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Keeping Your Cool In Trying Times Starts With Self-Awareness

Have you considered taking a Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator?

Article inspiration from Forbes, June 2020

Moderate stress is normal and has positive benefits. As stress levels ratchet up, however, our thinking can become clouded by negative emotion, and in these states, we can be prone to make poor decisions, as demonstrated by a 2017 study by Wemm and Wulfert.

Fast-forward a few years later and we find ourselves mired in one of the most stressful global situations we’ve seen in a long time. On top of worrying about our health and that of our loved ones and friends, we’re bombarded with news about illness and frightening economic statistics every day.

And many feel this stress acutely in the area of money management and investment. Numerous studies show stress can affect our approach to risk, which is strongly tied to investment strategy. The last thing you want to do right now is make poor investment decisions. But how do you stop stress from taking over and find a path to clear-headed decision-making?

Keeping Your Cool In Trying Times Starts With Self-Awareness

Self-awareness is key. If you know how your personality type affects your natural approach to risk-taking, as well as what stresses you out in the first place, you’re better able to keep yourself in check so you don’t make regrettable decisions.

Let’s have a look at how personality preferences may influence our tolerance for risk, based on the Myers–Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) type (I’m Director of U.S. Professional Services for The Myers-Briggs Company). For information on how to access your personality type, go HERE. MBTI type identifies whether we:

• Focus attention on the outside world of people and things (Extraversion) or the inner world of thoughts and feelings (Introversion)

• Trust and use information based on experience and the evidence of the five senses (Sensing) or consider the future and how things connect to make the big picture (Intuition)

• Make decisions on the basis of objective logic (Thinking) or of values and on how the decision will affect people (Feeling)

• Live in a more structured, organized way (Judging) or in a more flexible, spontaneous way (Perceiving)

How Personality Type Affects Risk Tolerance/Aversion

study by Filbeck, Hatfield and Horvath found that investors with a higher tolerance for risk were more likely to have a Thinking preference, while those with a Feeling preference were more risk-averse.

Furthermore, a study by Desmoulins-Lebeault, Gajewski and Meunier also found that those with preferences for Introversion, Sensing, Feeling and Judging were more risk-averse. The team found an interaction effect between E-I and T-F — among extraverts — those with a Feeling preference were more risk-averse than those with a Thinking preference.

As stress reaches higher levels, we often tend to overuse our natural personality preferences. In other words, if we’re prone to be risk-takers, we may find ourselves taking bigger risks, and vice versa if we are naturally risk-averse. (In situations of prolonged extreme stress, like the death of a family member, this can change, but we’ll save this for another conversation.) By recognizing this tendency, we can check ourselves from some of the more extreme investment choices we might otherwise make.

 

 

Don’t Ignore Stress: Make The Necessary Changes

Seclusion, loneliness and isolation can be major stressors across several personality types. If this describes you, don’t dismiss it — do whatever you need to in order to get some social interaction in. Call friends, engage in group chats, etc. But don’t think that you should be able to “tough it out.”

Additionally, you probably noticed two camps — one that is stressed out by a loss of structure to one’s routine, and one that is stressed out by too much structure.

It’s easy to see how either of these could be someone’s reality right now. If you’re suddenly working from home, you may find that your routine has been unpleasantly disrupted and the structure you’ve built in your life is disappearing. If this is you, do whatever you can to bring structure and discipline back into your day.

On the other hand, some who prefer less structured work environments and are suddenly switched to remote work may find that their companies are asking more reporting and checking in, all in the name of accountability.

Either way, the path to clear-headed thinking, which is paramount to striking the balance between risk tolerance and risk aversion that’s necessary for sound money management, starts with asking yourself:

• What stresses me out?

• How is this increased stress level affecting my natural tendencies toward risk aversion or risk tolerance — will I tend to make more or less aggressive decisions?

• What elements in my life — particularly those relating to the current COVID-related changes — that are causing me stress do I have control over, and what can I do to mitigate them?

  • Posted by  Koorosh Ostowari
  • 2020
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SURVEY: How soon do you expect the economy to return to normal (i.e. similar to before the pandemic)?

Excerpted from Time, June 18, 2020

Even for those people whose wallets have not been directly impacted, who are able to work from home and retain their same income, the anxiety can be just as present. “There’s a level of uncertainty now, because we don’t know where the economy is headed,” says Danetha Doe, personal finance expert. “Even though they’re in a position where everything is OK on paper, they don’t feel financially secure.”

Financial anxiety isn’t an isolated condition; increased feelings of stress and anxiety can impact your overall physical and mental health and well-being.

“Stress and anxiety in our financial lives has a direct impact on our physical and mental health,” Doe says. “When we look at how any kind of anxiety and stress impacts the body, it can lead to things like heart disease, inability to sleep, and lowered immunity, which during a pandemic is incredibly harmful.”

The effects can be just as dangerous, but anxiety stemming from financial issues directly can also present a more tangible path to resolution in some cases, because money has such a visible impact on our decisions and goals.

And while lender assistance and relief programs have provided help in the short term, questions about long-term, sustainable solutions remain.

“There are measures which are enabling people to hold it together now, but people in those situations are desperately worried about what’s going to happen in the future: when unemployment runs out, when evictions start again, when the lights are going to get shut off,” says Annie Harper, an instructor at the Yale School of Medicine who researches the relationship between financial health and mental health.

“Even if that’s not a worry today, the anxiety about that happening next month or the month after is just as profound as for someone who doesn’t have money now. This uncertainty around what will happen with those relief measures is very significant and causing lots of anxiety.”

