Category Archives: Uncategorized

Wishing You A Happy Thanksgiving

I’m spending the holiday with family and friends rather than writing a blog post. Hope you’re having fun, too!

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

RE Glossary: A’s and B’s

My own tongue-in-cheek definitions of real estate terms, starting with the A’s and B’s.

Acceleration clause:
A clause in a loan contract where – if you do certain things – instead of having to repay your loan 27 years from now you have to repay it next Monday.

Adjustable rate mortgage:
Not necessarily a bad thing. Ask me why.

Agent:
Loves you like your mother (if you have the right agent).

Annual percentage rate:
What your rate of interest would be if you factored in all the costs associated with your loan. Better not to dwell on the APR.

Application:
Fill in a loan application once and you’ll understand why you should make a copy so you never have to fill one in again.

Appreciation:
Something you can count on to be robust in San Francisco.

Assessed value:
Predicated on purchase price and, in San Francisco and California, subject to expected, minimal increases over time. No surprises, unlike in other parts of the country.

Balloon payment:
Neither fun nor festive. See “Acceleration clause” above.

Bridge loan:
Allows you to buy a new house before you’ve sold your old one. Not a great idea unless you can afford to own two houses – in case something goes awry with your plan.

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.

In Praise of Your Local Hardware Store

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

This is one of my favorite quotes about homeownership.

The clever fellow who said it was Frank McKinney Hubbard (aka Kin Hubbard), a cartoonist, humorist and journalist who died at the age of 62 in 1930.

Mr. Hubbard had lots of quotable quotes, such as:

“Nothing will dispel enthusiasm like a small admission fee.”

“The only way to entertain some folks is to listen to them.”

“Now and then an innocent man is sent to the legislature.”

I appreciate Hubbard, and yet the last time I visited Fredericksen’s on Fillmore (which, by the way, right now has a fabulous Halloween display in its windows) I got to musing about the hardware-store quote. The humor pivots on the fact that homeownership is not a static state. It’s a dynamic journey that unfolds over time and takes time, effort and money. Got it.

But what’s so bad about going to a hardware store? I’m not talking about Home Depot or Lowe’s (they have their place, they’re just not fun). I’m talking about stores like Fredericksen’s, Cliff’s Variety on Castro, Cole Hardware on Cole or Papenhausen on West Portal, to name a only a few in San Francisco.

In what other store in this modern world can you expect to receive gracious, friendly and expert attention as you shop for something that costs less than a quarter, or a dollar, or five dollars? Where else will someone talk with you in detail about ordinary tiny items like screws, fly swatters, nails, hinges, chains, wire, pencil erasers and Glue Gone?

Where else can you grab a rubber tub stopper and a new tea kettle and laundry detergent and dog food and a flat of impatiens and lightbulbs and an elegant new salad bowl for a gift and a combination lock and a box of thumbtacks and some newfangled product sitting by the cash register that you didn’t know you needed but later learn was exactly what you had to have?

Yes, you can find some of these things at Bed, Bath and Beyond or at Target. Yet it’s only at your neighborhood hardware store that you can buy a new socket-wrench set and also get that neighborly, small-town feeling. That homey, personable, intimate feeling that you can’t find at a suburban mall or Costco or by ordering on Amazon.

I say, “Lucky is the gal who owns her own home and is always just going IN to a hardware store.”

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.

Gratitude in Times of Trouble

If you’re reading this 50 years from now, you should know that 2017 wasn’t just another benign blip on the calendar, but one full of troubles. And joys. A year full of natural or manmade disasters. A year filled with people striving to make things better.

We’re nearly at the end of 2017, and San Francisco’s blue sky is smoke-choked from out-of-control wildfires burning down lives, property and whole mountainsides.

What can we do? We’re all asking that question. The answer, for now, is not much except wait for the smoke to clear. Then we’ll see.

