Wednesday, February 2, 2011

5 Easy Steps to Finding the Peace Within

I love Monk!  The TV show.  It’s a series about a neurotic germaphobe who happens to be an amazing detective who can’t seem to solve the case of his own wife’s murder.   Funny thing is….the clue he needs to solve the case is sitting on his fireplace mantel.  And, it’s been there for at least five years.  In the season finale, he realizes he’s had the answer all along - but didn’t know it.

That’s not unlike our own lives, isn’t it?  The peace we seek outside ourselves is really within.  But, why on earth don’t we see it, experience it, know it to be true for our own selves?

I suppose most of us figure it out, right before we forget again.  Knowing that the peace, in any circumstance, is just one step closer to the God spirit within.  But, instead of listening intently, we get distracted.  The more distracted of us - remembering and forgetting over and over again, sometimes in the same hour.

I see the (real) monks at the ashram I visit every year hold the truth and glide through life so effortlessly.  But, they’re in the mountains, living together, practicing yoga every morning, having a vegan diet, in the peace and quiet of a sacred place.

While most of us lead very busy city lives.  Being stimulated every six seconds by the seeming  importance of something.  So, we often get distracted from the truth.

So, how do you go within and find your peace in the midst of the agonizing stress of life?

1.  Let It Go.

Take your focus off whatever is bringing you stress and focus on what brings you joy.

My favorite song… “I release and I let go, I let the spirit run my life, I am free in the spirit and I’m only here for God.”

Remembering (or trying to remember) the purpose for which you were born - releases the non-sense.

2.  Purge.

Remove everything  from your life that you do not need or that does not serve you.  Everything - shoes, purses, people, files, phones.   No attachment - no stress.

3.  Seek  Silence.

Try operating in silence in the morning - no radio, no television, no anything.  Listen to your own thoughts. Since thoughts create reality - monitor them to see what you’re creating.  Give yourself a chance to make a conscious choice.  And, if you’re really seeking bliss - find at least 10 minutes each day - sitting in silent meditation -  no thoughts, just focus on your breathing.  Center yourself.

4.  Pray for Them.

I had a co-worker once who created havoc wherever she went - and she landed on my team.  My mother said, “Pray for her”.

“Why should I pray for her?”, I said with frustration.

“It’s not what it will do for her, it’s what it will do for you.  It will release you from the experience”, she replied.

I did, and it did.  Days later she was reassigned.  I rarely saw her after that.

5.  Don’t Forget The Fun.

So, when you’re old and gray and lying in bed reminiscing about your life, will you even remember what you’re worrying about today?  If not, got back to #1 - Let It Go.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

5 Investment Tips: Buying Real Estate in South Florida

The South Florida real estate market is showing signs of re-bounding. Companies are hiring again and bank foreclosures have slowed down. So, demand will be increasing and the inventory will be smaller, and prices will rise.

This is an excellent time to buy and hold properties (rentals) - although, prices may not bottom out for another six to eight months.

But, if you wait for “the bottom”, it may be too late. The upswing will be swift.  So, focus instead on creating a profitable cash flow….NOW.

Five (5) things to consider when buying in this market:

1. Location, etc.

Choose an area that has a lot of real estate activity. If a sub-division has properties that are sold regularly, that is a fantastic sign. It means the community is in demand and will likely be the first place buyers or renters look when searching for a home. Communities with limited sales activity are considered “bad” by investment standards.

2. Stay away from gated communities.

They may seem appealing from a security stand point, but the myriad of restrictions in these communities will impede progress (i.e., limited access when showing the property to potential renters, restrictions on renovation schedules…).

3. Title insurance: critical condition. 

Title insurance is the most critical part of the transaction now. Standard Florida Association of Realtor contracts state that the seller must provide clear title in order to transfer ownership. However, buyers must purchase title insurance in order to protect their asset. There are more and more challenges to the validity of lender foreclosure sales (e.g., new Florida Attorney General inquiry, irregularities in lender’s foreclosure processing, etc.). It is critical that a stable, well financed title company is selected.

