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.

Something Good

I’m shy about announcing my success in 2016 – my personal best as a Realtor. At McGuire’s flagship Lombard office, I was #2 in production. Among the 200ish agents in our seven Bay Area offices, I was #3 and had the year’s biggest sale.

Sharing this news makes me squirm a little. I wouldn’t want anyone to get the wrong idea, since – to begin with – there are many misconceptions about my profession.

The primary myth is akin to the sentiment expressed in the famous Dire Straits song: “Get your money for nothin’ get your chicks for free.”

Chicks aside and stated differently, the refrain about Realtors goes something like “Real estate agents aren’t smart, don’t care and don’t actually do anything for anybody. They are lucky and make a bunch of money doing nothing.”

Ah! Would that it t’were so simple. (Speaking of simple, check out this clip from Hail, Caesar!)

I’m mindful and grateful that I’m not digging ditches all day for my living, nor cleaning toilets all night. But what I do is not “nothing.” I do a lot of somethings to steadfastly serve. Occasionally that results in a sale (and me being paid). More often it brings the simple reward of knowing I helped. In that way, my job is a practice.

Literal “house calls” are part of my practice. Interrupted Christmas dinners, missed school plays and tropical vacations spent on the phone are included in the job description. If an offer has to be written, there’s no saying “later” or “tomorrow.” If water is coming through a ceiling, there’s no waiting until Monday to locate a roofer.

Buying or selling a home is inevitably stressful, yet I bring a buffer of calm to the process. In interacting with my buyers and sellers, I am pleasant, non-reactive, curious, accessible, enthusiastic, selfless, informative, tireless, attentive and bluntly honest.

On their behalf – as I cooperate with other professionals (agents, title officers, lenders, contractors, accountants, attorneys, city personnel, etc.) and steer toward closing – I am quietly vigilant, exacting, strategic, anticipatory, educated, competitive, respectful, creative, organized and communicative.

Of course, I can be the best damn agent west of the Mississippi and still not make a dollar. But this diligence and dedication – if all goes well – can translate into dollars. Which translates into being a top Top Producer.

I’d like to think I’m an A+ agent in 2016 not because I made a bunch of sales but because I care, because I’ve paid my (30 years of) proverbial dues, because I’m good at what I do, and because my clients keep recommending me to their friends, co-workers and relatives.

I’d like to think it’s because “I must have done something good.” So, take it away Seth MacFarlane as I thank you ALL for a rewarding year as a San Francisco real estate agent!

A high point of 2016. A hike to the top of Mt. Eddy with my sons. Shasta in the background.
A high point of 2016. A hike to the top of Mt. Eddy with my sons. Shasta in the background.

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.

(Saint) Nick-of-Time Gift Ideas for Homeowners

Forgive me (or thank me!) for jumping on the end-of-year-list-making bandwagon with my own roster of ideas for seasonal giving. In ascending order of price:

A favorite recipe. Write it out by hand. Free but for the cost of stationery. If you don’t have a favorite recipe use this one, for Apricot Basil Cheese Nibbles: Warm a few dozen dried apricots in oven or microwave until somewhat supple. Top each with a smudge of any ol’ goat cheese and a fresh basil leaf. Serve.

Perfect egg timer. I generally eschew one-job kitchen gadgets, but this one is magic. Put the timer and eggs in water. Boil. The half-egg-shaped timer changes color to indicate doneness. I got mine for $6 at Crate and Barrel, but you can probably find them at the nearest hardware store. Here’s an Amazon link.

The Big Orange Splot. A kid’s picture book by Daniel. Suitable for all ages and especially nice for new homeowners. $7 in paperback. “My house is me, and I am it. My house is where I like to be, and it looks like all my dreams.” Here’s a Powell’s link.

Hardware-store presents. It’s fun and refreshing to confine gift choices to whatever’s handy at Ace 5 & 10 or Walgreen’s or – in San Francisco – Cliff’s Variety on Castro. Grab whatever appeals, but you can’t go wrong with flashlights, dustpans, magnifying glasses, Goo gone, binder clips, lemon squeezers, etc. $20 or less.

Solight lights. You can literally give someone the gift of light this season. I especially like the “Solar Puff” for use at home, or while traveling or camping or beach-partying or…? Everybody on my list got one this year. Even better, I sent a dozen puffs to people in need in Syria. At Solight’s website you can donate light wherever it’s darkest – Haiti, Nepal, Ghana, Senegal, Ecuador, Cameroon, Liberia. $35ish.

A home inspection. Usually reserved for investigating a property when it’s being sold, general-contractor inspections are a nice gift for longtime owners. They provide a professional and objective review of conditions that affect a home’s livability and future value. Pricing in San Francisco starts around $500, depending on type and size of property. Contact me for inspector recommendations or visit the American Society of Home Inspectors website.