Beginning the Recovery Process

The economy, and its workers, will take time to bounce back from the economic recession caused by the coronavirus, which officially began in February. But many economists are optimistic with the beginnings of recovery across the country as businesses reopen and economic activity returns, even predicting we could already be moving into stages of economic expansion.

But the sectors of the economy that were hit the hardest, such as entertainment and travel, are expected to recover much more slowly. “Those parts of the economy will be challenged until people feel really safe again,” Jerome Powell, chairman of the Federal Reserve, said in an interview with “60 Minutes” in May.

“For everyone, it’s important to have that awareness of what you can control and what you cannot control. Take the steps to do things that are under one’s control and then realize there’s many factors that aren’t under our control. Nobody really knows the future course of this virus and when things will feel more normal again and when the economy will feel as though it’s recovered significantly.

Moving Forward

This moment in time and the uncertainty it brings is a turning point, both personally and systemically, experts say.

“There’s some in the financial therapy realm who talk about financial flash points. That is something related to money that happens to us and really sticks with us, affecting us for years to come. I think this is going to be a financial flash point for many people, especially the ones who have had the trauma of suddenly losing their job and feeling very insecure.

How do we cope? With regularly practicing self-care and other healthy coping mechanisms, such as exercise, social interactions, and other things that you find enjoyable, to build resilience to face lasting uncertainties. You should also consider talking to your doctor if your anxiety becomes debilitating.

We are certainly still in this, but we are all feeling it , albeit at different levels. Take comfort in the fact that you are not alone.

The reverberations to our society and our economy are going to be felt for a long time. We should be gentle with ourselves in terms of holding space to just be in the discomfort of not knowing, which is really hard for a lot of us to do.

***

How about you? When do you think the US will return to our previous normal? Or do you think it’s time to create a new normal? I’d love to know your thoughts! Koorosh

  • Posted by  Koorosh Ostowari
  • 2020
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More Than 41% Experiencing Pandemic-Related Financial Anxiety / How to Build an Emergency Fund During a Pandemic

Original article from US News & World Report, July 9, 2020

According to a late June 2020 survey from U.S. News & World Report, the COVID-19 pandemic has left more than four in 10 Americans worried about money. An additional 27% say they aren’t worried about money, but they still feel the need to be cautious with their spending.

Other survey results uncovered one of the possible sources of anxiety. When asked how long their emergency fund would cover their expenses, almost 37% of survey respondents say they don’t even have an emergency fund. And close to 10% say they could only cover expenses for one month.

There was a time, back in my 20s, when I didn’t have an emergency fund. I can tell you from personal experience that having a zero balance in your rainy-day fund makes it hard to sleep at night. But a lack of savings isn’t the only thing worrying consumers these days.

What Are Americans Stressed About?

Although the state of the economy was pretty grim in April and most of May, things got better after businesses started reopening. But even if your personal finances are improving, we all know we’re not out of the woods yet with COVID-19.

We’re still recovering emotionally from the impact of the lockdowns on our personal finances. For instance, the average 401(k) balance dropped almost 20% in March – and that was just the beginning of the crisis. Investments are bouncing back, but it takes time.

Here are some sources of stress identified by respondents:

  • More than 25% are stressed about their shrinking savings and investments.
  • About 21% worry about keeping up with bill payments.
  • Around 21% are anxious about job security.
  • Nearly 17% are worried about rising personal debt.

And adding to the list of worries is that provisions of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act are set to expire on July 31. More than 9% of respondents say they’re stressed about expiring relief options. When respondents were asked if they’re worried about losing the extra $600 weekly in federally funded unemployment benefits, 15% said yes.

The CARES Act also allowed consumers to defer mortgage and student loan payments. With the law set to expire soon and uncertainty about the next relief bill, 8% are worried about being able to cover their deferred payments.

How to Build an Emergency Fund During a Pandemic

The results did show some good news, though. A solid 29% of consumers say they can cover expenses for at least six months. When you have a strong emergency fund, you’re less likely to fret when a crisis hits because you have some time to figure out what to do.

I don’t care if you have to start with $20; just get started. How much money do you need in your emergency fund? I recommend working on your fund until you can cover at least six months of expenses. But set a one-month goal for starters and work your way up.

I know this isn’t the easiest time to build your savings, but it can be done with a little creativity, boldness and persistence.

So, let’s start brainstorming. Here are just a few suggestions for finding money during dark times.

Ask for money.

I thought I’d start with the easiest way to get money – from other people. Let everyone know you want cash for birthdays and holidays. Set up a Venmo account or something similar to make receiving payments easy. Make sure the gift goes into your new savings account.

Ask for a raise.

No, this isn’t crazy right now. If you’re in an industry that’s doing well, get what you’re worth. Clearly, if you’re in the travel industry, for example, this is probably not a valid strategy. But do keep it in mind for the future.

Save your tax refund.

If you’re due for a refund, consider this a windfall. Unless you’re carrying high-interest credit card debt, put the entire amount in your emergency fund.

And when life calms down, look at your withholding amounts with your employer. Ideally, you want access to the cash during the year to increase your cash flow. When you get a large refund, you’ve been giving the government an interest-free loan.

Get a side hustle.

Earning extra money on the side for six months or so is a perfect way to increase your cash flow temporarily. A good example is working a second job during the holiday season.

A side gig is more difficult to pull off if you have a family or a full-time demanding job, but it’s not impossible. Focus on finding work that you can do at home so you aren’t spending precious time in traffic.

