Tag Archives: #GoodSFRealEstateAdvice

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 Life Changing Magic of Clobbering Your Crap

HeatherZabriskie

The word “clobber” is on my mind. I was thinking about the word “cobbler” and a slip of my mind’s tongue shifted the “L” so it became “clobber.”

The words mean totally different things. Yet they have a symmetry that has not to do with their sounds.

Cobbler is sweet, satisfying, earthy, down home and righteous. Clobber is sassy, satisfying, earthy, down home and righteous.

Ever want to clobber someone? I know I do. About 15 times a day.

Usually my clobbering impulses run toward a relatively innocent person who doesn’t deserve to be clobbered.

Like the lady at Garnet Hill customer service who can’t find my percale-sheet-set order.

Or the drunken guy in front of me at Bi-Rite deli deliberating over which sandwich will soak up the 6-pack he just consumed at Dolores Park.

Or the man at my recent garage sale who wanted to buy a $10 table for $10, but tells me his wife insists on paying only $5. (Note: it’s a $200 table.) I’m not amused when he asks, “Can you please just talk to her? Talk her into paying more?”

This makes me want to clobber him. After I clobber his wife. I negotiate multi-million-dollar transactions for a living, and I don’t want to waste my precious time haggling over five bucks at a garage sale.

“Just take it,” I say, “My son will help you get it into your truck.”

The whole purpose of the garage sale – and the reason I gave them the table for free – was to clobber the crap that had accumulated in my ex-husband house. I’d contributed heavily to that heavy load, as had our children. We’d moved 15+ years’ worth of clutter into it from our last house and then added 7 more years’ of stuff to the pile. The house had practically begged us to take up hoarding, with a storage room larger than most studio apartments. As a result, my “wasbund” and I easily punted the pain of decluttering down the field again and again.

Now, with him moving to a new, drastically smaller space, the reckoning time had come. 30 years of photographs in albums crammed into file boxes. 20 years of children’s art, trophies, award certificates, recital DVDs, sports equipment and birthday-party favors. Boxes of tax receipts. Cabinets full of Tupperware and water bottles.

And crawling out of every drawer like swarming roaches in a horror movie came paper, binders, Allen wrenches, screws, push-pins, paper clips, pens, reading glasses, puffy ski jackets, snow boots, ratty beach towels, dirty bathmats, lumpy pillows, grocery totes, paint, cleaning supplies, pit-stained t-shirts, misshapen coat hangers, dead flashlights, dried-up tubes of sunscreen, random batteries, earbuds, estranged socks, faded business cards and lonely half-wrapped-fuzz-encrusted Ricola cough drops.

There was a huge bag of rocks collected on hikes and beach walks. A collection of San Francisco-themed highball glasses my grandmother purchased in the 1950s. A jumbo Rubbermaid box filled with more boxes. And I’m not even talking about all the furniture!

The criteria for deciding on an object’s dispensation became: If this were to spontaneously combust right now, how would I feel?

 The answer – almost always – was: Where’s a match when you need it?

The mantra became: If in doubt, throw it out.

Even while being ruthless to the point of cold-bloodedness, the stuff just kept coming and coming and coming. Like zombies. We’d clobber one closet and then scream in terror when confronted by another we’d overlooked.

Just when one room seemed safe AKA vacant, we’d reenter to find more stuff crawling out of the walls and spreading across the floor into heaps of menacing detritus.

Which is all a long way of saying: One thing I’ve learned as a Realtor is that the Number One Impediment to Making Beneficial Changes In Our Living Situations is OUR STUFF.

Want to live a happy life? Want to remain flexible and open and ready to meet every daunting challenge or delightful change? GET RID OF YOUR CRAP. The sooner the better. Wait until you’re 78 and selling your house of 40 years and the mountain of stuff will literally crush you.

Do it. Now. Any way you can. Gift, sell, donate, recycle, toss or SET IT ON FIRE. Just clobber your crap now before it’s too late.

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

How Icebergs Are Like Realtors

So, you’ve been selling San Francisco real estate for almost 29 years. You’ve embraced the changes: Learning to gather signatures electronically rather than in person. Trading the 5-pound Multiple Listing book inked on newsprint for an online search site. Wielding an electronic lockbox key rather than twisting the dial of a combination lock.

You’ve learned how to avoid trouble for your clients. Unlike a lot of newbies, you understand what the Liquidated Damages clause in the SFAR contract means. Just as you know the Real Estate Transfer Disclosure loophole hasn’t been cinched until your Agent’s Visual Inspection Disclosure is signed.

You know to warn all your clients that something surprising almost always goes wrong with an escrow. “It’s not a matter of if,” you say, sagely, “It’s a matter of when and what.”

