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It was many long years ago. At a time when houses in San Francisco didn’t sell for over asking in only 7 days with all cash. I was a relatively new agent and I had a lovely listing that never did sell. 

But that doesn’t mean I didn’t try to sell it. I held it open every weekend for 6 months. I memorized it. I could show it blindfolded. And I learned to love it. 

I grew to appreciate every idiosyncratic feature of that funky abode: its bizarre split level plan, the way you accessed one bedroom via the kitchen, the pink-lily accent tiles in the single bathroom, the 1950s electric cooktop. I even liked the vinyl siding (so ugly and out of place yet so durable).

If I could have afforded it, I would have bought that house. But I nonetheless experienced “mere ownership effect.” It’s a phenomenon described by Wikipedia as “the observation that people who own a good tend to evaluate it more positively than people who do not.” And it’s something that can prevent would-be sellers from effectively presenting their home for maximum return.

Often, a homeowner’s primary blindspot be the very thing he or she had trouble accepting when he or she was buying the house:

  • That awkward sunroom that functioned as a glorified passage to the backyard is now a primary sales feature because the kids have used it as a playroom for 5 years. 
  • Being forced to go outdoors to check your circuit breakers (the panel is located in the tradesway) is a good thing because if there’s an earthquake you’d rather be outdoors than in.
  • Having one bedroom up and one bedroom down is perfect because it creates privacy, especially since you have de facto separated from your spouse and you enjoy being separated by a whole floor. 
  • The garage that can’t be used for parking (because the city exercised eminent domain in the 40s to eliminate street access) is a win-win situation because it’s better not to have a car and you can use that space for woodworking.

In each case, you – the owner – have done the smart and sustainable thing. You have turned lemons into lemonade and thereby made your life happier and easier. But just because you like the meditative quality of doing dishes by hand doesn’t mean buyers are going to embrace a kitchen without a dishwasher.

That’s one reason you hire a thoughtful, experienced agent like me. You want a representative who can objectively see your home, realistically assess its market value and make a plan for presenting it in the best possible light. And you want someone who has the courage to tell you the truth instead of buttering you up by agreeing with your whacky notion that the privacy afforded by climbing 80 uneven stairs to reach your front door is something to crow about.

Photo Credit: Catt Liu

Cynthia Cummins is the founder of Kindred SF Homes and has been serving homeowners and homebuyers for 3 decades. For information on San Francisco Bay Area real estate visit For my writing and mindfulness blog, visit