Tag Archives: advice

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.

15 Parking Hacks for the SF Driver

A car is a miracle. To own one is to be a wizard waving a big sparkly wand.

It’s a magic carpet.

A personal rocket ship.

A veritable transporter. As in, “Beam me over to Whole Foods, Scotty.”

If only you could beam your vehicle to some off-planet parking garage when the spots disappear from the streets of San Francisco just as you’re trying to catch a 7 o’clock movie at The Clay on Fillmore!

In the interest of offering a balanced perspective, it must be mentioned that there are many compelling reasons not to own a car if you live in San Francisco (or in any city, for that matter). But you can list those reasons yourself.

If I didn’t have a job that requires me to whisk myself and clients all over town to see properties at all hours of the day and night, I wouldn’t own a vehicle. But that’s not the case. I am a Realtor and I own a car.

What I don’t have is a place to park it besides on the street. And I live just half a block from Dolores Park, which is one of the worst places for parking in this 7-x-7-mile chunk of paradise.

I am living proof that it’s possible to own a car + not have a garage + live in a parking Bermuda triangle and yet somehow survive. Here are my top parking tips:

  1. Take half a day off work and go get a residential parking permit. Bring along something to read, as well as a snack.
  2. Get out of bed and leave home early every day so you can get stuff done, especially if you’ve parked in a construction zone where they begin towing at 7 a.m.
  3. Return home 30 minutes before parking restrictions end – typically 6 p.m. for most construction zones and many metered streets – and snag a spot before the evening rush.
  4. If possible, walk, take MUNI or use UBER or taxicabs on weekends and evenings when parking competition is (typically) its most fierce.
  5. Become intimately acquainted with all the semi-questionable parking spaces within a two-block radius from home. They’ll do in a pinch.
  6. Memorize all the parking restrictions on the streets near your home. Don’t confuse the Thursday side with the Monday side! And try not to forget that on Wednesday on the west side of Dolores they start towing at 6 a.m.
  7. Be willing to put your car on the sidewalk for street-cleaning.
  8. Be philosophical about your banged-up bumper, your dented doors and the occasional break-in. This is easier if you don’t own a fancy car. And since you don’t need a luxury automobile, be sure to buy an extra tiny vehicle.
  9. Pay a little extra for comprehensive auto insurance with no deductible.
  10. Never ever EVER leave anything in your vehicle. Even an old sock on the backseat will create a business opportunity for some lucky opportunist. (Sorry, you can’t actually call it a crime.)
  11. Create good parking karma by avoiding turf brawls with other drivers who are vying for the space that just opened up. (Pull in quickly and act like you didn’t notice them. Don’t expect an Academy Award. Just be grateful if it works.)
  12. Be willing to stalk pedestrians who are walking slowly down the sidewalk jangling keys.
  13. Get to know your neighbors and their vehicles and keep track of their comings and goings.
  14. Keep your gas tank topped off in case you find yourself locked in a holding pattern.
  15. Always park tight. Don’t be a parking piggy.

Be grateful to the Parking Gods whenever you hear that satisfying key-beep that means you’re home and locked up for the night. And while you’re busy performing your parking-gratitude ritual, be sure to make a mental note of where you left your car.

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

Kindness in a Cruel Market

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” ~~ Philo

When you have a hot listing everybody loves you. You even kinda fall in love with your amazing self. You can’t help it.

It’s your party. Hundreds of potential buyers squeezing through the hallway on the weekend like it’s a frat-house kegger. Followed on Tuesday by their agents, vying for your attention so they can butter you up before offers are due.

Heady stuff, which I’ve written about before in this tongue-in-cheek post from August 2012. But, having just gone through the marketing and offer phase on a listing, I’m here to remind us agents that ours is a very tender business that calls for more than a modicum of professionalism.

In between the lines on the San Francisco Association of Realtors purchase contract and behind the ink on the signatures are real people with honest aspirations and human emotions. Each offer is the result of client and agent working together, trying to do the painstaking magic that wins a home in San Francisco.

In this most recent case, I received eight offers – eight buyer/agent teams, eight strategies translated into writing, eight sets of hopes, and countless hours of effort, planning and worry.

After I congratulated our winning agent, I made seven calls to the other agents to say “Thanks so much for your above-asking-price-with-stellar-terms offer, but we’ve accepted another offer.” Two of these agents thanked me profusely: For taking the time to actually speak to them in person about the bad news.

Having been on the other side of the listing/selling coin myself, I can vouch that all too often a listing agent can’t be bothered to pick up the phone and say “thanks but no thanks.” There is total silence, or you receive a blind-copy email. For example, I will never EVER forget the big-wig agent who – after I called to ask what had happened with our 40%-over-asking-price offer on a $3-million house – texted me back as follows:

“Yr offr not high enuf. Sorry.”

Listing agents: Let’s always be mindful of this very human part of our business. Let’s remember that, as professionals, we are obliged to have some minimal ethical and moral standards. Simple kindness and respect should be at the top of our list.

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

What does “Luxury” mean to you?

I’ve been thinking about the concept of “luxury.”