While we wait, I’m making a list of gratitudes, and I’m sharing here the work- and real estate-related ones:

  • My livelihood, which has enabled me to raise my children, pay for their education, and send them off to save the world
  • My colleagues at McGuire, a safe, inspiring and supportive workplace, managed primarily by women
  • My tireless cohort and friend Laraine Hsu
  • Media whiz Garrett Distor
  • Mentor and inspiration Jamie Comer
  • Coach and boss Alex Buehlmann
  • McGuire superheroes Jessi Greenlee, Lauren Bensinger, Aviva Kamler, Whitney Palmedo, Shelly Bowes, Gary Palamo, Carlos Rivas, Tanya Alexander
  • The hardest-working mortgage banker in the land, Susan Costello
  • The San Francisco real estate brokerage community, comprised of so many intelligent, passionate, smart, caring people
  • Thank God for California.
  • San Francisco, where everyone wants to be (if they’re honest with themselves).
  • My home, without a garage or a dishwasher but whole and on an evergreen (in every sense of that word) San Francisco block
  • The people whom I have the privilege of representing and who make my practice of real estate a true practice

For all this – and more – I am grateful, grateful, grateful.

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.

Finding the Season in San Francisco

I lived here for nearly a decade before I realized that – yes – San Francisco has an Autumn.

I grew up in Virginia, where Fall hits you in the face every which way you turn. And then I lived in Sun Valley, Idaho, where a magnificent display of red, orange and gold in September is topped off with sugary white by late October.

It’s more subtle in our city. The sun burns more gravely in its journey from bay and ocean. The sound of crows and ravens fill the air. Dry leaves skitter across sidewalks. Persimmons and pumpkins appear at produce stands.

For a bigger eyeful of Autumn, you can drive north or east for a couple of hours. But it’s also possible to feel Fall more intensely during a visit to Golden Gate Park.

I walk in the park as often as my schedule allows, and am always astounded to find myself mostly alone. Every square inch of teeny-tiny Dolores Park is jammed with people, dogs, kids, Frisbees, 12-packs, guitars, drums, boomboxes and every form of marijuana on weekends, while Golden Gate Park stretches peacefully out to the Pacific like a perfectly smooth picnic blanket.

You can visit the museums (the deYoung or the California Academy of Sciences), or the Japanese Tea Garden, or the Children’s Playground. You can stroll around Stow Lake and up to Strawberry Hill. Or dally in the Shakespeare Garden. Or circle Spreckels Lake. There are trees and plants everywhere starting to change into winter attire.

Although, hands down, the best place for feeling the season (whether Spring, Summer, Fall or Winter) is the Strybing Botanical Garden. The walking is easy and there are innumerable spots where you can sit and reflect, or eat a sandwich, or watch the kids run around in the grass.

Best of all, it’s FREE to San Francisco residents. When was the last time YOU were there? Wait! You’ve never been? Well, check it out now…

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.

Sentimental but Useless? Snap a Photo!

Stuff gets in our way. As I’ve said before (and will probably say again), it’s our belongings that most often entrap us and prevent us from moving smoothly and happily through the stages of our lives.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard these remarks:

  • We can’t downsize because there’s no place to put all our stuff.
  • We can’t entertain because our dining room is cluttered with our stuff.
  • We can’t sell because I need to first find time to go through all my stuff.
  • We can’t move because my spouse can’t let go of all her/his stuff.

With very few exceptions, most would-be home sellers are trapped by the possessions they’ve accumulated over time. Decluttering is difficult enough, but it’s especially challenging when it comes to sentimental items: Children’s art, hand-me-down quilts, pottery hand-thrown by a beloved uncle, glasses from 20 years of Napa Valley wine tastings, bongo drums purchased for the 5-year-old kid who’s now 38, half-crumbled dough ornaments from Christmas 1994.

Luckily, items with “meaning” (but no present-day value or practical use) can be easily disposed of IF you follow this advice, gleaned from a Real Simple article: Tear down the museum!

