Tag Archives: SFRE

Less Lipstick = More Value

Last week, I offered some home-buying tips on how not to be fooled by staging. This week, my focus is on why empty and unstaged properties should be ranked at the top of every buyer’s must-see list.

I always say that my “dream home” for buyers is one with stained shag carpeting, an active roof leak and cat pee in every corner. Anything that combines ugly, stinky and neglected is enticing to me.

Or, as a contractor friend once said to me, “More pig, less lipstick.”

Some piggy properties are major fixers suited only for developers. I’m not talking about those oinkers. I’m talking about properties where the seller didn’t bother taking any pains with presentation. These empty or non-staged homes offer special advantages for buyers.

Advantage 1: Non-staged properties photograph badly. The lighting is dim and the empty rooms look small and sad. On MLS, dismal photos (or a lack of any photos) repel many buyers. These buyers swipe ahead to the next, more attractive looking listing. This means less competition for the poorly-presented house.

Advantage 2: Non-staged properties convey the impression that something is amiss, otherwise the sellers and their agent would care more. Busy buyers have infinite choices but finite time for viewing them, so they eliminate the “houses that must have something wrong with them” first. Fewer shoppers mean fewer offers.

Advantage 3: Lack of staging may mean the seller isn’t being well represented. The listing agent isn’t employing an effective marketing strategy (which would include staging), so there’s a chance he/she will not be very strategic about pricing or offers or negotiations. This also can mean a better value for the eventual buyer.

Advantage 4: Lack of staging magnifies flaws and implies neglect. For example, in a warm, well-lit, furnished living room a tiny superficial plaster crack strikes a buyer as a good excuse to change the paint color after closing. In a cold, dark, vacant living room that same crack worries the buyer that the foundation is crumbling. It’s all psychology, but this psychology works in favor of the buyer rather than the seller in an unstaged house.

Bottom line for San Francisco buyers: Don’t skip homes with no staging and/or no online photos. Go see them. And when you see them, consciously strive – with your agent’s help – to see them as if they are staged. Apply the lipstick yourself. Then make an offer.

For part one of this two-part post, go to link here.

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.

Buyers: Don’t Let Staging Fool You

“Sellers sell” is a real estate adage you’ve probably heard. It means that if homeowners are, in fact, committed to selling, they act in ways that lead to a sale. They engage a professional agent and follow her guidance.

But in San Francisco that adage may as well be “Sellers stage,” since home staging is almost always the #1 suggestion for serious sellers.

Staging warms up a house and makes its floor plan easy to grok, but its main purpose is to 1) make photos look good and 2) induce an emotional response in prospective buyers.

Buyers may think and say, “I can see past the staging.” Yet the truth is that staging always exerts a subtle (or not so subtle) influence on home shoppers’ psyches.

Here’s are eight ways to be sure staging doesn’t sabotage your home search and the choice you ultimately make:

Acknowledge that staging does have an influence on your perception. Consciously strive to imagine the space as if it were vacant and ask your agent to help you with that visualization. (Example: The staged bonus room behind the garage looks cozy and bright, yet there is no heat source and the ceilings are too low; you would never want anybody to actually sleep there.)

Be seated in every room. Don’t just walk around and view things from a standing perspective. This will give you a more realistic read on the house’s utility and overall vibe. (Example: From the sofa, you can’t see the trees across the street, but — once seated —  you can feel and hear the freeway just on the other side of those trees.)

Play house in the kitchen. Pretend you’re taking stuff out of the fridge or out of a cabinet, placing it on the countertop, chopping it up and throwing it in a pan. You may be surprised at what you learn. (Example: The cabinets are hung so high you can’t reach them unless you’re an NBA player.)

Note how the house is oriented on its lot. Check outside spaces for any surfaces tinted with green. Notice what variety of florae are growing there and guess how recently they were planted. (Example: Pots full of fuchsias may indicate that the sun never shines on the deck.)

Check window coverings. Stagers usually remove drapes and blinds to let in light and open up rooms. Only after you move in do you realize there’s a problem. (Example: The huge windows in a loft may allow so much light that it’s hard to stay cool or enjoy even a modicum of privacy and the floor-to-ceiling drapes you must install as a result may greatly alter the “airy” feeling of the space.)

Notice if the listing agent has turned on music during the open house and ask yourself (or your agent) why. Look for air filters and white-noise devices. (Example: The amazing sound system may be a great feature which deserves to be showcased, but make certain it’s not there to distract from the bass line seeping through the floor from the cafe downstairs.)

Identify nearby uses in ever direction. Don’t forget what is “behind” you – through the block. (Example: The condo is on a quiet residential block yet backs up to a restaurant whose exhaust fan runs 18 hours a day – fine if you’re not sensitive to noise or smells, but terrible if you don’t like pizza.)

