wouldn’t start unless it had been plugged into an engine heater. Cold enough that we had to figure out how to safely defrost six frozen (plastic-sealed) geese that had been stored in a snow bank on the shady side of the house.

The solution was to put them in Susan’s bathtub, with some cold water, where they would gradually thaw without blooming with salmonella. It was the only bathroom in the house and the geese needed to defrost for at least 24 hours.

On the day before the diva’s party, I spent the morning prepping bouillabaisse for 100 – up to my elbows in fish and garlic and grossed out from all the shrimp deveining I’d done. It was imperative that I shower before heading out to tend bar and serve food.

So I ended up taking a cold shower while straddling the cold geese in Susan’s cold tub in cold water up over my cold ankles.

And while my job as a Realtor can be quite lovely and even glamorous, there are always times when I have to improvise and do the job nobody else wants to do: Use a paper clip to unlock the bedroom door where an open-house visitor has inadvertently trapped the tenants’ cats. Clean up raccoon poop from the tradesway. Persuade a homeless person to find another doorway to sleep in. Unclog a commode. Shine up a splattered kitchen faucet using toilet paper. Put an onion in the oven to mask last night’s fish smell.

Whatever it takes. Whatever is needed. I know how to cater, and I can shower with frozen geese.

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.

Boogie-Boarding Home

During our initial interview, my client Sandra handed me a spreadsheet. It specified all the features her new home should have, arranged in descending order of importance. Here are the top 10.

  1. Fireplace
  2. Parking
  3. Single family home
  4. Not on a busy street
  5. View of some water
  6. 3 bedrooms or 2 + den
  7. 2 bathrooms
  8. Walk to coffee
  9. In-unit laundry.
  10. East of Arguello and north of Fell

We conducted an exhaustive search, touring and/or considering several dozen properties over a dozen weeks.

Guess how many of those top-10 features her eventual home included? Two. The property was on a quiet block and had its own washer and dryer.

This incongruity between aspiration and actuality happens because our dream of home can’t be translated neatly into a checklist. There are too many intangibles.

In Sandra’s case, she knew her future home (a condo, not a single family home) was “the place” as soon as we entered the front door. And I guessed it from the hesitant excitement I read in her sideways glance towards me.

“Property sells itself” is one of my favorite real-estate adages. By that I mean there’s nothing anyone can say to “sell” someone on the desirability of a home. The buyer either feels it, or they don’t feel it.

It’s like boogie-boarding. You belly onto the wave as soon as you enter a property, but you sense almost instantly whether or not you’ll ride the board into shore.

It’s kismet. It’s chemistry. It’s love, not real estate.

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.

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.

A Non-Toothache for Solstice

I sat down on the Solstice to write something about home and holidays. I wanted to evoke in myself some fitting Christmas spirit to share with others.

But neither spirit nor words arose. Instead came the slow realization that I could be quiet and stop trying. I could be at home in and at peace with myself. Period.

No running around short-of-breath with my shopping list in hand. No decorating. No tree. No cards. No elaborate Christmas dinner plans except an ordinary stew in the pressure cooker. No writing just the right thing.

I’ve been gradually stripping away the winter holiday trimmings from my life over the last half-dozen years or so. Every December there’s been a diminishment in the fuss and bustle, matched with an increase in presence and non-efforting. More time being unproductive, inefficient and aimless.

More time being grateful for home, family and health, especially in these darkest days of the year.

As Thich Nhat Hanh said, real happiness derives in part from noticing and being grateful for any moment of contentment: “Suffering from your toothache you get enlightened: you say: ‘It’s wonderful not to have a toothache.’ So, how to enjoy your non-toothache? Just remember the time when you had a toothache. Suffering plays a very important role in helping you to be happy.”

Gratitude for my “non-toothache” makes me more aware of the pleasure in my life and – simultaneously – aware of the pain in every life. And that is followed by compassion. Compassion for myself not “measuring up” to some crazy holiday standard I learned as a child. Compassion for all beings. A wish for everyone to have a safe home, a loving family and abiding love in their lives.

That’s enough for today, and for tomorrow. And it’s what I offer you at the end of 2016: Light and love in 2017!

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.

There’s Always a Piano

“The secret to humor is surprise.” ~ Aristotle

Conversely, the secret to navigating a surprise is humor – especially when it comes to something unexpected in a real estate transaction.

One scrap of wisdom I share at the outset with new clients is this: There will be at least one moment during this process when something is unexpected and upsetting. It isn’t a matter of IF it will happen. It’s a matter of WHAT and WHEN.

As a Realtor, I am Navigator of the deal. I unroll a map of the Transaction and highlight a route to Closing. I know most of the twists and turns by heart. And I deftly steer around new bumps and barricades. Yet there is always a pothole I don’t see before driving over or into it.

These holes along the highway take many forms (or so I have seen).

The mortgage one-more-thing: On the day before signing lender requires that Buyer’s car lease be paid off in full.