Thomas Hardy, writing in 1865:

“My wife Sophia, myself, and the beginning of a happy line, formerly lived in the suburbs of London, in the sort of house called a Highly Desirable Semi-detached Villa. But in reality our residence was the very opposite of what we wished it to be. We had no room for our friends when they visited us, and we were obliged to keep our coals out of doors in a heap against the back-wall. If we managed to squeeze a few acquaintances round our table to dinner, there was very great difficulty in serving it; and on such occasions the maid, for want of sideboard room, would take to putting the dishes in the staircase, or on stools and chairs in the passage, so that if anybody else came after we had sat down, he usually went away again, disgusted at seeing the remains of what we had already got through standing in these places, and perhaps the celery waiting in a corner hard by. It was therefore only natural that on wet days, chimney-sweepings, and those cleaning times when chairs may be seen with their legs upwards, a tub blocking a doorway, and yourself walking about edgeways among the things, we called the villa hard names, and that we resolved to escape from it as soon as it would be politic, in a monetary sense, to carry out a notion which had long been in our minds.”

This charming passage reminds me that life today is not altogether unlike life 150 years ago. As David Byrne sings in “Once in a Lifetime” it’s the “same as it ever was.”

That very same Talking Heads song alludes to “a shotgun shack,” and my 109-year-old Victorian in San Francisco is not too far from that. It’s wider – at 25 feet instead of the usual 12 – and it has two stories, yet it has a clapboard front and a peaked roof. It’s fun and funky house that is lucky to have survived past efforts at urban renewal.

Unlike the “shack’s” original inhabitants, we have Wi-Fi and a nice deck. But we don’t have parking, and the square footage is low enough to qualify the single-family home as a “condo alternative.” Before the kids went off to college, one of them slept in an office (meant as formal dining room), and another tucked his six-foot frame – along with a bed, a bookshelf, a dresser and an aquarium containing two frogs – into a teeny tiny fainting room sans closet.

What I mean to say is that space is now and has long been scarce and expensive in San Francisco. As Mr. Hardy writes above, the lack of space often leads us to call our beloved homes by “hard names.”

And yet having to walk “edgeways” among things, or having to use rooms for multiple purposes, is not inherently disagreeable. It’s part of urban living, and it’s part of sustainable living.

The fact is that we can’t all live in places that Realtors would describe as “luxurious.” Nor should we. Nor should we WANT to. And NOT WANTING to live “luxuriously” is a concept that chafes against a favorite marketing emphasis of the real estate industry.

My own definition of “luxurious living” involves doing more with less, giving more than getting, and welcoming the creative possibilities presented by modest deprivation.

I am (we are) among the luckiest people on the planet simply because we happen to live in the United States (and California, and San Francisco). I hope we all – Realtors especially – can be mindful that luxury is truly the exception rather than the rule. Let’s enjoy the luxury of being able to be GRATEFUL.

What’s your idea of “luxurious living”? I’d love to hear.

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

Query: Is Now a Good Time to Buy in the Bay Area?

Q: Is this a good time to buy a home in the Bay Area?

A: Now is a perfect time to buy a home in the Bay Area. At least in San Francisco!

You might say, “Well, Cynthia, of course that’s your answer because you’re a San Francisco real estate agent and, according to San Francisco real estate agents, NOW is always the best time to buy.”

True. That’s because, as a longtime, fulltime Realtor, I’ve witnessed the market’s reliability  for 28 years: Up close and personal. Through several economic cycles. Helping hundreds of individuals buying hundreds of homes.

At the outset, purchasing property in San Francisco is especially daunting. Prices are ungodly. Competition is fierce. Doubts are plenteous. Yet in hindsight nearly every SF homeowner will tell you that purchasing their home was the wisest, luckiest investment they ever made.

This scenario assumes owner occupancy and a hold of at least five years. But nothing will pay if you don’t play.  Nothing will happen if you sit on the sidelines awaiting clear confirmation that NOW is the optimum time to buy.

Which brings up an important point: Buying a home in San Francisco is a sound investment, regardless of the exact timing. But it’s much more than an investment. It’s your HOME. It’s the place where you sleep in on weekends, empty the kitty litter, entertain friends, gargle saltwater for a sore throat, change kids’ diapers, plan vacations, argue with your husband, make up with your wife, unload groceries, take out the recycling, pay the bills, soak in the bathtub and putter in the garden.

So. If you want to enjoy a profusion of colorful tulips in April, you’ll need to plant those bulbs soon. Time to start shopping for some dirt. Now!

Cynthia Cummins is a Top Producer and Partner at McGuire. For info on SF real estate visit http://CynthiaCummins.com. A version of this post originally appeared as an answer on Quora, and it was re-posted at McGuire.com.

The Giants Won. So Can YOU!

Find an agent who'll champion your cause!
Find an agent who’ll champion your cause!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UKiUnAOA9Tk

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.

The Gift of Staging

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Staging is magical. It’s “theater” that evokes a buyer’s emotional response and thereby enhances a seller’s bottom line.

It makes it easier for buyers to envision themselves living in a home. It psychically de-personalizes the property and displays furnishings in context. It makes a house more inviting in every way.