And then the federal government passes new legislation about lending disclosures. This new law is designed to protect consumers. (As if improved Truth In Lending documentation – rather than sweeping reform of the banking and credit system – will prevent another economic meltdown.)

For months before its October 2015 debut, the San Francisco Association of Realtors warns of the impending arrival of the TILA/RESPA Integrated Disclosure (TRID) Rule. Seminars are held. Bulletins are posted. One title company gives everyone a plastic Frisbee-sized wheel for determining “Consummation Dates.”

TRID wheel

But this is all meaningless until you actually see a transaction through:

You make your closing a week longer than normal, to allow for TRID’s 3-day waiting period and Murphy’s Law. You explain to your Buyer that he will be among the first TRID guinea pigs.

You powwow in advance with Seller’s Agent, just to be sure she will explain to Seller that things could get weird. Seller’s Agent says it’s all cool. She and Seller will hang loose, even though Seller has another closing that hinges on this one. There’s enough spaciousness for a small delay, she says.

The loan is approved.

Title gathers all the info needed to close both sides of the deal. This includes property taxes, homeowners dues, move-in fees, move-out fees, HO-6 insurance, prepaid interest, loan fees, credits, commissions, city fees, transfer taxes, home warranty plans and so forth.

Lender takes all the detail supplied by Title and translates it into a federally-mandated format which Buyer must review and approve before the 3-day waiting period begins. Easy, right?

Wrong.

When doing their transcription, Lender mistakenly gives Buyer an $18,000 credit from Seller. Lender also omits Title Insurance Premium and forgets to fill in Prepaid Property Taxes. Altogether, this creates a $25,000 shortfall on Cash Due at Closing.

Buyer receives the form and calls you. He is delighted that he doesn’t have to come up with as much money as he’d anticipated. The amount is $25,000 less than he’d estimated. He’s going to call Schwab and reduce the amount of his wire. How fantastic is that?!?

Wait a minute, you say. You say this because your spidey sense tells you something ain’t right. Plus you’re keenly aware that, under the new regulations, any material change to the TRID disclosure kicks off another 3-day waiting period. Which delays loan documents. Which delays closing. Which damages Seller. Which costs Buyer. Which is your fiduciary obligation to prevent.

So you start investigating. And – after a day of confusing back and forth with Lender and Title and Seller’s Agent – you find the errors and get them corrected. The transaction closes on time. Everyone is happy.

You add this experience to your Iceberg. As in:

A lot of people think what we Realtors do is easy. They think we drive around in nice cars and look at pretty houses and get our clients to sign some papers and – voila – we’re paid a gazillion dollars.

A real estate agent is like an iceberg (as SF real-estate-guru Ray Brown famously said). Folks can only see a tiny portion of what he or she does and knows. The true mass of the Iceberg is invisible. And GINORMOUS. And it’s made up of tons of ice crystals, each one consisting of a tale akin to the TRID saga (which I’ve boiled down to a succinct outline).

It’s impossible for agents to fully convey to potential clients their value and depth. To do so would be as time-consuming, boring and futile as rowing a dinghy down to Antarctica and saying, “Here. Check out this iceberg. You can only see 5% of it but, trust me, what’s out of sight is quite impressive!”

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.

Query: Biggest frustration as a real estate agent?

I can name hundreds of ways for Realtors to feel frustrated. Yet frustration is part of ANY job done right. I’m grateful to be irritated by glitches with home sales, rather than by the kitchen forgetting to skip the cheese on that Reuben sandwich for Table Three.

reuben

Yet I appreciate this Quora question. Because I have been looking for an excuse to rave about my latest pet peeve as a San Francisco agent: The “shoes off” trend.On brokers tour last week — I kid you not — 11 out of the first 12 homes I visited required “guests” to remove shoes or wear surgical booties.

The purported reason for this is always that the “seller is requesting” it. To which I say “As seller’s representative, you —  Mr. or Ms. Agent —  should educate your client about why this is a dumb idea.

It is offensive, undignified, inconvenient, ungracious, unnecessary and unsightly.

It says “Dear potential buyer or agent. You are unworthy to enter this pristine environment. Please show us the respect we deserve by taking your shoes off or donning a (nearly always pre-worn) pair of these ridiculous-looking, slippery blue booties.”

Or it says “Yes, we’re asking $5M for this house but the floors are so fragile  you’ll have to redo them after six months of simply LIVING in your new home.”

If your property is

  • a Buddhist temple
  • an operating theater
  • outfitted with 100%-organic-honey-coated floors

then, okay, shoes off.

Otherwise: Provide a good doormat. Ask us to doublecheck our shoes for icky substances. Allow us to remove our shoes if it makes US more comfortable. Thank us for our time, interest and effort.