Track your expenses.

Do this for a month, and you’ll be amazed at where your money is going, especially if you’ve given in to the lure of online shopping.

Again, think in terms of temporary measures. You don’t have to eliminate everything you enjoy. Just cut back on unnecessary expenses until you have a healthy rainy-day fund.

Use a rewards credit card.

This might seem counter-intuitive, but there’s a benefit to this. A credit card with cash back on everyday items, like groceries, means rewards can add up and be used as a statement credit. But most consumers aren’t taking advantage of this opportunity. A recent U.S. News survey, also taken in June 2020, about consumers’ grocery-buying habits showed that more than 39% of respondents pay for groceries with a debit card.

Using a cash back card allows you to spend less on essential expenses. Many of these cash back cards don’t have annual fees, and some also come with sign-up bonuses, which gives you an extra infusion of cash. Take the extra cash you have left over after you pay grocery expenses and put it in your new emergency fund.

Another Way to Reduce Anxiety? Maintain a Good Credit Score

great credit score helps you save money in many areas of your life. This might not directly add cash to your savings account, but it helps you maintain a lower-cost lifestyle. Believe me, you can save thousands, for instance, over the life of a mortgage if you qualify for the best rates.

The survey showed that almost half of respondents don’t know whether their credit score has changed since the pandemic began. Always know where your credit stands just in case you need a personal loan to financially survive an emergency.

As 2020 has shown us, life is wildly unpredictable. Having good credit at least reduces your odds of needing a high-interest loan to survive a crisis. Just knowing that this is an option can reduce your financial anxiety.

  • Posted by  Koorosh Ostowari
  • 2020
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How to deal with coronavirus-related money stress, according to financial psychologists

If you’ve lost your job — or are worried about it — therapists say there are a few things you can do to ease financial anxiety. I also invite you to watch a series of videos I created to help alleviate Money Anxiety HERE.

Original article from TODAY, Mind & Body

Over 22 million people have filed for unemployment, thrusting the United States into the worst crisis since the Great Depression, while other Americans worry that pay cuts and layoffs are on the horizon.

“Job loss can feel like a threat to our stability and survival,” Amanda Clayman, a psychotherapist and financial wellness advocate at Prudential tells TODAY. “For some of us, this threat is critical and immediate. Any time we’re dealing with multiple stressors, what we have available in terms of time, energy, focus and emotional capacity is going to be spread between them,” she explains. But when it comes to job loss, Clayman says our coping capacity is overwhelmed.

“There’s this palpable fear of actual death that coincides with this economic crisis, and that amplifies the stress,” says financial psychologist Brad Klontz, associate professor of practice in financial psychology and behavioral finance at Creighton University Heider College of Business. “What happens in the midst of a panic like this is we have catastrophic thinking. People think: ‘What if I lose all my money? Is this the end of the world — at least as I know it?,’”Klontz explains.

If you’re in shock and feel helpless, these financial therapists say are a few things you can do to mitigate financial anxiety.

If you’ve been laid off…

Getting laid off is traumatic under any circumstance but we’re especially vulnerable now because our familiar coping strategies — like networking in person — aren’t available to us anymore. “It’s hard to overstate how deeply we experience loss and vulnerability when our sense of identity and security are disrupted by job loss,” says Clayman.

Know you’re not alone

As millions of Americans are jobless, Clayman says any sort of stigma associated with it has essentially been eradicated. “There are many hard things right now about being out of the job, but one thing that is hopefully lessened is the sense that this is personally anyone’s fault,” she says.

Stay in the present

Clayman says the best thing you can do to protect your mental health is to stay focused on the here and now — and to avoid thinking beyond six months from now. “Solve the problems directly in front of you, and identify strategies to keep yourself safe for the next three to six months. I don’t recommend thinking more in the future. So much is changing so quickly, and there’s so much we don’t know.”

Walk through your worst-case scenario

If you’ve lost your job without much savings, hearing ‘you should’ve had an emergency fund’ isn’t helpful, says Klontz. “Your brain has basically an on-off switch on survival. It’s the same urge to run away from a saber-toothed tiger. In financial stress, your brain says, ‘Oh no, I’m going to die.’ That’s a very stressful place to live.”

To alleviate stress and figure out a short-term plan, Klontz recommends walking through your worst-case scenario, step-by-step, to realize you will make it through — even though it might feel like walking through fire. “It’s a matter of figuring out what you need to do to survive for the next three months, six months, without killing yourself from stress,” he says.

It’s a matter of figuring out what you need to do to survive for the next three months, six months, without killing yourself from stress.

Build upon your skill set

Moira Somers, a psychologist with financial expertise based in Winnipeg, recommends taking online courses to boost your marketable skills. She recommends Coursera.org, which currently offers courses for free.

Create online networking opportunities

“This is the time to let people far and wide know that you’ve been laid off and that you’re looking for opportunities,” Somers says. “If anybody knows of somebody with expertise in a particular line of work that you’re interested in, ask if they could make some virtual introductions.”

If you’re dealing with a pay cut…

Clayman says the best way to deal with a pay cut is to forge a full-on financial recon. “The idea is not just to think creatively in terms of plans, but to really expand your sense of agency and control,” she says. Look into your monthly spending and make what adjustments you can (modify a loan payment, or negotiate a rent reduction). “How do you need to apportion the money you have now? We think, ‘I’ll just do it,’ but we don’t think through what problems may come up. When we lay the groundwork ahead of time, we have a higher chance of success.”