4. Permits are not optional.

Thousands of homes in South Florida have illegally built additions (e.g., bathrooms, garage conversions). When writing contracts, please allow for an inspection period. During that time, contact the local permitting office to confirm that the number of bedrooms and bathrooms are accurate. There’s nothing worse than purchasing a house and then having to tear out a bathroom or bedroom to make the house code compliant.

5.  HOAs are out.

Just recently the Florida legislature passed a law giving HOAs (home owner's association) more authority to collect dues and limit access to community amenities  for delinquent homeowners.  Unfortunately, this action has created rifts in communities across the state.  The legislature tried to help fix a very real problem….banks and homeowners were neglecting to pay dues on houses that were in the foreclosure process and that created an undue burden on homeowners who were paying their fair share.  As a landlord, it would be easier to manage a property without the intrusion of a HOA Board. And, since buyers are trending away from HOAs, when you eventually sell the property, it will more desirable.

This is a great time to buy investment property in South Florida. Just make sure you do your homework.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The First Rule in The Law of Prosperity

I’m often perplexed by people's pronouncement that having "more" would make their lives better somehow.  Seems that most Americans have an excess of what they don’t want.  And, the stuff they want seems right outside their grasp.  Like the folks on the show, "Clean House”.

The show begins with a shocking look at the home of hoarders.  People with so much clutter, junk, stuff, trash, that they can barely clear a narrow path to navigate their way through their own house.  Inevitably, the sofa is always overflowing with things from past years that do not belong to this present time.

And, most have carved out a tiny space in the house where they exist; usually a single chair or one cushion on sofa.  The lucky ones – the people who haven’t become completely engulfed in their hoarding can actually still find their beds so they can sleep horizontally at night.

Mid show, the junk is hauled out to the front yard where a gaggle of bargain-hunters pounce on their prizes and the homeowners receive 10 cents on the dollar for their treasures which is enough for the Clean House team to completely transform the former hoarder's residence into a beautiful oasis.  

But, is that at all like your own life?  Do you fill our space with the “don’t wants” thus denying yourself of the very things that you desire so deeply?
Is it a matter of money or just choices?

I used to date a highly successful, certified financial planner and I’d often talk about the life I was creating and he’d say, “What are you willing to give up?”

My first thought was, “nothing”.  I wanted more.  I didn’t want to give up anything.   It took a couple of years before I really understood what he was saying.

What I needed was readily available to me, I just needed to give up the stuff I didn’t want in order to receive it.

When I decided to move to Florida earlier this year from Washington, DC, I thought it would be a breeze.  My house was always spotless and I abhor clutter so it was just a matter of packing up my things and selling or giving away the stuff I didn’t want.  Or, so I thought.

It was what was lurking in the closets (queue the horror movie music) that was so frightening.  Things long past their useful life, remnants of what was or could have been, boxes and boxes of neatly stacked “I don’t want that anymore”. 

Mid-way through my move, I was shocked at how much stuff I had in my four level colonial.  Why did I hold on to all that dead energy and what had I denied myself in the process?

Of course, if you watch the show, you realize that hoarders are completely delusional.  They make excuses for holding on to the stuff when the deep truth is that there has been some trauma that has paralyzed them, altered their thinking, and driven them to get rid of nothing –for the fear of losing everything.

But, the first rule in the Law of Prosperity is to release everything that you do not want or need.  It creates a vacuum and the Universe will return to fill that space with the very thing you are focused on, which should be your good.

My Baptist minister preaches about this very thing – it’s the principle of tithing.  And, at the Buddhist ashram where I find my sanctuary, it’s called “karmic yoga”.  Giving.  It creates a cycle of receiving.  It’s counter-intuitive isn’t it? 

Giving creates the “get”.

The principle works the same way with all things including thought.  I mean, you’d have to give up the idea of poverty to accept the concept of wealth, right? 

So, you have to ask yourself…. Is it really about having more?  Or, is it giving up what you don’t want in order to receive what you do?

Don't Put His Name on the Deed, Girl

I remember the very first house I listed for sale as a realtor. It was an all brick 2 bedroom 1.5 bath house with a one car garage. It had an un-finished walk up attic that would be perfect for a future master suite. As I recall, it was listed for about $95,000 and the year was 1987.

I remember that deal so clearly because of the lesson I learned…. Do not put a man’s name on the deed unless he’s on the mortgage!