The insurance Catch 22: Buyer can’t obtain loan and close escrow without insurance in place. But insurance company says circuit breakers must be installed before house can be insured. So Seller must have the circuit breakers installed prior to closing. Yet property is a probate and Seller is deceased. And Buyer doesn’t have a contingency for insurability because the insurance companies just dreamed this new policy up a month ago.

The unimaginable: Buyer has a brain aneurism on the day before closing.

The catastrophic: Loma Prieta comes knockin’ and the house goes rockin’ off its foundation just after Buyer waives inspection contingency.

The governmental: The IRS decides to begin scrutinizing a formerly-ignored form called a TRDBV required by mortgage lenders. TRDBV stands for Tax Return Database. (I’m not sure what the “V” connotes and I don’t really care and I hope you never have to find out yourself.) Buyers drop everything (including their jobs) to go stand in line at the local IRS office for hours. And HOURS.

The feral: During a final walk-through, Buyer steps onto the roof and into a pile of raccoon poop.

The emotional: Soon-to-be-divorced yet cheery Seller goes silent in the week before closing. Refuses to sign closing papers. Will not return agent’s or attorney’s phone calls. Will not answer doorbell. Emails escrow officer that she’s changed her mind.

The economic: Seller’s employer withdraws offer of new position on the East Coast just after Seller accepts Buyer’s all-cash, no-contingency offer with a 14-day closing.

The watery: Closing is December 30th. Huge storm – the first of the season – crushes Bay Area on December 31st. Buyers call shortly before midnight, but not to wish me a Happy New Year. They are crying loudly. I realize, however, that their tears are not the cause of the dripping sound in the background.

The musical: Several days prior to closing, piano-owning Buyers realize they missed the Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions ban on pianos in the condo building. As we search for a possible music-friendly solution, I remind the impatient Sellers, “There’s always a piano.”

Yes indeed.  In every transaction, “there’s always a piano.”

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

True Real Estate Tales

by Bogdan Dada

Two months ago, my newsletter featured a post about the inevitable surprises that arise during real estate transactions. (You can read it by clicking here.)

In the interim, new astonishments have risen, written their stories and become the stuff of legend.

There was the hair-raising Case of the Too-Fast Closing.

And the confusing Case of the Car Included in the Sale.

And who can forget the just-plain-dumb Case of the Last-Minute Pre-Closing Lender Requirement to Paint a 2’ x 4’ Patch of Exterior Wood Siding.

The latest thriller I’ve encountered is one I’m entitling the Case of the Emotional Roller Coaster of Trying to Buy a Bank-Owned House. It bears telling, though some details have been changed to prevent identification of property or players.

The house in question was a cozy storybook cottage in a quaint San Francisco neighborhood. It had languished on the market for 45 days at a too-high price of $1,000,000.

Jack and Jill – the cutest couple of first-time homebuyers you’d ever want to meet – encountered the house on a hot, sunny, slow-open-house Sunday. It was love at first sight.

(I’m talking about the sort of love that’s reserved for the runt of the litter down at the SPCA. The house was going to need some grooming and fattening up, but its basic bones and personality were great.)

Jack, Jill and I talked it over and decided to write an offer. Soon, the horror began.

Monday, 9:00 am: We offered $975,000 ($25,000 less than asking) with clean terms. Sensible.

1:00 pm. The listing agent called me to say the bank (which owned the property) was considering our offer. Encouraging.

Tuesday, 9:00am: The bank countered us at $999,000. Discouraging.

12:00 pm: We restated our offer of $975,000. Persistent.

1:00 pm: The bank agreed verbally to $975,000. Amazing.

4:00 pm: The bank sent its version of the contract for Jack and Jill to sign. Bureaucratic.

4:05 pm: Jack and Jill signed the contract and I prepared to return it to the bank for signature. Procedural.

4:15 pm: The listing agent informed us the deal was off because a competing offer had been submitted by another agent in the listing office! Bummer.

5:00 pm: The bank countered Jack and Jill and the competing offer with a simultaneous “highest and best” demand. Depressing.

Tuesday, 9:00 am: The listing agent called to say the bank had changed its mind and was honoring and accepting our $975,000 offer after all! Wonderful.

9:15 am: The listing agent called to say the bank had changed its mind again and wanted our “highest and best” instead. Cruel.

11 am: Jack and Jill submitted their highest and best offer of $1,05,000. Courageous.

5 pm: The listing agent called to say that the competing offer from his/her colleague’s clients was just a little higher and just a little better than Jack and Jill’s highest and best. Utterly deflating and upsetting.

And so the tale ends. Jack and Jill will not be buying THAT cozy storybook cottage, but I trust we will soon find a far superior house in which they will live happily ever after – or at least until it’s time to upsize.

Cynthia Cummins is a Top Producer and Partner at McGuire. For info on SF real estate visit http://CynthiaCummins.com. This entry was re-posted at the McGuire Real Estate blog.