If you’re working, but worried you won’t be for long…

Make a contingency plan

If you’re worried about layoffs, Clayman says the best way to alleviate that stress is to “have a Plan B at the ready.” She recommends taking the time to research resources that might boost your monthly income, like benefit and stimulus plans. “Make some ‘practice’ changes — reduce your spending as you would in the event of a job loss, or adjust to reduced income. Take the amount you save and use it to beef up your contingency fund,” she suggests.

Try not to make emotionally-charged decisions (especially about your 401k)

Both Klontz and Somers warn against catastrophic thinking because it can lead to rash financial decisions you’ll likely regret later. “When you become emotionally charged, you become rationally challenged,” says Klontz. “That’s when you have the tendency to do something really stupid.”

“We’re most vulnerable to the kind of cognitive biases that torpedo finances when we’re in states of anxiety, or excitability,” Somers says. “What you want to do is to try and give yourself opportunities to make decisions while you are in a calm and cool state of mind.” She warns pillaging your 401k might be a bad move that could “torpedo your financial future.”

“The last two things that you want to do are raid your 401k and put stuff on credit cards at exorbitant interest rates. Don’t touch your face, don’t touch your 401k,” she says.

As bad as things are right now, the thing to remember is that recovery is possible — it will just take time. “Life will change but human beings have an incredible ability to adapt,” says Klontz. “You may need to be more conservative at this point,” he says. “We create a shortage in mass panic — just look at toilet paper. We create what we fear most when we run with our emotional brains.”


Click HERE to watch some helpful videos I’ve put together to help ease Money Anxiety.

  • Posted by  Koorosh Ostowari
  • 2020
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Pandemic Has Increased Money Anxiety. Therapists Hope to Cure That.

 

The Original article from The New York Times, May 22, 2020

Dale Mackey closed her event space in Knoxville, Tenn., a week before the state issued its orders to end large gatherings. She did not think about the economic ramifications of shuttering her business, the Central Collective; she said it was the right thing to do to reduce the spread of the virus.

Work dried up for her husband, Shawn Poynter, a photographer, so to help make ends meet, Ms. Mackey began spending more time on a side business, making sweet and savory pies and selling them online. She and her husband are in their mid-30s and have some savings and no debt beyond mortgages on their home and the event space, so they were content hunkering down.

But as the weeks wore on, thoughts of financial anxiety began to emerge.

“It’s much more of a struggle for me about when we can reopen,” Ms. Mackey said, adding that the uncertainty began to weigh on her. “It’s different if I knew we were going to be opening in three months.”

In this financial crisis, many Americans are facing increased stress about money. But Ms. Mackey turned to a solution that few people try: She sought a financial therapist, a professional trained to counsel people about their money woes. Most have advanced degrees in psychology or clinical social work.

Ms. Mackey found Amanda Clayman, a financial therapist in Los Angeles who has a podcast on financial therapy within WNYC’s Death, Sex and Money franchise.

“When you bring up the topic of financial therapy, people are like, ‘That’s me, I want help,’ or their level of defensiveness is so intense,” said Ms. Clayman, who puts people on the proverbial couch for her podcast, “Financial Therapy With Amanda Clayman,” which was introduced this week.

The pandemic is an ideal time to lay bare people’s psychological struggles around money, she said, because the financial fallout from closing the U.S. economy for months is far from certain. Add to that the guesswork around how lockdown orders may have changed consumer spending habits.

“This pandemic is like a black light,” Ms. Clayman said. “It’s suddenly revealing all the things that were present before but unseen.”

Interest in financial therapy rose after the 2008 recession. Therapists tried to help people parse the stress they were feeling as they navigated a financial crisis that destroyed 8.7 million jobs.

A few years into the recovery, Kansas State University, which runs a leading undergraduate program for financial planning, started a financial therapy clinic to study people’s emotions around money. With electrodes attached to their bodies, participants had their responses measured during a series of financial discussions. (When I participated in 2012, the results showed that I was far more anxious talking even generally about my financial situations than I thought.)

Despite the interest, the field of financial therapy remains nascent. Besides Kansas State, Creighton University in Omaha has a financial therapy program. But none of the major financial services firms have anything approaching full-scale financial therapy for the majority of their customers. The nature of such therapy is beyond the training of most financial advisers. It’s also an area fraught with risk for an industry that is paid on the advice it gives for the assets it manages.

But now is the time to engage, because Americans are going to emerge from the coronavirus recession emotionally scarred in a way similar to the military veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, said Brad Klontz, a financial psychologist in Boulder, Colo., and a pioneer in the field of financial therapy.

“We’re experiencing a mass trauma across the United States, if not the world,” Dr. Klontz said. “Our illusion that we’re safe has been shattered. It’s like a psychological earthquake.”

He is optimistic, though, that people can use this experience to think more deeply about their financial values. “It’s been a forced wake-up call for everyone in the world,” he said. “We have just been offered a crisis to give us an opportunity to think about money.”

At home in Knoxville, Ms. Mackey said she was coming to terms with the loss of security she had gained in the past two years. “I was in my groove, and I was pretty content,” she said. “I was working a reasonable amount, earning a reasonable amount, able to take some time off of work here and there.”

Now, she said, she is worried about finances as Tennessee gradually reopens. By next month, when event spaces are allowed to be open at 50 percent capacity, her venue could be up and running, a prospect that would be good financially for her, though she’s wrestling with it because of safety issues.