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.

Grateful for Another Year!

On a recent trip, I caught a few minutes of a real estate “reality” show on the close-captioned TV monitor at the airport.

I don’t know if I was seeing Flip or Flop, Buying Naked, or Love It or List It. But it was blatantly obvious that the show depicted the practice of real estate about as accurately as Lost depicts being stranded after a plane crash on an uncharted island.

For me, real estate is a noble calling. I’m privileged to work on behalf of my clients – each of whom has his or her rich and unique story.

The first tale (and sale) of my 2016 real estate year involved wonderful clients who managed to prepare and stage their family home while living in it with two young children. They proved that with perseverance, patience and faith it CAN be done!

After a brief and intensive search ranging across the city from Bay to Breakers, this cutest couple and their beloved Emma found a dream fixer in a favorite, hip SF neighbrohood.

It was a family affair on the day of our happy walk-through. My buyers had previously failed to acquire a nearby house, due to a surprising and, frankly, unfair listing-side scenario. In hindsight, that loss was a blessing because it led us to this superior, extra-darling home.

To be truthful, the house pictured above closed at the end of 2015. But I just love this photograph of my client playing her violin in her new home, and I haven’t had another occasion to use it. What made this day extra sweet was the fact that her old rental had prohibited the playing of musical instruments!

I’ve shared only a few glimpses of what real estate looked like in 2016 from my perspective. Suffice it to say I’m grateful for a job where business isn’t just about business. It’s about sanctuary, family, friends, love and all the wonderful things this life can bring.

If you know someone who could use the help of a trustworthy real estate ally in 2017, please know you can count on me!

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.

The (Grown) Kids Are Alright

Books are filled with characters who struggle with transitions in their home lives.

  • Scarlett O’Hara: prattling on incessantly about getting back to Tara.
  • King Lear: using estate planning as a means of father-daughter bonding.
  • Emma Bovary: redecorating her house for the umpteenth time.

But for now, let’s consider Oliver Twist — plaintively mourning the mother and home he never knew “on a night for the well-housed and fed to draw round the bright fire, and thank God they were at home; and for the homeless starving wretch to lay him down and die.”

Sadly, there are many real-life examples of orphaned and displaced children who suffer unnecessarily. But with only a wee bit of attention from Moms and Dads, most children are amazingly resilient.

In my real estate practice in San Francisco, I often see parents agonizing about how the sale of a home will affect their progeny.

Parents worry that moving kids from one school to another will derail their education and cause their social ruin. Or they fret that a step “down” to a less expensive or rental property in the case of a divorce will irrevocably damage the child’s self esteem. Or they assume that staging and marketing will be overly disruptive of family rhythms.

These concerns aren’t frivolous, yet the impact of change is largely mitigated when parents focus simply on loving their children rather than on controlling the situation. The physical manifestation of “home” –castle, cottage or condo – doesn’t really matter.

This is especially true when it comes to the anxieties of soon-to-be empty nesters. Parents whose babies have flown the coop too often compromise the quality of their mature years by overestimating the effect their home sale will have on their GROWN children. For example:

  • Tim and Betsy who “can’t possibly” downsize because their adult children must “have a bedroom” whenever they visit. Never mind that one 35-year-old son lives in Australia and the other owns a four-bedroom house in Portland, Oregon.
  • John who broaches the subject of selling his Ashbury Heights house every six months with his daughters Amelia, Annabelle and Amy. The 40-something “girls” react emotionally and without thinking about John’s needs. Amelia cries. Amy becomes silent. Annabelle advocates for John go into the Bed and Breakfast business in order to keep the house.
  • Rick and Roger who can’t sell because Roger believes selling the family home is synonymous with selling out the family. Roger has nightmare visions of an empty house at Christmas, while Rick quietly fantasizes about a family Mele Kalikimaka on the beach at Maui.

For the parent or parents who opt to stay in place, fears can eventually become reality. The house empties of people while stuff accumulates. Dust gathers. The dining room becomes a year-round tax-prep headquarters. The basketball hoop over the garage door rusts and droops. The back stairs sag. The paint yellows. Nobody sets foot in the yard except to sneak a cigarette or let the dog out.

20 years pass in a flash. And suddenly it’s too late to buy that financial district condo, or NYC pied-a-terre, or Sonoma bungalow. There’s no time for a transitional scenario. It’s straight to…Okay, so maybe that’s me being overly dramatic.

My point is this: Take time to visualize and consider “life after kids.” Be honest about the qualities you want in your life as you age. Don’t give in to sentiment about the loss of the family home.

Your children will soon understand that YOUR HEART is where HOME is. But first – like Dorothy at the end of The Wizard of Oz – you’re going to have to learn it for yourself.***

***I can help. I’ve gone through it myself and I’ve counseled dozens of clients through these transitions. Email me or call.

