Tag Archives: “At Home”

What New Zealand Taught Me About Home

“I dislike feeling at home when I am abroad.”

Agreed, George Bernard Shaw!

One of the best reasons to travel is to gain a new perspective of HOME, and my recent two weeks in New Zealand opened up new views of my Chateau Shack in San Francisco.

The takeaway, gleaned from our stays at various Airbnb cottages:

Up-to-the-minute décor is gratuitous: (Apologies to my designer friends and dear clients in the middle of a major renovation. I’m not talking about YOU.) The latest and greatest is pretty ho hum. Once you’ve seen a few stunning remodels, you’ve seen ‘em all. But what pleasure there is in letting rooms mellow. What comfort exists in living in a home that is OUT of style. Change up your linens. Paint a room. Or install a simple outdoor shower. But skip the rest. Relax and enjoy what you have. Today’s new will be next year’s old.

Disregard the Nerdo Riche: I didn’t see any white-on-white décor schemes in New Zealand. How refreshing to escape that techie trend! No wide-plank oak floors. No 15’ x 3’ kitchen islands. No iPads in the walls. Simply put, as Janeane Garofalo said, “Taking into account the public’s regrettable lack of taste, it is incumbent upon you not to fit in.”

All you need is a spoon: Plus a spatula and a good knife. After my time in New Zealand, I’m planning to clean out my kitchen drawers and discard the extra peelers, pitters, zesters, tongs, whisks, scoopers, openers and strainers. An ordinary table fork can do the work of a dozen gadgets.

Linens matter: Quality bed linens equal luxury. Nothing ruins a night’s sleep quite like crappy bedding. If a space is clean, quiet, possessed of a comfortable chair and outfitted with soothing sheets, you’re all set. (And forget about thread count. Just choose percale cotton.)

Give me a cup of civility: Tea! So nice. So peaceable. So perfect anytime of day. Coffee is so, uh, A-muhr-ican. Yes, please, a cuppa for me.

Compost, recycle, repurpose: Farming is a big part of NZ life, and a basic tenent is not to waste anything. Even I, who am pretty conscious about recycling, composting and reusing, was impressed by the Kiwis’ commitment to sustainability.

Let it all hang out: It’s not like the sun shines every day down under, but clothes dryers aren’t de rigeur in New Zealand. They’re good for backup when it’s raining or there’s a hurry, but line-dried clothes and linens feel/smell better and last longer. Plus it’s FUN to hang out the laundry. The energy saved is almost secondary.

Woolly bully: Wool is fantastic. Breathable, durable, warm and it doesn’t hold body odor. If you haven’t checked out New Zealand wool in the form of Icebreaker active wear, now’s your chance. Click here.

All present and accounted for: What a joyous relief to find that New Zealanders do not spend all day wearing earbuds and staring at handheld devices. They converse with one another and don’t seem to suffer from Text Neck. Technology is great, but enough is enough. I now vow to use my various “devices” more perspicaciously. (Bonus points to me for using the word “perspicaciously.”)

Cynthia Cummins is a Partner at McGuire Real Estate. For info on San Francisco property visit http://CynthiaCummins.com. This post also appeared on the McGuire.com blog.

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.

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.

Homewords: All You Have

 

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“Be grateful for the home you have, knowing that at this moment, all you have is all you need.” Sarah Ban Breathnach

Once in a Lifetime!

2651Baker.editedFirst, consider just a few things that have happened since 1969:

  • A hole formed in the Ozone.
  • Hip Hop was born.
  • The Cold War ended.
  • Panama got the Panama Canal.
  • The Internet took over our lives.

Next, spend a moment reflecting on your own life — the places you’ve lived and the things you’ve experienced. If walls could indeed talk, what stories would they tell?

I sometimes muse about what has been witnessed by the walls of San Francisco properties, about what changes the windows have observed, about how many living things have lived and perished in a backyard tree.

What would an original 49er make of the Folsom Street Fair? How would a Victorian matron feel about relinquishing her corset and not needing to faint in the fainting room? Who from 1932 would recognize Mission Bay? Or the Golden Gate Bridge for that matter?

Back – or, should I say, forward – to 1969: That’s when my lovely client Jean purchased her home, my new upcoming listing in Cow Hollow. That’s 45 years ago! Nearly a lifetime!

Imagine the walls’ excitement, knowing soon there will be new inhabitants living within. Imagine the windows scanning the street for potential buyers. Imagine the birds perching on the fence to catch sight of children, once again, playing in the garden.

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

Homewords: Völkerwanderung Real Estate

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Obtaining real estate was once a more casual affair. After the collapse of the Roman empire, Germanic tribes swept into Britain and claimed it as theirs. In the Bill Bryson book At Home, archaeologist Brian Ayers is quoted, saying, “It didn’t…involve a lot of slaughter or bloodshed. Probably one day you would just look out in your field and see there were twenty people camped there, and gradually it would dawn on you that they weren’t about to go away, that they were taking your land from you.”

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