“It’s going to be dicey if you can be open, but we don’t think it’s safe to do so,” Ms. Mackey said. “That’s when it gets complicated. You have all these contracts to fulfill.”

She found her financial therapy session helpful because it allowed her and her husband to talk openly about their financial anxieties. “I didn’t realize I have an emotional relationship to money until we started talking and I realized I’m scared or uncomfortable about it,” she said.

As in most therapy, there was no clear-cut resolution, but the exercise itself was beneficial. “It’s the uncertainty piece that is much harder for me,” Ms. Mackey said. “It’s harder to plan when you can’t say, ‘OK, I know this business will be closed for three months or one year.’”

Another guest on the podcast, who requested anonymity for privacy concerns, said the economic crisis had shaken his faith in his ability to provide for his family. It also called into question seemingly rational decisions he had made when he quit his job and started a marketing consultancy in a different city. The business was doing well until the economy shut down.

“The control of money for me is really foundational for who I am,” the guest said in an interview afterward. “Now, I’m not in control, and I cannot be in control. I had to swallow it a few times before I could say that out loud.” He said he realized through the therapy session that he could be emotionally distant when talking about money. That realization has lifted some of the burden around earning money.

This crisis is an opportunity for people to allow themselves to be angry that forces beyond their control have disrupted plans they thought they had made wisely, Ms. Clayman said.

“Sometimes, we just need to be angry and settle down and say, ‘This is why I made these choices,’” she said. “It’s our opportunity to come back to some of the emotional or psychological baggage we were carrying and re-choose some of the choices we make.”

The concern that financial therapists have now is that people will get stuck in what is known as catastrophic thinking. “Listen for those thoughts that come up in our head that say things like it’s pointless to invest your heart and soul in something because it can just be taken away,” Ms. Clayman said. “Or the thought that says, ‘This is all on my shoulders, and I can’t depend on anybody.’”

She said people should allow themselves to get angry but then begin to address the underlying feelings they have with money that anger often masks.

Planning for the worst-case scenario allows most people to understand that they will survive, Dr. Klontz said. Those who have been financially traumatized, particularly children and young adults whose education has been disrupted, could get stuck in a fear-based mentality, akin to what many in the Great Depression generation carried with them.

Now is when the stories we tell ourselves become critical. “Money is a concrete thing that we use for practical purposes, but we cannot separate the concrete part from the meaning point,” Ms. Clayman said. “That’s not a choice we can make. We can avoid it, but that doesn’t make it go away.”

After all, she said, “we’re human beings, and our brains are set up to understand the world in stories.”

Which ones we remember from this crisis will be important in determining what our financial lives look like going forward.

***

Paul Sullivan is the Wealth Matters columnist. He is also the author of The Thin Green Line: The Money Secrets of the Super Wealthy and Clutch: Why Some People Excel Under Pressure and Others Don’t.  @sullivanpaul

  • Posted by  Koorosh Ostowari
  • 2020
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How Do You Rate As A Landlord?

As we continue our conversation around “Mindfulness , Money and conscious Landlording” my intention is to continue to shed light on how we, as landlords, can run a sustainable, triple bottom line (People, Planet, Profit) real estate operation while remaining sensitive to the needs of our tenants. There is a stigma attached to the role of landlord – that stereotypical ‘slum lord’ who skimps on improvements and lets his properties deteriorate while he increases the rent with every turnover. But I’m not talking about that. I’m guessing you are pretty good at what you do with your rental properties. But could you do better?

Landlords should always be self-reflective – adapting to the changing needs of tenants and thinking about ways to enhance the rental experience; both in terms of the tenant and the income potential of your rental.

I’d like you to answer the following questions:

Do you calendar at least one visit to your properties every year?

Sure, the checks role in and sometimes you need to hire a contractor for a routine service call – but what is really going on with your investments and your tenants?

It’s easy for landlords to fall into a false sense of security. But that would be a grave mistake.

Your standards are, after all, very different to your tenants. Maybe the tenant doesn’t care that there is a water leak in the bathroom, or is afraid to mention the rodent issue for fear of retribution. Lots of renters in a tight market want to be invisible for fear of a rent increase or an eviction. And likely, they don’t care about the long-term impact a leak or pests have on a property they will be leaving in a matter of months. But you do!

Visiting your tenant – if done right – also improves your relationship. If you periodically schedule a visit, or better yet, state in the lease that you anticipate semi-annual property visits to ensure the property stays up to the standard it was upon the lease signing, the tenant is likely to consider you to be both reliable and somebody who cares about the safety and comfort of your tenants. This could equal longer term rentals and less wear on the property. An actual inspection, and not just a phone call, affords you the opportunity to thoroughly review the current state of the property: paintwork, broken or damaged tiles or lighting – small issues that inform your judgment of what to do next.

Are you maximizing your income potential?

One of the fundamental pillars of effective property management is understanding whether your property is earning as much as it should. Are you staying in touch with the market with the latest services from Apartment List?

Given that local property markets can radically change over short periods of time, it might be worth taking the time to learn whether your rental rate is consistent with other properties in your area.

Are you aware of improvements to your local area? For instance, a new employer may have moved into the area which now attracts high-income jobs. This, in turn, can have a profound impact on rental value. Make a point to check out the market at least once per year, or engage the services of a property management consultant to assess your property’s current value.

Are there one or two improvements you could make at the next turnover to dramatically increase your rental income?