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’s blog.

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.

 

 

 

Resisting Reality in Real Estate = Suffering

buddhas-jed-adan

It’s exciting when you list your home for sale and 16 people show up with over-asking-price offers. It’s just as exhilarating when you’re the winner among those 16 buyers.

The sun is shining! Children are laughing! The band is playing a rousing Souza march!

Everything is jake. Except when it isn’t. Which is often the case.

Even in San Francisco, where you consistently hear tall and true tales of astounding real-estate triumphs, there are plenty of fantasies that don’t take flight.

When reality fails to match our imaginations, we resist it and we suffer. It’s true in marriages, friendships, workplaces and families, and it’s true with residential real estate.

After inspecting, repairing, painting, cleaning, staging and PRIMPING a property as if it were a beauty-pageant contestant, it’s bewildering to hear crickets instead of requests for disclosure packages. After three weeks of silence, apprehension turns to dread. When your agent says, “It’s time to consider a price reduction,” it’s a stone cold bummer.

Same goes for writing 12 offers and being told “thanks but no thanks” 12 times. Somebody else paid cash. Somebody else could close in 10 days. There were five offers better than yours. There were fifteen offers better than yours. You were tied with one other offer on price but the winning offer had 50% down instead of your 35%.

This can feel very personal, as in World vs. You. But it’s not personal at all! It is just reality. And struggling against reality brings nothing but pain.

There’s an old real estate axiom that goes like this: Sellers sell and Buyers buy. At first glance, you might think “Duh?!” But if you let those words sink in, you’ll realize they are profound.

In order to achieve what you set out to do – Sell or Buy – you must pay attention to reality. This could mean

  • Lowering your asking price by 10% or more.
  • Expanding your search to include areas on your B list.
  • Remodeling instead of selling.
  • Renting instead of buying.
  • Purchasing a condo instead of a house.
  • Being grateful to have one buyer making an offer instead of five.
  • Making do with two bedrooms instead of three.
  • Remembering – continually – that your agent is your ally.
  • Returning to the essential goal you had when starting this process.

Hundreds of times, I’ve walked this reality-resisting walk with my clients: Waking up at 4 a.m. worrying. Going over what could have been done differently. Assigning blame (usually to myself). Comparing. Projecting. Regretting.

I’ve heard my buyers’ voices crack when they ask how many offers were better than theirs.

I’ve watched my sellers’ mouths go slack when they realize nobody is offering their fantasy price. Or their asking price. Or – maybe – nobody is making an offer at all!

You never know how it’s going to be. Yet the process takes so much thought, planning and care, that it’s challenging to keep our wish list in check. Desire is an essential part of the business. Too little and there’s no movement. Too much and we’re yoked to it like oxen.

The key is to resist resisting and adapt to reality. (For more on this, check out the Buddhist concept of detachment.)

It’s all just part of living. And real estate is just part of the business of living.

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.

Keep It Simple Sellers

jeffrey-wegrzyn-simple

My wise therapist – Karen – once told me that intimacy is achieved through revelation: “Think of it as InToMe-cy instead of Intimacy.”

The idea is that only by revealing what’s inside ourselves can we truly connect with others. This means looking inside and expressing what we find. Directly and simply.

There’s nothing much more intimate than home. Where everything begins and ends. And the first three rules of real estate – when it comes to meaningful and litigation-avoiding communication from Seller to Buyer – are Disclose, Disclose, Disclose.

Mr. and Mrs. Sellers have owned their home for 15 years and are downsizing because the kids are in college and they want to travel more. They’re filling out the Real Estate Transfer Disclosure Statement, the California-mandated form wherein sellers disclose things that might be a little (or a lot) wrong with the property.

Sally Sellers calls me.

“Hey, Cynthia,” she says, “Two years ago we had a leak in the downstairs bedroom. It happened twice during windy rainstorms.  No big deal, but the carpet got a little damp. We re-sealed around the window and there was no leak this last winter. Do we need to disclose this? And, if so, how do we say it?”

My answer is “yes” and “say it like you just said it.”

Same goes for personal communications. Sally asks her therapist, “I love my friend Jane, but she’s always bailing last-minute on plans we’ve made. It’s inconvenient and annoying. What do I say to her?”

The answer is to say exactly that: “Jane, I love you, but when you cancel our plans last-minute, it’s annoying.”

There’s no need to spin it a certain way. There’s no need to dance around or squirm or mince words. Say it simply – at work, at play and at home.

As William Penn – real estate entrepreneur, philosopher, Quaker and founder of Pennsylvania – said, “Speak properly, and in as few words as you can, but always plainly; for the end of speech is not ostentation, but to be understood.”

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.