Outdoors San Francisco for the Non-Outdoorsy

Now that it’s feeling a little bit like summer and the worst of the June swoon seems to be over, your friends are all like “Hey, let’s hike up Mt. Tam and then run over to Sol Food for Cubanos and Ponches.”

And you’re all like you don’t want to drive across the bridge and crawl through west Marin and get all hot and sweaty and wait in line for food  and then fight traffic INTO the city on a Saturday night when you could just stay home on the sofa.

You don’t particularly like the great outdoors. So — just for you — I’ve compiled a few tips for face-saving things to do IN THE CITY with your outdoorsy friends.

Bearish (as in Polar) in the Bay

You: Walk to the end of the pier at Aquatic Park. Look for seals, sea lions, other wildlife. Walk back.

They: Drop in as guests at the Dolphin Club or the South End Rowing Club (depending on which club is open to public that day). Swim in the (most recently) 57-degree water. Meet you at Buena Vista Café for Irish Coffees.

Strawberry Hill Excursion

You: Walk around the path “inside” Stow Lake – accessed from either of two pedestrian bridges leading from the cement walkway that circles the lake. It’s uneven, rocky and made of dirt. Your shoes will be slightly soiled so it’s almost like hiking.

They: Run up Strawberry Hill, pause to enjoy the views, search for the strawberry patches that supposedly still exist. Meet you at the Chinese Pavilion near the fake waterfall. Discuss the many dining options near 9th and Irving. Pick one.

Boating on Stow Lake

You: Bring a parasol (or umbrella that resembles a parasol). Climb carefully into rented boat. Adapt a reclining pose evocative of numerous Impressionist paintings.

They: Row or paddle you around Stow Lake. Harder than it looks.

Seal Rock Adventure

You: Check tide tables for next “lowest” low tide at Ocean Beach. Walk out and touch Seal Rock (normally inaccessible by foot except during abnormally low tide). Hold your nose because of the bird poo.

They: Jog south on Ocean Beach to Fort Funston and back, then meet you at Louis’ for a classic American breakfast with a view.

Fool Around at Dolores Park (if you can find parking or a place to sit)

You: Join a drum circle. Purchase edibles. Maybe get a sunburn.

They: Play hacky sack, practice outdoor yoga or do contact improv. Maybe get a sunburn.

Baker Beach Au Naturel

You: Take off all your clothes (at the north end of Baker Beach). Lie on the sand.  Maybe get a sunburn. Call Lyft to drive you to Rob Hill.

They: Take off all their clothes and bravely skinny dip in the surf. Hike uphill from Baker Beach to Rob Hill, set up camp (reserve ahead), start grilling hot dogs.

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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.

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.

Every Time We Yearn

Armchair real-estate-shopping can be immensely pleasurable. Like traveling to Paris via the pages of Travel + Leisure, it’s fun to tour a la internet through a $15 million Pacific Heights mansion.

When fantasy moves closer to reality things get trickier.

As a friend and client lamented about her partner who spends several hours each week trolling Trulia: “She’s always looking at places just a little more expensive than the house we bought. Like she’s just wishing we could have spent a tiny bit more. And meanwhile, I’m like, ‘Hey, honey, we still have boxes to unpack! Help me!’ ”

In Status Anxiety, Alain de Botton writes, “Wealth is not an absolute. It is relative to desire. Every time we yearn for something we cannot afford, we grow poorer, whatever our resources. And every time we feel satisfied with what we have, we can be counted as rich, however little we may actually possess.”

This is one reason my kitchen is extremely non-updated and likely to remain so. I’d rather focus on being content with its “as-is” funkiness than on planning, executing and paying for a remodel I hope will make me happier. (Besides, my depression-era Blue Ridge Pottery dishes match the vintage chartreuse cabinets and I adore the 1940s O’Keeffe and Merritt range.)

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for renovation and decorating. I believe the aesthetics of our environment have a profound impact on our health and well being. We just need to be mindful of why we’re visiting and revisiting the photo of that $5,000 Art Deco sofa on Houzz.com.

Desire – for more, for different, for better – is essential to all human commerce. If we didn’t buy and sell real estate, the world would keep on spinning. But it’s unlikely I’ll be out of work anytime soon. Buyers will be buying and sellers will be selling and brokers will be brokering so long as people keep on switching jobs, getting married, having children, divorcing, dying, remarrying, downsizing, retiring or moving.

What matters – before, during and after these transitions – is the presence and acceptance we bring to every moment of our lives, regardless of where we sleep, where we hang our flat-screen TV, and whether or not we have parking or low HOA dues or directly-accessible outdoor space.

To quote Alain de Botton again, this time in The Art of Travel, “The sole cause of a man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room.”

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. Originally posted in May 2014 under a different title.

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.