It feels as though every rental I’ve seen recently has an open floorplan, more windows than walls, a granite kitchen island with a gas range – and a much higher rent to match. These costly improvements will pay for themselves with higher rent, paid by tenants who cherish the improvements and are happy with their more luxurious environments. This will result in less turnover, less wear, and a better relationship for you.

Are you capitalizing on optimal mortgage rates?

Assuming your property has a mortgage, it would be smart to consider your buy-to-lease mortgage rate. You may, for instance, be able to secure a more optimum rate elsewhere with a different provider. Consider opting for a better rate – either through negotiating with the same provider or by switching to an alternative mortgage provider.

Are you SMART?

Are you using the latest apps and devices to keep your home safe and secure by installing keyless locks, temperature controls, noise monitoring and even the monitoring of carbon dioxide levels, which can tip you off to instances of over-occupancy.

Are you looking at innovative rental options?

In 2018, we saw a number of developments involving traditional property managers joining forces with real estate developers and agents to provide new solutions. For example, Airbnb launched Backyard, an initiative moving the platform into building physical homes that accommodate flexible and shared living arrangements, in addition to providing its tradition of short-term stays. And the pop-up WhyHotel straddles the line of residence and Airbnb by working with real estate developers to turn un-leased units into furnished hotel units. Consider innovative ways to serve your market!

Are you saving for a rainy day?

Even in today’s boom rental market, we must anticipate a bust will come. Don’t be caught off guard by not saving enough to repair property damages or going without a tenant for months at a time in your luxury apartment. If you are part of the short-term rental market, prepare for tax changes and a growing glut in the market as the long-term rental owners continue to turn to the short-term rental market for fast and furious profits. A continued overload in this market will force landlords to be ever more creative and may result in the lowering of rental rates. Don’t let this catch you off guard.

Conclusion

The bottom line is stay aware and vigilant! Nothing is permanent! Everything, including including rent, real estate values, interest rates, people’s moods, and every opportunity in the market place will ebb and flow. If you hang on too tight it will feel like arope burn, if you are too lax and out of touch, the rug may be pulled out from underneath your feet and you can loose your nest egg.

My advice is to find the balance! Where is the middle way for you?

  • Posted by  Koorosh Ostowari
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Guidelines for being a fair landlord

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 To Landlords: Transform yourself in to a conscious, compassion Landlord. Remember it’s People, Planet then Profit! These are just reminders for myself, which I am hoping to share with other fellow landlords.

I’ll be the first to admit that for a long time I had this all wrong! Because I’d grown up as a first generation American in a survival-oriented household, I conveniently forgot my own humble beginnings, with my mother struggling to keep a roof over our heads. Looking back, I recall my mother quietly pleading with Mr. Murphy that our plumbing was leaking or our air conditioning needed repair. I would cringe to see his disregard, as if we were to blame for the wear and tear of his building. My mother and I both were deeply impacted by this kind of shame and we both fought diligently to become property owners.

With good fortune on our sides, she helped us develop the security that comes with home ownership, and as an adult, I followed in her footsteps.

I wish I could say that I remembered the shameful lessons taught to me by Mr. Murphy’s callousness, but I managed my first multi-unit property just like Mr. Murphy. I was a young man proving his worth by treating my tenants as if they were lucky I didn’t throw them out on the street for complaining if the building’s washing machine broke down. I thought I was a big deal, making big real estate decisions and not caring about the feelings of those around me, especially my tenants. I was completely unconscious and not in touch with the tension I carried in my body.

Several years later, in my mid 30s, I made some bad development decisions and hit rock bottom, losing everything I’d fought so hard to gain. In those first few months I thought that this was the worst thing that could have happened to me, and I’d never recover what I’d “lost.” However, after a whole lot of soul searching, I realized I had not been happy with my life and woke to find I didn’t even like the person I’d become. Sure I had known a little success, but I didn’t know how to be compassionate to others and how to stay in touch with my inner compass.

People / Planet / Profit

Of course it was a struggle both mentally and financially to rebuild my real estate holdings, but I stayed in real estate development and consciously chose a path where I could cultivate a deeper, mindful and triple bottom line orientation. This is not easy to do in the capitalistic system where the market determines the value of a rental space. Because there are so few properties on the market, tenants are forced to bid in an ever-increasing rental market, and home ownership is slipping further and further from our grasp. Rent control, which was once meant as a protection for tenants, has now meant that huge rent increases incur before the rents are locked in for their ‘protection.’ This displaces more and more tenants every year. Many of these homes are then filled with high tech millennial who work around the clock to make the rent. I’m sure you see it every day!

While I am a businessman, and I am all for maximizing profits, I refuse to gouge my tenants, cheat my vendors, or short pay the hardworking immigrant laborers whose sweat and labor have led to my success.

The housing crisis is undoubtedly one of the biggest issues facing Governor Newsom. Here are some facts to consider for all of us who live here in California:

The rising cost of housing has emerged as a threat to the state’s future economy and the well-being of its citizens. Indeed, when housing costs are accounted for, California has one of the highest poverty rates in the nation. According to the PPIC Statewide Survey (May and September 2017), 47 percent of Californians—including 61 percent of renters—say housing costs are a financial strain.

California is home to the ten least-affordable major markets in the country and ranks near the top in cost-burdened households—second among homeowners and fourth among renters. Californians spend disproportionate shares of their income on housing.

It also has the second highest homelessness rate, the second lowest home ownership rate, and the second-lowest number of housing units per capita. Of course, housing markets vary widely across the state. For example, housing is especially unaffordable in coastal areas, and homelessness is highest in Los Angeles.