Consider how you will use each room. Don’t simply accept the staged implication. (Example: The unfinished attic, staged with cushions and yoga mats, inspires you to begin a home meditation practice. But – honestly – how likely will you be to pull down the ladder and climb up there every day? And what if you discover that meditation isn’t really your thing?)

A best practice for buyers is to minimize the time spent looking online. Instead, get out there and see your choices live in person. There’s no substitute for being there.

This is the first of two posts on the effect of staging on buyer psyche. Look for part two next week: Unstaged? Advantage 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.

Will This Floor Plan Work For An Orgy?

Years ago I represented a single female buyer (let’s call her “Eve”) who belonged to an exclusive community of sexually adventurous yet socially conscious people. Their organization’s primary raison d’etre was the staging and attendance of private “play” parties.

As a member of the board of directors of the association (let’s call it “Honeycomb”), Eve wanted to be able to host events at her home.

And because she had practiced being respectful of others’ needs and explicit about stating her own needs – at sex parties, for example – she was exceptionally unequivocal about the features her home should have.

Eve knew how to ask a new Honeycomb member if he or she had been recently tested for STDs and could she see a copy of the results. She wasn’t shy about requesting more lubrication, or less pressure, or no talking. So, it was easy for her to tell me that her house had to have either 3 bathrooms or the capacity to create 3 bathrooms.

Her list also included:

• A neighborhood where street parking or paid parking was relatively abundant. (This was before Uber and Lyft.)
• A single family home, preferably detached, where a dusk-to-dawn gathering wouldn’t upset neighbors.
• A good heating system so scantily-clad Honeycombers could stay warm.
• Windows that could be fitted with effective privacy coverings.
• A preference for more rooms vs. large rooms, to accommodate a variety of small group encounters.

Eve’s shopping list provides a more-eccentric-than-average example of how vital it is for a buyer’s agent to observe and evaluate properties as if looking through his/her client’s lens.

I can instantly check all the boxes on someone’s list – bedrooms, bathrooms, outdoor space, kitchen/dining configuration, tech-shuttle proximity, etc. But there’s almost always an unstated or indefinable list of needs that require some divination on my part. I can’t count how many times I’ve seen a property that lacks a critical feature on a buyer’s list, yet has something that makes me think, “This must be the place.”

So, somebody buys a house with no parking – even though that somebody told me, “No way. Do not even tell me about it if it doesn’t have parking!” All because somebody fell in love with the lemon and avocado trees off the back deck.

I’ve represented buyers with very particular needs: A single family home with no steps to the front door. A Noe Valley property with western views that didn’t include Sutro Tower. A home with a garage big enough for six dragon boats and a car. A house with a yard suitable for a pizza oven.

In every case:
1. We found the “right” place.
2. The end result didn’t precisely match our starting vision.
3. The homeowner’s exact needs changed over time.
4. The way they inhabited the property changed, too.

As for Eve, she got her “right” house, and she’s lived there happily for 15 years. She let her Honeycomb membership lapse and got married. And the property near Golden Gate Park – with radiant heat and 3 bathrooms – is now home to an active family of five.

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

Pay-Per-View or Free-Per-View?

Looking for a sweeping view in New York City? You probably need to take an elevator to a very high floor.

Looking for a panorama in San Francisco? Walk just a few blocks and chances are good you’ll find one.

My job takes me throughout the city almost every day, and I never cease to be amazed at the unexpected views around every corner. I’ve begun collecting photos of some of the most surprising ones.

Sure, it’s grand to gaze out at the Golden Gate Bridge or the Pacific Ocean. But there are many other charming vistas available.

Do you have a favorite to share?

Click on the photo to watch the full video.

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.

Lose that collection if you’re selling your San Francisco house!

The key to attracting buyers is your property’s emotional appeal. Open buyers’ hearts and they’ll open their wallets.

But if you over-personalize, you lose some of your audience. It’s important to keep the stage relatively clean and neutral. That way buyers can visualize themselves living in the space – not you.

Here is one basic instruction that’ll prevent over-personalization.

Click on the photo to watch the full video.

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.

It’s Raining

When sellers fill out a Real Estate Transfer Disclosure Statement in advance of listing a house for sale, I often hear something like this:

“Remember that huge rainstorm we had last winter? Right around Valentine’s Day? Some water came in along the bottom of this window. See? But, you know, the wind was blowing in this funny direction. It never blows that way. So we think it was a freaky one-time occurrence. Do we need to disclose it?”

“Yes, you need to disclose it,” I will say.

Then my client will ask, “So how do I disclose that? What do I write?”

And I reply, “Write down what you just told me, but don’t theorize about the cause of the leak or suggest it was a freaky one-time occurrence.”

In other words, when it comes to disclosure, there’s no need to put any spin on the truth.

And when in doubt, dear Sellers, ask yourselves, “If we were buying this house, what would we want to know?” Common sense and kindness go a long way toward protecting everyone involved and upholding the spirit of the law regarding disclosure.
However, full disclosure doesn’t mean a new homeowner isn’t going to have water intrusion problems. When rain comes pounding down for 7 weeks in a row, all that water is going to figure out some new places to go.