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

Query: Is My Agent Crazy Trying to Save Me Money?

Q: Why would a Realtor you are buying with want to negotiate down the cost of the property?

A: The last time I looked in the mirror I didn’t have dollar signs for pupils. 28 years as a successful Realtor in San Francisco, and I still haven’t abracadabra’d my blue eyes to the color of bright green cash.

That’s because my commission is — honestly — THE VERY LAST THING on my mind.

If you haven’t stood in my shoes, or if you’ve never purchased or sold a home with the help of a truly professional agent, it’s probably difficult to imagine that someone could be motivated by a wish to serve rather than a financial incentive. Yes, this is my livelihood. Yes, I like making money. Yes, we Realtors are paid relatively “big bucks.” (Though there’s more — or, I should say, less — to that than meets the eye. A topic for another time.)

But I work primarily for my clients’ happiness. Sometimes that means I “make a sale.” Many times not. But their happiness translates into referrals to their friends, family and associates. And THAT is how my business grows. Call me dumb like a fox, but I like making my clients happy.

Hence, I’m always shocked and taken aback when people assume I am a money-grubbing shark. I feel injured when they regard my profession as one where you get “money for nothin,” as in the famous Dire Straits song about rock and roll.

To quote an even older smash hit: “She works hard for the money, but you never treat her right.” Perhaps that’s an unfortunate comparison, since Donna Summer was singing about a ladies bathroom attendant, but I KNOW I have a heart of gold.

So do the majority of my successful peers. Which explains why an agent would strive to negotiate a lower price for a 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 and originally appeared as the answer to a Quora question.

Query: How Do I Find A Realtor?

rocker2

Q: How do you currently find a Realtor?

A: The best way to find a trustworthy Realtor — your ally and advocate — is to keep it  simple. You can set personal goals, make a list of must-haves, analyze statistics and search the internet. But there’s no substitute for two tried-and-true methods:

  • Ask reliable friends whom they recommend (and why).
  • Go agent shopping by visiting open houses. Look for someone who “feels” right — who is kind, relaxed and a good listener. You don’t want an agent who tries to “sell” you on anything.

A thoughtful and seasoned professional will help you formulate your questions and refine your goals. They’ll help you glean an education that will allow you to make informed decisions. And then they’ll help you find and close on a home you love. You’ll think of them as a friend by the time the transaction closes.

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

Query: What About The B Word?

RWS_Tarot_18_Moon

Burbling about the bubble is always in fashion. Experts and amateurs offer all sorts of theories about whether we are entering, leaving, or returning to a bubble, and they all have data to support their claims.

If I had a crystal ball, I could answer your question with absolute authority. Sadly, I don’t own one. But I do have access to three alternative tools that can forecast the San Francisco real estate future about as accurately as the Case-Shiller index:

My Tarot deck said MAYBE we are in a bubble. I drew the Moon card, which basically means “Things aren’t as simple or as clear as you’d like them to be, so stop asking and chillax already.”

The hawks-perching-on-light-standards test said YES we are in a bubble. I spotted three hawks on three light standards on three consecutive days. This clearly denotes three (or nine) years of bubble, although it doesn’t tell us which years.

My ever-reliable Angel Cards answered with a resounding NO we are not in a bubble.The word was Balance and, even though it starts with a B, Balance is not the same as a Bubble.

Using these indicators, we can say with conviction that the bubble question is unanswerable. The good news is that the effects of bubbling have historically been mild in San Francisco. Go ahead. Buy your home, stay put a few years and you’ll be okay. Meanwhile, here are two wise quotes to help put it all in perspective:

“Those who have knowledge, don’t predict. Those who predict, don’t have knowledge.” Lao Tzu

and

“I predict one of these two teams will win the Super Bowl.” Gilbert Gottfried

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

The Olfactory Factor

Staging is for ALL the senses. Quote me: “If you can smell it, you can’t sell it.” And this includes “positive” odors because the human olfactory system is so strongly tied to emotional reactions.

You might assume that the odor of freshly baked cookies evokes a “smells-like-home-so-show-me-where-to-sign” response in buyers. But your cash-toting multi-millionaire millennial may, in fact, have an aversion to cinnamon or vanilla or any of Mrs. Meyer’s nasal-raiding fragrances. Better to keep it clean and neutral.

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.

Query: “What is the best way to market luxury real estate?”

courtesy of Barclays Jewlers
courtesy of Barclay’s 

Q: What is the best way to market luxury real estate? 

A: Start by stopping use of the term “luxury.” Most luxury real estate buyers (in San Francisco) don’t think of themselves as such. They think of themselves as hipsters.

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