If it’s out of sight and out of mind on a regular basis – tucked into a box in the basement or stacked in a corner of the garage – you should sell it, give it away, recycle it, or throw it in the trash. But, first, snap a picture of it.

The very act of taking a picture creates a small ritual for saying goodbye and thanking the object for its service or existence. Plus you can promise yourself that you’ll always have a digital record of the red bunny rabbit that Billy drew on the back of a Pasta Pomodoro menu in 3rd grade.

Not that you’ll ever look at the photo EVER again. It’ll simply allow you to LET GO.

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.

Ain’t It Funny How Time Slips Away?

I live at the border of the Liberty Hill Historic district, just a two-minute huff away from the golden fire hydrant that quelched the fire that ravaged the Mission district after San Francisco’s Great Earthquake. My house sits on 20th Street and is a curious-looking late-Victorian cottage that is a close relative of what’s termed an “earthquake shack.

It was built in 1906 or 1907 on a lot made vacant when firefighters and volunteers dynamited (or let burn) the structures on the north side of the street as a fire break. Rescued from destruction by that intervention and by the famous golden fire hydrant at 20th and Church, the stately homes on the opposite side of my street are intact. Almost daily, groups of people gather with their tour guides to gawk at those handsome facades.

In the middle of an ordinary day, I’m sometimes halted in my tracks by the realization that those Victorians have stood there for 125 years. They practically loom over pedestrians, like members of a jury. Observing, listening, judging. Positioned on an upslope, their fronts are like somber, vigilant faces.

They watched silently after the quake as the Mission rose from the heap of ashes strewn from 20th Street to Market. They stood by as the train tracks on the block were ripped out and – later – new sewer mains planted and utility poles erected (and, more recently, buried). They’ve outlasted the graves that once filled Dolores Park and were relocated to Colma.

They repeatedly see the street repaved and its sidewalk squares torn out and re-poured. They watch as a recurring sinkhole on the west end of the block caves in every five years or so. They’ve had garages dug beneath their foundations, and the natural springs on their lots funneled into drainage systems.

They’ve endured as San Francisco soldiers marched off to at least six wars. They’ve surveyed crowds of people thronging toward Mission Street or Market Street to protest for women’s suffrage, civil rights and gay rights.

The women who’ve slept in their bedrooms have worn corsets and bustles, or miniskirts, or all-leather ensembles and multiple piercings. People from all over the globe have called them “home.” Recently, children have grown to adulthood in their rooms, but can’t leave because they can’t afford a place of their own.

Sometimes at twilight, if I squint my eyes just right, I can imagine all the houses are brand new. It’s the 1890s. There are no cars. There are no hipsters toting 12-packs of PBR to Dolores Park. There are no skateboarders bombing the hill. The Great Earthquake is still 15 years away and the California Gold Rush is not so far in the past.

We think we have all the time in the world, but San Francisco’s present is rapidly becoming its history. Everything – including the venerable Victorians on my block – will eventually fade away.

So, let’s celebrate our beautiful city right now. Call me and I’ll meet you today at the Golden Fire Hydrant to enjoy the view of the skyline. Tomorrow it’ll be forever changed.

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 Poetry: Shall I Compare Thee To A Beehive?

A regular participant in my writing workshops recently introduced me to the “Country House Poem.” Something I knew nothing about!

According to Wikipedia, it’s a poem in which “the author compliments a wealthy patron or a friend through a description of his country house.” Popular in early 17th century England, there are numerous examples of them.

Here’s an excerpt from a 1568 poem by Geoffrey Whitney that compares Combermere Abbey to a beehive:

There, fertile fields, there, meadows large extend;

There, store of grain with water and with wood.

And in this place, your golden time you spend,

Unto your praise, and to your country’s good

This is the hive, your tenants are the bees –

And in the same, have places by degrees.