It’ll makes it way through foundation walls when the earth becomes saturated. It’ll overflow a lightwell when the drain gets overwhelmed or clogged. It’ll creep in the gap created when the wind blew a couple of roof shingles away.

The problem with water intrusion is that it can be mysterious and difficult to diagnose accurately. Better to have a roof leak – usually easily pinpointed and its resolution pretty clear – than a slow-spreading stain down an interior wall or a puzzling puddle in the basement.

In my role as the always-available real estate concierge, I can help. I can’t (usually) stop the water myself, but I can refer you to appropriate tradespeople. Just give me a call, and remember that eventually wet turns to dry. One way or 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. 

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.

The Good In Misunderstood

One of my writing students recently learned I am a Realtor in San Francisco.

“How,” he asked, “do you reconcile your gentle, supportive, Zen-like teaching persona with your evil real estate persona?”

He didn’t mean it as an insult. He was genuinely surprised. He’d always heard that real estate agents are scumbags* and I didn’t seem to fit that mold.

Similarly, another acquaintance asked to “pick my brain” about getting started in the real estate business. I explained that newly licensed agents often begin by working for their friend.

“Oh, no,” she said, “I could never take advantage of my friends that way.”

Again. Not meant as an insult. But she, too, thinks she knows that agents are leeches.

These two encounters – and plenty of others like them – made me go “ouch” for a nanosecond. Those words can’t help but hurt. Yet I’m not sharing this because I’m complaining, or because I feel misunderstood or unappreciated.

You see, I believe it’s GOOD to be misunderstood. For at least two reasons.

First, it makes me stop and do a self-assessment. Am I, indeed, a parasite? Am I a malefactor? And if not, am I doing or have I done anything specific to invite this judgment?

Second, and more importantly, it reminds me to practice not misunderstanding others.

I practice calling bullshit on my own assumptions. For example, if I hear the label “tech,” I try to notice my tendency to translate that as “lucky to be in the right place at the right time.” Or if I hear “trust fund,” I strive not to automatically think “rich.” Other examples might be not associating “developer” with “greedy.” Or “protected tenant” with “taking advantage.” Or “low-income housing” with “crime-ridden.” Or “foreign investor” with “cash.”

At times I guiltily believe I am the only person on the planet who rushes to judgment. But I know better. It’s impossible to block our biases from popping up like gophers on the greens at Bushwood Country Club.

As Anonymous famously said, “When you assume things you make an ass out of you and me.”

We are asses because we are human, and there’s always a push-pull between our donkey-like conduct and our higher capacities. The practice is to learn from our errors, even as we forgive others’ missteps.

Day by day, encounter by encounter, we can strengthen our ability to see people as whole, multifaceted and unique. Our lives become richer as a result.

*In direct contrast to what would be expected of a scumbag, I offered him some information about San Francisco rent-control law that benefits him directly and for which he was grateful.

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

The Exclamation Index

Oh, exclamation point! Oh, Realtor’s friend! Your slender line and dot speak volumes!

Who needs statistics!? When it comes to assessing the state of the San Francisco real estate market, one has only to review a copy of last week’s brokers tour.

Its bounty of exclamation points tells the tale of our surprise at a newly observable shift. After months of tracking the tide in anticipation of its turn, we find ourselves stranded on a proverbial spit of sand, looking at the high water mark on shore.

Surprise! The market is changing.

Brokers tour, in its printed form, allows two lines of type for each property. The first line lists basics like address and price. The second line – consisting of a maximum 60 characters (including spaces and punctuation) – lets the agent say something extra about the property’s attributes.

Given the scant space allotted for elaboration, the exclamation point becomes a shortcut. It is a one-character plea for attention. A skinny line conveying delight, excitement, urgency or panic.

This week, after reviewing the first of 23 pages of brokers tour, I abandoned counting exclamation points and looked instead at the words preceding them. I saw multiple variations on “Price Reduction!” and “Don’t Miss This!” and “Must See!

Other exclamation-point and word pairings included:

Come for pastries!
Parking!
Great flow!
View rooftop with BBQ!
Stunning!
Amazing!
Time to make the offer!
Best in show!
Offers encouraged!
Decks!
Location!
Views!
VIEWS, VIEWS & more VIEWS!
Light!
Charm!
Seller says SELL!
Cookies!

When inventory was too scarce to meet demand, the exclamation point took a sabbatical from brokers tour. No need to shriek about rooftop BBQs. No need to shout about cookies, or a $5,000 selling bonus, or two years of paid leased parking.

But that was 2015 and this is now. Next thing you know, nobody will be asking open-house visitors to remove their shoes. There will be a corresponding decrease in use of the adjective “exclusive.” Agents will cease to post offer dates. And we’ll all be saying, “Welcome home, exclamation point! We need you!”

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