Tag Archives: #SanFrancisco

Ain’t It Funny How Time Slips Away?

I live at the border of the Liberty Hill Historic district, just a two-minute huff away from the golden fire hydrant that quelched the fire that ravaged the Mission district after San Francisco’s Great Earthquake. My house sits on 20th Street and is a curious-looking late-Victorian cottage that is a close relative of what’s termed an “earthquake shack.

It was built in 1906 or 1907 on a lot made vacant when firefighters and volunteers dynamited (or let burn) the structures on the north side of the street as a fire break. Rescued from destruction by that intervention and by the famous golden fire hydrant at 20th and Church, the stately homes on the opposite side of my street are intact. Almost daily, groups of people gather with their tour guides to gawk at those handsome facades.

In the middle of an ordinary day, I’m sometimes halted in my tracks by the realization that those Victorians have stood there for 125 years. They practically loom over pedestrians, like members of a jury. Observing, listening, judging. Positioned on an upslope, their fronts are like somber, vigilant faces.

They watched silently after the quake as the Mission rose from the heap of ashes strewn from 20th Street to Market. They stood by as the train tracks on the block were ripped out and – later – new sewer mains planted and utility poles erected (and, more recently, buried). They’ve outlasted the graves that once filled Dolores Park and were relocated to Colma.

They repeatedly see the street repaved and its sidewalk squares torn out and re-poured. They watch as a recurring sinkhole on the west end of the block caves in every five years or so. They’ve had garages dug beneath their foundations, and the natural springs on their lots funneled into drainage systems.

They’ve endured as San Francisco soldiers marched off to at least six wars. They’ve surveyed crowds of people thronging toward Mission Street or Market Street to protest for women’s suffrage, civil rights and gay rights.

The women who’ve slept in their bedrooms have worn corsets and bustles, or miniskirts, or all-leather ensembles and multiple piercings. People from all over the globe have called them “home.” Recently, children have grown to adulthood in their rooms, but can’t leave because they can’t afford a place of their own.

Sometimes at twilight, if I squint my eyes just right, I can imagine all the houses are brand new. It’s the 1890s. There are no cars. There are no hipsters toting 12-packs of PBR to Dolores Park. There are no skateboarders bombing the hill. The Great Earthquake is still 15 years away and the California Gold Rush is not so far in the past.

We think we have all the time in the world, but San Francisco’s present is rapidly becoming its history. Everything – including the venerable Victorians on my block – will eventually fade away.

So, let’s celebrate our beautiful city right now. Call me and I’ll meet you today at the Golden Fire Hydrant to enjoy the view of the skyline. Tomorrow it’ll be forever changed.

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.

7 Hills and 7 (or 8) Views

Dream of San Francisco and you’re likely to conjure a picture of the Golden Gate Bridge: Hands down, the most iconic image associated with our city.

Yet with 7 hills in a 7-by-7-mile square space, San Francisco can’t help but offer hundreds of stunning views. Just hike up any ol’ slope and have a look around.

My new listing at 1201 California, situated at the apex of Nob Hill, has knockout panoramic views. We’re talking southern sky and cityscape, from the water of the southeast Bay to Twin Peaks. It’s not instantly recognizable as San Francisco. But if you’ve lived here for at least two weeks you’ll know what you’re looking at because you can’t miss Sutro Tower framing the sunset.

Number 802 at Cathedral Apartments is one of those rare spaces where you really can “live in the view.” You can watch the pink of sunrise over coffee, note the creep of fog bumping against distant hills, toast the sunset with a glass of wine at dusk, wonder at the sea of twinkling city lights during a wee-hours bathroom break. Lucky you!

Yet if you’re not fortunate enough to “own” a view, there are plenty to be had in San Francisco for free. Here’s a list of my favorite seven unexpected (and slightly “secret”) public vistas:

1. Strawberry Hill. In Golden Gate Park, cross one of the two pedestrian bridges that lead to the island in Stow Lake. Head uphill. Enjoy a tree-filtered 360-degree view of the St. Ignatius spires, the surprisingly hilly Sunset, Ocean Beach, the Pacific Ocean, the Richmond, Golden Gate Bridge, the Marin headlands and more.

2. Twin Peaks. Approach by car (and preferably at night) from Portola near Laguna Honda or from Clarendon. Drive to where the Martians will land when they invade San Francisco. Imagine you are a Martian surveying the splendid city you’re about to conquer. Take note of how Market Street makes a glowing runway of light from your feet to the Bay Bridge.

3. Grandview Park. Get it? Grand? View? The park is roughly bordered by 14th and 15th avenues and Noriega in Golden Gate Heights, although I highly recommend walking up the magical Moraga Street steps for access (at 16th and Moraga). From the top you can see downtown, Golden Gate Park, Pt. Reyes and Lake Merced.