The buyer was young paralegal at a big law firm. She’d worked diligently saving the funds necessary for the down payment and closing costs. And, she was about to take out the biggest debt of her life, she was happy and she was also in love.

He worked in construction and had bad credit. I can’t remember what he looked like but I do recall what he asked. He wanted her to put his name on the deed since he’d be living there with her and paying half the mortgage. From his perspective it made sense because he was also going to be making improvements to the house – like finishing that attic.

But, her attorney/boss became incensed when he found out the plan. And, for good reason. She would be giving up control of her biggest asset to someone who had not committed much to her. He could control what happened to her life, with no risk to him.

After all, what would happen to him if he decided not to pay half the cost of the house? Nothing.

Or, what if, ten years later, they broke up and she wanted to sell the house and he said, no. She’d be caught.

Today (even with the recession), that house is worth more than $300,000. What if she wanted to sell now and he’d moved out after year one and paid nothing? She might be forced to give him half the proceeds ($100,000+) with the sale of the house.

The whole situation begs the question….. Why would you give someone control over your biggest asset when they aren’t responsible for the liability?
Don’t do it, Girl. If he can’t manage his finances, don’t give him yours.


5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Building A House

Creating rain gardens - recycling rain off the roof.
I managed major renovation projects for five years – complete gut jobs on 100-year-old houses.  I honestly didn’t think building a house from the ground up would be so difficult.  I could not have been more wrong.   As I put the finishing touches on what one of the neighbors says is a “gorgeous house…breathtaking”, I was thinking, I wish I’d known…..

1.   Trees Have Feelings Too

Granted, I built my house in a Hippie enclave just outside of Washington, DC.  It’s one of the eco-friendliest places on earth.  I grew up there so I understood how liberal, green, and active the community was.  However, never in my wildest dreams did I think it would take six months to remove a dying, hazardous tree – the result of a lightning strike ten years prior to my purchase.  I needed to remove that tree in order to build my house.

I wound up in front of the Tree Commission (yes, there is such a thing) pleading my case,  complete with letters from three certified arborists, an email from an engineer, 25 signatures from neighbors supporting my cause, and a licensed forestry expert by my side serving as my advocate.
Do your homework. Check the local ordinances on tree removal.  You may be surprised. Did you know that it is illegal to remove a tree in Maryland unless it’s done by a licensed arborist?

2.   Green Isn’t Just the Color of Money

I wanted to build a 100% “green” house (i.e., natural stone counters extracted from the hills of West Virginia, floors made from fast growing, mature bamboo trees, refurbished wood used in unique design elements, 100% wool carpet, cabinets made from recycled products, a corn cob burning stove, and natural roof made with plant material…. until I found out how much it was going to cost.  Although green building is all the rage, it’s still not mainstream and thus follows that classic business rule  - Supply vs. Demand.

Research green alternatives to see what’s doable.  You can add some green elements (i.e., recycle the rain water off the roof and create rain gardens like I did) but a 50 to 75% increase in building costs  may encourage you to pick and choose.

3.   Permit Applications Have Legs

Just because you’ve submitted paperwork properly doesn’t mean it’s going to get approved in a timely fashion.   The local arborist lost my application – twice.  Keep a copy of all paper work and follow-up constantly.  Documents get lost, after all they do have legs.
But, the good news is that most municipalities have online resources so you can track your permit status online.

Gravel pit. Collecting small pebbles for the rain gardens.

4.    It Takes a Village to Build a House

Involve your soon-to-be neighbors right from the beginning.  It may seem like an invasion of your privacy and an annoyance to do so, but I have to say that nothing is more aggravating than having one of them call the county and complain and getting a stop work order.  Think about it, these people have to endure loud noises, traffic challenges, and maybe a disruption of their utility service (oops!), all because you want to build a house.  Well, what’s in it for them?  Make them part of the process and they’ll help you along the way.  My neighbors chose the paint color for my house  - and I love it!

5.    Nobody Likes a Show Off

Be humble.  This might sound loopy but it’s true.  Everyone wants to be loved and appreciated.

