Tag Archives: #SavvySFSellers

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.

Keep It Simple Sellers

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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.

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.

Real Estate Sells Itself

You know that full-page splashy four-color ad your agent paid for? Inside the front cover of Luxury Real Estate Rag? With the dramatic twilight image of your three-bedroom bungalow? With the adroit description of its stunning floor plan and unique window mullions? The one that never fails to melt your heart no matter how many times you read it?

It doesn’t actually attract buyers for your actual house. Seriously. Instead, it:

  • Assuages your fear that your Realtor isn’t doing enough to market your home
  • Irritates other agents who pitched your listing but didn’t get it.
  • Gives folks something to peruse while waiting for their lattes at Peet’s
  • Keeps the Luxury Real Estate Rag afloat
  • Prompts other potential sellers to contact your agent
  • Offers Looky-Lous and never-will-buy buyers something to talk about

This has always been the case in San Francisco, whether it’s Print or Web advertising. Real estate marketing is mainly about agent branding and agent promotion.

What gets a property sold is its inherent desirability coupled with correct pricing, strategic presentation, availability to be seen and inclusion on Multiple Listing Service. Everything else is pretty much window dressing on which every successful Realtor spend considerable time and money.

You may assume that – like Snapchat and teenagers – sales and marketing go together. Can one exist without the other? Yes! When it comes to real estate sales.

Real estate sells itself. With very few exceptions, a property either meets a buyer’s hopes and expectations or it doesn’t

In San Francisco, where there’s never much for sale, prospective buyers’ energies are spent watching MLS updates – and their feeds to various websites – like Sylvester the Cat. Any changes in or around the canary cage and the buyer is poised to pounce.

This is just another way in which real estate is not really about real estate. It’s about primal human needs like food and sanctuary. The motivated buyer seeks shelter. If your cave is available for occupancy and reasonably priced, buyers will hunt it down and make you an offer you can’t refuse.

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

Happy 2021!!!

Where do you want to be in 2021?

“Wait,” you may say, “We just got to 2016, Cynthia!”

Yet when you’re looking back to today from 2021, you’ll be glad you made a five-year plan.

“Ugh,” you think, “that’ll take a lot of effort and I have plenty of stuff to do already.”

How about if it’s easy? What if you could pinpoint the highlights of a five-year plan in only five minutes? Want to try?

 You’ll need a clock or timer and a way to record a few things in writing.

First, sit down and take one minute to tune into your breathing. Scan your body from head to toe, feel your weight in your chair and notice the sense of calm that arises.

Spend the next minute imagining how you want to feel in 2021. Scan your body again. Notice your jaw, your chest, your hands, your abdomen. What is the predominant feeling?

Then, answer these three prompts, taking one minute to write your reply to each. Write down the first things that pop into your mind, whether they make sense or not.

  1. It’s 2021 and every time I enter the front door, my home feels like _______________________________.
  2. It’s 2021 and when I wake each morning (or go to sleep each night) I _____________________________.
  3. It’s 2021 and I am so grateful that, five years ago, I chose to _________________________.

Sometimes, we are surprised by the answers this exercise can provoke. Sometimes, it merely confirms what we already know.

Whatever surfaces, I can help you translate it into a tangible plan. In a one-hour consultation, we can tease out your wishes and priorities, then create a detailed map and timeline for how to answer your questions and achieve your goals.

or 415.713.8008. We’ll have tea.

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

Katie Scarlett, Better Call Off the Stager

You’ve seen that movie: There’s a horrible crisis and a character is obsessing about some silly, irrelevant and possibly symbolic detail?

Scarlett O’Hara’s dad, for example. In Gone With The Wind. Scarlett has just come home to Tara after delivering Melanie’s baby and escaping Atlanta on fire and hiding from marauding Yankees only to learn that her mother has died. The mansion needs some serious cleaning and renovation, but her grief-stricken dad just stares at his deceased wife’s sewing box and mutters to himself.

What I mean to say is it’s normal to pay attention to the “wrong” things in the midst of a real estate transaction. For example, I’ve witnessed:

  • The market debut of a $4 million home delayed for crucial weeks by seller’s wish for Salvation Army to accept an antique sideboard for donation.
  • A closing delayed by a dispute over whether or not a countertop microwave is included in the sale.
  • An offer failing because a buyer wants a one-day inspection clause on a developer-warranted all-new house

Smart sellers and buyers need to ask their agents “Is there anything I’m doing or choosing to focus on that is sabotaging my chances for success?” Clever clients should insist their agents muster the courage to be brutally frank. That’s because, sometimes – in the name of pleasing the client and choosing battles wisely – an agent is reluctant to speak up.

This arises most often in the midst of clearing out a house in preparation for market. Longtime owners get mired in the marsh of socks, scarves, old Christmas cards, tchotchkes and – most insidious of all – books. Meanwhile, the market for a $2 million condo is slipping away as seller deliberates over whether Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance should be given to a grandson, sold at Green Apple Books or donated.

Here’s where the smart and caring agent shows up with resources and tips to liberate the seller from the swamp of stuff – both literal and psychological. In my years as a Realtor, I have collected many proverbial ropes and winches to free clients from the muck. One of these days I’ll share some here.

In the meantime, contact me if you’d like some new purging, cleaning and decluttering tips.

 

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.

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):

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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.