Our state has six of the nation’s fifteen most-expensive large metropolitan rental markets: San Francisco (number one), San Jose, Oakland, Orange County, San Diego, and Los Angeles. Since 2015, rents have risen from 25 percent to 50 percent in these areas. According to estimates by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the median fair-market rent for a two-bedroom apartment in these areas ranges from $1,934 in Los Angeles to $3,085 in San Francisco.

Among homeowners with mortgages, median monthly housing costs are 50 percent higher in California than in the nation as a whole. California renters pay 43 percent above the nationwide median—while California’s median household income is only 19 percent higher than the nationwide median. This means that the share of Californians with excessive housing costs is quite high: 38.4 percent of mortgaged homeowners and 55.3 percent of renters spend more than 30 percent of their total household income on housing, compared with 27.5 percent and 49.5 percent nationwide.

What Can Landlords Do?

Learn The Laws

The Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) is responsible for enforcing state fair housing laws that make it illegal to discriminate based upon race, color, ancestry or national origin; religion; mental or physical disability; sex, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression; genetic information; marital status or familial status; and source of income. The law applies to landlords, real estate agents, home sellers, builders, mortgage lenders, and others. The law prohibits discrimination in all aspects of the housing business, including: renting or leasing; sales and mortgage lending and insurance; advertising; practices such as restrictive covenants and on new construction. To learn more about this go to CA.gov.

Set Standards

As a landlord, you are obligated to set standards or requirements for anyone interested in renting out your property. That means the qualities you look for in a tenant should only be based on factors such as income, criminal record, references, length of stay and credit score. These standards should apply for everyone and anyone who meets those standards should be considered to become a potential tenant.

Don’t Make Assumptions

While you do hold the cards as a landlord, you do not have the right to assume what a tenant needs, what they can or cannot afford, or what neighborhood would suit them best. Do your due diligence and vette each and every qualified tenant with the same care.

Just Because You CAN Doesn’t Mean You Should

Everyone knows the rents are already high and are only expected to increase further. But maybe your costs are somewhat fixed, or the rent you currently make more than adequately covers the costs of running the property. If that is your situation, consider not taking advantage of the situation and leaving the rent as it is right now. The difference it makes to you may be minimal while the difference to an existing tenant or a new tenant means a hardship. Would you rather have a happy tenant that appreciates you, or an overworked tenant that knows you are bilking them?

Will share more in Part 6.

 

 

  • Posted by  Koorosh Ostowari
  • Conscious Landlording
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San Francisco Landlord Shares Insights, Part IV

Let It Flow

Men at lunchIn the last blog, Turn on your Physical GPS, I discussed how we hold anxiety in our bodies, and offered a few tips to alleviate our stress by becoming more mindful. Our body is our best indicator, so we need to become more aware of its messages to us.

I have spent years exploring money and mindfulness and observed how, when, where and why money flows into and out of my own life. When I am in a state of fear and constriction, my relationship with money gets stuck. When I can become at peace and act with conscious intention and action, it flows.

I’ve observed this in other’s lives, as well. I recently had lunch with an real estate colleague of mine who’d felt called to engage in creative projects, but at the same time felt constricted about how to free up his time by extracting himself from some of his existing commitments. He was happy his real estate holdings were generating a profit, but was not finding time to take care of himself, and in fact, was engaging in a pretty unhealthy lifestyle to relieve his money anxiety; drinking away his money anxiety at night, and awaking tired and achy every morning. He felt constrained by the obligations and commitments he had created for himself, however that consciousness had not raised itself to a place of awareness in his mind. His relationship with his money was not mindful.

During our lunch, I noticed that he was hunched over, eating quickly, and agitated. Over time, we discussed topics that brought us both to a more relaxed place and I noticed he slowed down and looked more peaceful, but still quite weary. However, when we talked about his dream of taking a sailing trip to the Caribbean, he lit up! It was beautiful to see the transition in my friend’s face. After we talked for a while, I told him I noticed a change in his energy and helped him realize that even taking just a few minutes to drop in to the fantasy of being the captain of his own ship—imagining that he could delegate his real estate responsibilities in order to go off on a sea adventure—provided a useful shift from doubt and fear, to joy and peace. He got it.

Similarly, in my work with prisoners, giving them the tools to pause and remember their dreams, experiences of happiness, and to hold the faith for the future as a way for the lights to come on in their lives. Now, I’m not saying that dreams alone will get us to our goals, but they will create a pattern in our thoughts. The patterns in our thought help us to create goals. And goals can lead us to make smarter choices. The key is to keep the lights on by constantly making an effort to remember to be mindful.

Heart by Dau Voire

I encourage my clients to become more aware of the ‘issues in their tissues’ by taking time outs during the day to check in; do a quick body scan, breathe into the area of their body that feels restricted and tight, and re-center. By becoming mindful of how we hold stress in our bodies, we can bring consciousness to our thoughts. And this is the beginning of the change that will bring us to the lives we most desire.

In the midst of a money anxiety crisis, real or imagined, when we take the time to check in with our bodies, something will always shift. Always. Let it become a catalyst for awakening and opening your mind and heart to the new financial and spiritual reality you want to create—one based on trust, balance, and flow.