I was standing in the permitting office talking to my permitting technician.  My landscape architect had stamped and signed my plans, and gave me two copies to use in order to get a permit for my new rain gardens.  When the county's permit technician told me I must have an original signature in blue ink on the plans, I almost lost it.  I mean, how stupid, right?  Then, he told me I’d need to make an appointment with him to review the plans again once they were re-signed.  What?!?  In two years I’d never made an appointment!

I said, “Okay, I’d like to make an appointment for one hour from now.” That would give me a chance to dash over to architect’s office, get the plans signed in the now required blue ink, and dash back.

He replied, “You can’t do that.  I’m not sure if I’ll be busy”.

“What!?! “, I thought.  I tried hard to keep my composure. “Well, when will you be free?”

“I don’t know”, he said.  “You’ll have to call later and make an appointment”.

“But, you’re standing right here”, I logically replied.

“But I’m not sure what the rest of day will look like”


We went around and around until I remembered that I hadn’t sufficiently thanked him for giving me advice, guiding me, and helping me understand the (often frustrating) process.  I took the time to express my gratitude despite my frustration.

The next morning, everything was approved.

House Build Project


Playing Polo with the Cowboy

Polo Ponies at El Montenegro with their trademark shaven manes.

She placed a rather innocuous ad on  “Horses Need Rider”.   I was scoping out the “Pets” section of the site when the ad caught my eye.

I was on an extended vacation in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and missed Jin; my tall, dark, handsome buddy with an easy cantor and sweet disposition.

I sent her a reply. She called.  An hour later, I was pulling up to the farm.  It was in the heart of  Wellington, which I later learned was Polo Country.

She was tall and French.  I guessed that she was a model.  He was Argentinean, just as slim but shorter with dark hair poking out from under his cowboy hat.  They looked perfect for a Ralph Lauren ad.

I greeted her warmly, she countered with a stand-offish coolness that only the French can pull off and still look elegant.

As she was outfitting me with chaps, it suddenly occurred to me that these two could dispose of me in the woods and it would take hours before my husband realized I was gone.  I shook that thought out of my head – acknowledging the crazy things I do for the love of equine and, jumped on the most beautiful thoroughbred I’d seen in a long time.  The fact that he might cost more than my car was not lost on me.

They bantered back and forth in Spanish as we rode down the white sand street.   I caught every other word – regretting yet again that I studied French and not Spanish in high school and college.

I caught them studying me very closely; watching my feet, my seat position, etc. .  In his broken English, The Cowboy reassured me that the horse I was riding was quiet and I’d be okay. But, the horse was new to me and it would take a while for me to trust.

Twenty minutes later we were trotting and galloping in an open field that was supposed to be a housing development; more than 100 acres of would-be equestrian estates. Now, it was just vacant, sandy land with canals crisscrossing through it. The infamous real estate crash had a created an amazing play ground for me.

Before the end of the day, I’d ride two horses in open fields along the canals and they’d gallop three at a time.  The horses (and I) needed exercise.

Fast forward six months.... Turns out The Cowboy trains new polo ponies for a living.  And, he’s a professional polo player.    I ride with him a few times a week.  He broke up with Ms. French though I talk to her once in a while.  Usually just vague plans to someday play in a women's polo tournament.

Since I’ve now moved to Fort Lauderdale, The Cowboy is encouraging me to play polo and I’m seriously considering it.  I’m still working on my coordination and he's pushing me hard to get in shape.

Getting the horses ready to play

Just this week he took eight horses to one of the practice fields.  I rode two horses; one with an affinity for galloping (and only galloping!) and the other couldn't seem to warm up to the idea of turning right (which prompted the cowboy to say "only turn right, this horse").

In polo you race up and down a grassy field, hanging off the side of horse using your mallet to hit a wooden ball through two upright poles at the end of the field.  During the game you play with seven horses – switching them each chukka (7.5 minute increments).  The horses run so hard and fast they tire after just one set.

Polo Practice on one of the many polo fields in Wellington
The tricky part about polo is that you have to adjust quickly to each horse when riding.  Since The Cowboy is constantly buying and selling horses, I never know what horse I will ride, where, or for how long.  I show up with no expectations and receive more joy that I ever could have imagined.
So, if you want to an adventure, just be open to all the possibilities the Universe has to offer.

The Cowboy and Me. Riding on a hot summer day.