Perhaps I should bring back the Country House Poem – or a variation of it. I could write a tome for each of my clients after close of escrow. Or I could write silly real estate poetry for my own entertainment, with verses like these:

For the (relatively) inexpensive tenant-occupied, fixer 2-units in SOMA that sold on an alley block around the corner from a popular rave venue:

Though urine soaked with walls grafitti’d

And rents so low one can’t be greedy

This home in progress path is planted

N’er take low-cost square feet for granted!

Or for the $2,250,000 2-bedroom 1500 sq. ft. top-floor condo overlooking Dolores Park:

Where else can you spend fifteen hundred a foot

With roof rights on which a nice deck could be put

For watching the revelers in Dolores Park

And hearing them long, long, long after it’s dark?

And don’t forget the Outer Parkside surf shack that broke the one-million-dollar ceiling on a 40-something avenue:

Tsunami, liquefaction and dam inundation

Might give you a moment of slight hesitation

But Ocean Beach beckons to you and your dog

Especially on rare days without any fog

Clearly, I have some serious work to do if I’m going to revive this art form!

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.

Feels Like the First Time (30 Years Later)

Real estate and me go way back. 35 years in fact, to a time when I was a reporter for the Idaho Mountain Express and one of my beats was real estate in Sun Valley.

Funny thing is I didn’t know one thing about real estate back then. Points? What are points? And why do we need them?

But then I moved to San Francisco and – after a couple of years freelancing and working in PR – I got my real estate license. That was 30 years ago this month.

I’d tell you that I’ve “seen it all” over three decades, but there’s something new every day.

For example, just last week, I visited the soon-to-be home of my client “A.” A’s middle-school kids came along, and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen children get so excited about a house. They even asked to sample the Hetch Hetchy tapwater from the kitchen faucet and declared its temperature and taste “perfect.”

To see people so happy – or frustrated, angry, sad, pensive, anticipatory, surprised – is a job perk that cannot be overvalued. Mine is a very human business, and I love the intimacy of it.

So, as a way of celebrating my 30th anniversary as a Realtor, here are snapshots of five memorable moments from my career:

Standing on the large deck of my listing with a buyer’s agent and her newly-married clients, the wife asked if she could please turn a cartwheel. She turned three and about three weeks later that property became her home.

Out on brokers’ tour and in the middle of walking through a tenant-occupied property, my buyer became ill and had to run for the bathroom. Let’s just say the mark was missed and I’ll never forget how cheerful and reassuring the listing agent was while helping me clean up the mess. (That agent, whom I now consider a friend, won’t soon forget either.)

Back in the days when multiple and over-asking offers were a new thing, I sat down with my sellers at the kitchen table where they’d eaten meals for 20 years. It had been hard to let go and even harder to get the house ready to sell. (Plus the husband had been skeptical about my price-low-sell-high strategy.) When I read the price of the winning offer, the husband grimaced. His wife looked at him and then me, her face drained of color. We all were silent. I wondered how he could be unhappy with the 25%-over-asking offer. Then he put his hands over his face and wept with relief.

While reviewing company listings on a Wednesday, a colleague and I walked through an entire Pac Heights mansion, from garage to the attic. As we left – scratching our heads about how poorly the house “showed” – a maid, dressed in a starched uniform, approached us and asked if she could help us. Turns out we were in the wrong house!

As a new agent, I went door knocking. This was a suggested way to generate business. Since I was new to the city, new to real estate, totally without connections and someone who followed directions, I did what my manager recommended. On my second afternoon of canvassing, a man answered the door and – I kid you not – said, “Oh! You must have been sent from heaven. I just arrived here from New York City last night. I’m staying here with my friend and I have a week to find a place to live.” I got so excited that I failed to give him my card or obtain his name and phone number, and instead ran home to tell my boyfriend about my luck. Later that evening I returned to the house and left a note under the door. We closed on his condo – my first sale – about a month later.

That was in 1987. Still today, whenever someone chooses me as their representative or whenever a client reaches their end goal, the thrill is there. It always feels like the first time. 

I am grateful.

A portrait of the Realtor as a young woman.

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.

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.