4. Lake Merced. A trail encircles the entire lake, though there’s a lot of traffic whizzing by. Instead, park in the lot at Harding Park off Skyline. Walk past the boathouse, cut across the golf course and take the trail that goes along the northernmost part of the lake. Lots of green. Lots of green water. Birds. Cattails.

5. Sutro Park. We’re talking higher on the cliff than the Cliff House. Drive out Geary Boulevard (which turns into Point Lobos) to 48th Avenue. Or take the 38 bus to its last stop. Walk into the park. Look south for an amazing perspective on magnificent Ocean Beach. You can look in other directions that are equally nice. But the Ocean Beach vista is surprising.

6. Zellerbach Garden of Perennials. Once upon a time, admission to the Strybing Botanical Garden in Golden Gate Park was free to all. Now you must pay if you aren’t a resident of San Francisco. (But it’s worth it.) There are actually many beautiful views here, but one of my favorites is looking slightly south and mostly east from the Zellerbach Garden of Perrennials. A long lane of lush green lawn framed by trees. Bring a picnic while you’re at it.

7. The “notch” at Sanchez and Liberty. Skip the frat party/parade at Dolores Park. Walk west up 20th Street and south up Sanchez (there are stairs available for this last part). At the top of the hill are some very fine views to the south, east and west. Breathtaking any time of day.

Cynthia Cummins is a Top Producer and Partner at McGuire. For more details about 1201 California #802, visit NobHillViews.com. 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.

Throwback Thursday: Grrrrrrrreat!

Garry_Moore_Tony_the_Tiger_1955

Beautiful, Wonderful and Great: Also known as the three weariest adjectives in Realtorland.

Of these, “great” is the most worn out because it fits so conveniently in so many places. When in doubt, throw the word “great” into your copy.

Note, for example, the Brief Property Report I printed from Multiple Listing Service (MLS) yesterday. My intent was to refer to it during a meeting with buyers. But it works nicely as a random sampling of Realtors’ MLS comments for my investigation of the over-exploitation of the word “great.”

Here’s what it revealed:

  • Property #1 is listed at a “great price”
  • Property #2 is a “great property for the first- time homebuyer”
  • Property #3 is a “great value”
  • Property #4 skips the word ‘great’ (as well as ‘beautiful’ and ‘wonderful’), so extra points for the agent for Property #4
  • Property #5 uses great twice, as in “great light” and “great room,” the latter describing the type of room not the quality of the room
  • Property #6 has no comments at all (aside to agent for Property #6: Come on, you can do better than that!)
  • Property #7 points to the “great weather” in the neighborhood

Okay, so you’re asking, “What’s the big deal? Who cares whether an agent uses the word ‘great’ one time, fourteen times or not at all?”

And I’m answering. Or I’m starting to answer and then shutting my mouth. I’m thinking. What IS the big deal? Who DOES care? Why AM I railing about the verbiage in MLS comments?

It has only to do with my interest in words and writing. It has nothing to do with real estate or selling real estate. I can use the word “great” as much as I want, but in the end no buyers are going to take my word for it. They’re going to see the property themselves and decide if it rates a “great.”

Meanwhile, it’s another great day in San Francisco. What a great place to live. What a great place to work. What a great place to sell real estate.

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

Query: Advice for New Googler Moving to SF

Googleplex-Patio-Aug-2014
Image by Jijithecat
Q: What are some things a recent college graduate should know before moving to San Francisco to work at Google?
A: Congratulations to you for a) graduating from college, b) securing a job and c) having that job be at Google. Hooray! You’re way ahead of the game, since many graduates these days have no prospect of making a living wage.
I’m not sure where you have lived previously, but it is true that the cost of living in San Francisco is shockingly high. You would be wise to sit down soberly, do some advance budgeting and make some agreements with yourself about your financial priorities. You might also pledge to do without a car because they are expensive to maintain in San Francisco and the city is actively discouraging their use.
Once you’re here, watch out getting sidetracked by San Francisco’s infectious-hipster party-time atmosphere. If Millennials aren’t careful, they can quickly squander all their earnings on techie gadgets, lattes and nights out at the expensive and fabulous restaurants located on nearly every corner of the city.
Maintain your balance, learn to cook meals at home, count your blessings, have LOTS of fun, and be careful about sitting on the ground in Dolores Park. Great views of the changing skyline, but you won’t believe all the nasty germs lurking in that grass!
Finally, as soon as you can scrape together a down payment, you’d be wise to invest in the residential real estate market. There’s no market like San Francisco’s and there’s no better time than NOW to get started. As a wise woman once said, “Sex and Real Estate: Get Lots While You’re Young.”

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 to a question on Quora.

Achgro (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Sellers, Don’t Wait For Coulda Woulda Shoulda

image by Achim Grochowski

HOT HOT HOT! That’s the San Francisco real estate market today.