But there’s another unexpected and little-discussed benefit: By creating an idealized version of a home, staging makes it easier for sellers to LET GO.

An owner’s initial reaction to viewing their staged home inevitably goes something like this: “Wow. I wish we’d done this while we were living here.”

That “shouldawouldacoulda” cringe is normal. Yet nobody ever actually lives that way. Ergo one of my real estate mantras: “The way you live in a house and the way you sell it are two entirely different things.”

A cruder twist on that bit of wisdom is: “If your home looks like it’s staged, you probably should examine the sacrifices you’re making in the name of keeping up appearances.”

Life is messy. Shit happens. Stuff accumulates. There’s a healthy difference between ideal and reality, and it’s evident in your home. After all, THE HOUSE is the dream metaphor for THE SELF.

So, with staging, there is a pivotal moment that presents a homeowner with a wonderful opportunity for closure and progression.

Consider the story of my lovely client Jane (not her real name). Preparing her house for sale required four stressful months of cleaning out and organizing 40 years’ worth of belongings. Another month was needed for cosmetic fixes and staging. I spent 10 days marketing the house before we considered offers. We closed seven days later.

Prior to de-staging, Jane visited her longtime home. Alone. She sat in the living room. She let the serene and clean feeling of the staged house wash over her. She walked through the rooms and looked out the windows. It was as if she were seeing some of those views for the first time.

There were brief waves of regret – the shouldawouldacoulda. There were flashes of memories – both happy and sad. There was appreciation for the years of service the house had given.

This was followed by a curious contentment and detachment. Jane assimilated the staged version of the house as the one she’ll remember in years ahead. Then, without resisting, she let go of her longtime home.

“The staging,” she explained, “was a gift for me.”

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.

Sometimes It’s Hard to Imagine……

…what a little paint, a little floor refinishing and a little staging will do.

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Before and after kitchen at 2651 Baker. We did the bare minimum and it made a huge difference!

I almost always recommend superficial cosmetic updates and  staging whenever I list a property for sale. In my heart of hearts, I know it works.

But what’s funny is this: When my clients and I are looking at the “before” version prior to the “after” version being completed, it’s really difficult to envision the transformation ahead.

In other words, in hindsight it always proves to have been a good idea. Yet when you’re trying to decide whether or not to spend an extra $500 to have new carpeting put on the stairs, you might think, “Well. Hmm. It can’t make THAT big a difference.”

Note to self: It always works. It’s always worth it. When in doubt, GO for it!

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

 

Realtor’s Dozen: The Richmond District

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Strybing Botanical Garden in Golden Gate Park

I heard it again the other day: An uninformed SF newbie designating huge swatches of the city as uninhabitable. As in, “I could never live there. I might as well just move to Marin. Or Hayward. Or Mountain View.

It’s true I err on the side of “I never met a San Francisco neighborhood I didn’t like,” but – honestly! – every part of town has its merits. My focus today? The breathtakingly delightful Richmond district. Why?

  1. “Outside Lands” real estate, as evinced by price-per-square-foot, is a relative bargain.
  2. Richmond lots are deep and burgeoning with greenery. You just don’t realize it because houses stand hip-to-hip and you can’t see inside the blocks.
  3. Fogmongers claim it’s socked in 24/7/365 west of Arguello (or some other imaginary line). Not so. Check out the dahlias and lemon trees thriving in those huge back yards.
  4. Golden Gate Park skirts the southern end of the Richmond, from Arguello to the Pacific Ocean. GGP is the brightest park jewel in SF’s crown.
  5. Bookending the Richmond on its north side is The Presidio.
  6. And did I mention Ocean Beach? And Land’s End, Sutro Park, Sutro Baths, Lincoln Park Golf Course? THE MIGHTY PACIFIC OCEAN?
  7. The Richmond is among the very safest neighborhoods in the city.
  8. Want hip? Want authentic? Want diversity? Forget the pretendscape of Valencia and check out Clement Street. Or Geary.
  9. Commuting in any direction is easy peasy. Tech shuttles along Park Presidio. Numerous MUNI lines. Quick access to 1, 101, 280.
  10. Kid friendly: Playgrounds. Museums. Libraries. Bike paths. Cheap eats.
  11. It’s quiet. (An underappreciated quality until you’ve lived, for example, near Dolores Park where the endless, noisy crunch of street closures, festivals, movie nights or just a regular weekend can drive you insane.)
  12. If music is your thing, it’s perfectly located for the big festivals at GGP. You can “Hardly Strictly” for a coupla hours, then stroll home for lunch and a nap.
  13. Green Apple Books, Toy Boat Dessert Café, B Star, Kabuto Sushi, Hong Kong Lounge II, House of Bagels, Tommy’s, Angelina’s, Aziza. Etc.

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

Enough with the Booties, Already!

Selling a property isn’t brain surgery. So why ask agents and potential buyers to wear surgical booties when they step inside your house? Nobody wants to look like this:

SAMSUNG

Need more inspiration? Watch this favorite from my video archives:

How do YOU feel about booties?

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