 

  • Posted by  Koorosh Ostowari
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San Francisco Landlord Shares Insights, Part III

Turn on your Physical GPS

Tune in to your gut feeling as well as other physical signals that may surface in your body. Once you become aware of these messages from your subconscious, you can move toward those opportunities that make you feel good, and trust yourself to avoid those things that might turn out to cause you more trouble than you need. Think of those feelings – like shortness of breath, sweaty palms and racing heartbeat – like the blinking lights on your car’s dashboard, warning you of potential danger.

th-2It’s your body guiding you to avoid poor financial decisions. It is always there, ready to advise you on financial/life transitions, investments or transactions, such as making a purchase of a consumer good.

Green light means go! Red light means Stop! You can sense these in your body. If you feel a good sensation, gut feeling, or you heart is feeling happy then it’s green. Go to the next step in your due deligence process. If  you feel tense, uptight, stressed (not a bad thing, just the body’s way of saying something is not right, there is danger a head, or you are pushing too hard to make this  deal work. If you over ride these signals, the consequences can be suffering all the way around; You suffer, others may suffer, and the engine may blow up.

The nuts and bolts around real estate are simple. Buy right, don’t follow the herd, make sure you don’t over extend yourself and have the right investment partners. And always be ready for the next storm, for it will come — often at the worst possible time. In the last recession, many of us tried to silence our gut instincts and followed the ‘experts’ to their detriment.

Trust your gutI myself have been through at least four recessions and each one felt like a Katrina. Indeed, every time I left my body out of the decision-making process, I paid big time. In hindsight, I can see that most of the bad decisions I’ve made all involve my ego and not my inner guidance. The lack of an integrated decision, taken from both my intellect and my gut, led to over-paying, over-borrowing, and trusting the wrong people.

Just recently I was working on a deal involving a purchase five houses on one lot. It looked like a great opportunity; these houses would be torn down so I could build fifteen homes. The numbers seemed okay, but deep down in the pit of my stomach, I noticed something didn’t feel right. Displacing the current tenants and forecasting a few years in to the future around a potential profit at the current purchase price seemed outside both my moral and financial mission statement.

In the past when I ignored these feelings I lived with some ugly consequences. Now knowing  to trust my gut, after some mindful contemplations, I recognized the red lights flashing. I experienced constriction, pain, stress and anxiety in my body. And while the numbers were good and my mind said ‘yes’ – my body helped me to realize this opportunity was not aligned with my deeper goals, mission and values. When I finally pulled out of the deal, it became clear it was the right decision for me. The feelings were back to peace, joy, and harmony.

My advice to anyone contemplating any kind of large transaction (or small agreement!) is to do the numbers, but follow your gut. It will never steer you wrong.

  • Posted by  Koorosh Ostowari
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San Francisco Landlord Shares Insights, Part II

Empty apartmentIn my last post, I briefly discussed the current situation in the San Francisco rental market. Now I’d like to address some ways for both landlords and tenants to understand and cooperate with one another.

As a landlord, I accept that it can be a challenge to pay the hefty mortgage on a rent controlled apartment when I know its market value, but I am also proud to have the means to house the elderly, the under-employed, and many other wonderful tenants at 25% of the market rent. As one of my Buddhist teacher friends explains, rent control is what allows individuals to live near their work and their community, so I see my position as one of service, which brings me comfort.

To Landlords

Landlord keys 3I won’t beat around the bush here. Many of you are taking advantage of the current market and forcing tenants out of their homes to make way for higher income producing tenants. It’s changing the makeup of our city, and not always for the better.

If you can afford it, there are small steps you can take to make life easier for renters.

  1. Offer your own ‘subsidized housing’ by providing an affordable home to an artist, student, teacher, or someone who works in a field that you feel is over-worked and under-appreciated.
  2. Consider your own ‘rent control’ by holding your rents where they currently sit. There is no way to know what tomorrow will bring financially, but you are likely making a hefty profit on your rental properties. Don’t be greedy.
  3. Consider offering an ‘extended tenant’ discount. If your tenants have lived in their homes for more than two years, consider dropping the rent by the normal cost of turnover. This good will gesture will show your tenants you care and you will have the benefit of no rental turnover time and expense.

If you own multiple rentals in one building, these gestures will keep your tenants happy and will likely encourage community and care for your properties. All human beings want to feel secure. This is your way of supporting your tenants wellbeing at an affordable cost to you. Yes we live in a capitalistic system, but we can be instrumental in keeping the system healthy and balanced. It’s not all about squeezing every last dollar out of a rental.

To Renters

Cheerful couple sitting in empty new houseIt’s a tough rental market, no doubt. If you can afford to pay the rent you have, while putting some money away, I suggest you do it. Otherwise, I suggest you consider downsizing or creating a co-housing situation that allows you to do so. You might also consider renting in an up and coming area where rents are more reasonable. When you are looking to buy your first home, do your research and watch the market trends.

Now is not the time to invest in real estate. But if you are a renter making money in this economy, take advantage of your income. Work hard and save for your investment. It may be the wisest decision you could make for yourself and for your future.

  • Posted by  Koorosh Ostowari
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Koorosh Ostowari

Author Koorosh Ostowari has successfully bridged the gap between spiritual and material worlds. He has operated a profitable real estate business in San Francisco for the past 25 years and is trained as a Spirit Rock Meditation Center Dharma Leader, is a certified somatic therapist, and offers spiritual and communications classes to men and women in the Northern California prison system.
His new book, The Money Anxiety Cure: A Path To Financial Wellbeing, offers tools to help those struggling with financial anxiety achieve a new, personally meaningful vision of prosperity.

Koorosh is dedicated to the practice of cultivating mindfulness, alleviating anxiety, and helping his clients and students maintain balance and achieve financial wellbeing.
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