So, I’m giving a shout out to all you homeowners who are “kinda-maybe thinking about selling sometime in the not-too-faraway future.” Pay attention to what’s happening, assess your situation and be sure you don’t miss the proverbial boat.

There are lots of reasons why it’s a good time to sell. Here are a few:

  • Amnesty abounds. Translation: Demand is so high and supply is so low that all “sins” are forgiven. No parking? We’ll sell our car! On a busy street? We love it lively! Tricky floorplan? We’ll sleep in the kitchen!
  • Tenants are trouble. Translation: Tenant-occupied properties always sell for less than vacant ones. So, if your renter has just given notice, don’t freak out. Consider yourself lucky, and at least explore the advantages of selling (either the whole property or a tenancy-in-common share).
  • Capital gains tax sucks. Translation: If you are renting out a property that was recently your primary residence, drop everything else you’re doing and check with your accountant, financial planner or me. Don’t let three years go by and thereby lose your IRS Capital Gains Exclusion. That would be a $100,000-or-so mistake that you’d be really, really, really mad about making.
  • Investors are looking for the long hold. Translation: Income properties – even with relatively lousy rental returns – are in demand. Buyers from all over the world are looking for a piece of San Francisco. Sell yours and you may be able to get a higher return on investment elsewhere.
  • Interest rates are still low. Translation: It’s a good time to buy, which means it’s also a good time to sell. Only after the market shifts will you know it has shifted.

The truth is it may or may not make sense for you to sell your property now. But if it’s a consideration for any time in the next five years, contact me so we can begin a conversation and formulate a cogent plan for your real estate future.

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.

Six or a Half-Dozen Divinations for SF Real Estate in 2015

(Image of tea leaves by Richard Corner)

The weather vane is whipping to and fro. Tea leaves are magically shifting. Stats are twitchy and erratic.

The only thing you can be sure of is change. So — if you’re thinking about buying or selling — act before you get confirmation that the market has turned in whatever direction you’re waiting upon or dreading. When everything becomes crystal-clear, it’ll be way too late.

For 2015, I predict:

  • The San Francisco market will continue in its girls-gone-crazy-bikini-party mode. Here’s curbed.com’s take on our “steadfastly bonkers” market.
  • Rents will continue to be the highest in the nation.  Maybe it’s time to buy?
  • San Francisco is still a great place to raise kids (click for video), so don’t leave town!
  • As the year progresses and interest rates rise, it’ll only get more competitive for buyers. Stop watching sales prices from the sidelines and make your move before money prices increase.
  • Drive times to, from and within SF will continue to increase. Plus, parking will be increasingly harder to find and more expensive when you do find it. Consider locating where you won’t need a car. Transit first, baby!
  • 2015 will be a lot like 2014. To refresh your short-term memory, here’s what Q4 of 2014 looked like.

In addition, top-10 lists (as well as top-5, -6, -14 and -20 lists) will continue grabbing your already-scant attention. (I encountered at least TEN top-ten lists re. 2015 real estate while researching this.)

My advice is to shun statistics, analysis and speculation, and do whatever it is you’re yearning to do. Sell now. Buy now. Or stay put now. It’s six of one, half dozen of another.

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.

Most Bang Per Buck: Paint Kitchen Cabinets

My best guess is that the question arises in 1 out of 4 listings. But I’ve lost count of how many dozens of times I’ve stood in the middle of a dated kitchen with Seller and Stager debating one critical question:

Should we “paint out” the kitchen cabinets? 

Nothing screams “old” or “tired” like old, tired kitchen cabinets. So smart stagers almost always recommend changing out the hardware and slapping on a new coat of white paint.

Sellers are usually concerned about pre-sale Return On Investment. (Painting cabinet faces is cheap but not dirt cheap.) So they’ll try one or more of the following arguments against painting:

  1. It’ll be obvious to buyers that we just painted them.
  2. Whoever buys the house is redoing the kitchen anyway.
  3. It’s better to let the natural wood show.
  4. I actually like the cabinets.

But usually the Seller will be convinced that the ROI is worthwhile because the paint will:

  1. Make the kitchen photograph better and photos are key marketing tools.
  2. Create a cleaner, crisper, brighter first impression
  3. Give buyers the hope that they can delay remodeling for a year or two since they’ve just depleted their savings on a downpayment.

Cabinet-painting works every time. Case in point, here’s a professional photo of outdated kitchen cabinets  in a condo I sold two years ago. (The sellers didn’t have enough lead time to stage or paint the cabinets):

11

Here’s a hurried cellphone pic of the same kitchen snapped by the painter who — for the new owners — recently painted the cabinets white:

70Wilder.white cabs

I rest my case, but you can be the judge.

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.