Coffee Break with Sabra: How to Get Started Renovating Your New York City Apartment

I'm excited to be featured on Sabra Sasson's "Coffee Break with Sabra!" For this interview, we chatted about what it takes to get a renovation project started in New York City, and how having an architect along for the ride can really be an asset. Check out what we have to say!

Interview transcript:

SS: Welcome to The Coffee Break with Sabra where we answer your burning questions, the questions you didn’t ask, didn’t know to ask or were afraid to ask. We ask them for you. Each week, we bring you another 20 minutes, so that you can get your answers and get back to having a productive and fabulous day. Today, we are here with Anjie Cho. She is the bestselling author of 108 Ways to Create Holistic Spaces, Feng Shui and Green Design for Healing and Organic Homes. Anjie is an architect for clients such as Satya Jewelry and is a sought after expert in the fields of Feng Shui and Green Living. Anjie Cho is a registered architect and certified Feng Shui consultant. As a graduate in architecture from the College of Environmental Design at the University of California Berkeley, she’s been creating beautiful and nourishing environments since 1999. And today, she’ll be speaking with us about how to get started renovating your New York City apartments. Welcome to the program Anjie.

AC: Hi Sabra! Thank you for having me.

Thank you for being here. I think that this is a really fabulous topic to talk about today. I know that when people buy real estate, whether it’s a house or apartment, a lot of times they want to put a little bit of themselves into the place, their own style, maybe through decorations or the right piece of furniture or paint, but sometimes a little bit more drastic measures are taken into account, like structural changes and things like that. So I thought it might be good if you could start out with talking with us about those instances where an architect is needed and maybe point out some nuances where New York City maybe unique to other areas.

Sure, of course. So I’m a licensed architect in New York City, and a lot of times when clients or perspective clients give me a call, they really want to know if they needed an architect. So in New York City, it’s a little bit unique because we have a lot of apartment renovations rather than single family homes. So if you have an apartment, this is geared towards you, and it’s not going to be as relevant if you’re talking about Brooklyn with a single family home or somewhere outside of New York City, so mostly Manhattan. So to look at whether you need an architect, generally, it really actually depends on the requirements of your condo board or your co-op board but technically, legally, New York City would want to have you file for permit with an architect for any time that you move, add or remove walls. So those are the times that you have to have an architect. Now, if you’re just painting your apartment, that you don’t need an architect for. And sometimes, if your co-op board or condo board is more lax, they may not make you file for anything, but technically, legally you’re supposed to file, does that make sense?

Yeah, definitely. Can you clarify little bit more?

Yes. So for instance, I do a lot of apartment combinations, so if you’re combining two apartments, it someone has an apartment and they buy the apartment next door to make a larger apartment, they want to combine them. So you would then be removing a wall and combining the apartments or a lot of times, people want to open up their kitchen to the living room now. If you take out that wall, you generally need to use an architect. There’s also another instance. If you want to move plumbing around, say if you have your kitchen sink on one wall but you want to move it under the window, most building management boards will require you to file that work with an architect. 

So this comes to a point, there’s a difference between a designer and architect. Now, I’m a licensed architect. That means that, just like you Sabra, like with an attorney or as a doctor, I’ve taken exams. I actually took 9 exams. I apprenticed for a number of years, 7 years actually. I have a degree in architecture and I’ve also passed all these exams in order to become a licensed professional in the State of New York. I have to do continuing education. Licensed architects are only people that actually say they’re architects and the only people that can sign off on your drawing. Well, actually, you could get a licensed engineer, a professional engineer, to sign off on your drawings too, but you need a licensed, either a PE or RA, which is a registered architect or professional engineer, to sign off on the drawings to submit to the city for you to get permit to do that work. So that’s when you need an architect.

Now, with a designer, there are no certifications required or licensing required in New York for a designer. So someone could wake up tomorrow and decide they want to be a designer, but in order to the work legally, you need to find a licensed architect. So that’s really important. If you do need to do work with an architect, make sure that the person you’re working with is not misleading you and telling you that they might be an architect when they’re not.

That’s really important. So it sounds like it’s essential, actually, to these projects because you need to have the sign off in order for them to what, be legal?

Yes. So, for instance, most co-op boards won’t even let you do the work without a permit, so you would have to hire a separate architect, if you hired a designer, that could sign off on the project. So you would have to pay extra for another architect to do the work, if you could find an architect that will work with a designer, because usually, there’s a little bit of a conflict between those two parties as well. 

But I also wanted to go back and talk a little bit more about how you know you’ll need an architect. Usually what I tell my clients and perspective clients is to contact your condo or co-op board, and ask for something called the “alteration agreement.” This alteration agreement documents and outlines all the requirements required for you to do any kind of work in your building. Even it doesn’t require an architect, they generally want you to look at the alternation agreement. There might be a decorating agreement as well, if you’re just doing paint, and that tells you all the insurances that are required, and specifics they have required, the hours of work of the building and so forth. That’s also a good opportunity to open up a conversation with either the management, or maybe the super in your building, to say, “Hey, I want to just take down this wall between my kitchen and living room. Do you know if they’re going to make me submit a permit or get a permit for this?” So it’s a good way to start conversations, but it changes with each building. But like I said, technically, if you take out any walls, if you move, remove or add any walls or relocate any plumbing, you are required by the city to do the work, but not all buildings will require that. Some buildings will let you get away with it without getting a permit. The only danger is that, say a neighbor wants to complain, and you don’t have a permit, they can complain. They can ask the DOB, the Department of Buildings, to come and do an inspection, and then you would have to stop work and you would be fined and then you would have to file the work.

So your project can be interrupted if a neighbor complains and you don’t have the proper permit is what you’re saying?

Correct. All work would cease, and you would have to resolve all the issues before you could continue the work.

Interesting. Wow! That would be such a pain.

Yeah. Actually I was working on a project one time where this happened not because they didn’t have a permit…They did have a permit, but they didn’t have the right documentation onsite. You’re required to have the approved plans onsite and, for some reason, an inspector came by the building to visit another site. He stopped by this job site, and the contractor could not find the approved plan so he shut down the building and that was terrible. I literally had to wait outside for the inspector to come back the next day. I waited the whole day. He kept telling me “I’m coming.” He ended up coming like 4:45. I waited the whole day for him to open up the job again.

Wow, wow. So it really could cost a lot of money if you don’t have the right paperwork and the right documents in place and complying with that rule of having the plans on the premises where doing the work.

Exactly.

Wow. So how does one go about finding or selecting an architect or someone to manage the project?

Well, my suggestion is to always ask first around. Just like for a doctor or a dentist or an attorney, ask for referrals. Talk to your friends or anyone that’s done a renovation recently and ask around. You can also when you ask your management for the alteration agreement, ask them, “Are there any architects that you like working with in the building?” That’s going to give you a little bit of an edge, and they’ll be familiar at the space. Of course, I’m an architect and I’m also available too. Once you’ve got 1 or 2 or, 3 maybe, that you’re looking at, I would give them a call and talk to them. Tell them about your project and see what their availability is. Number one, see if you get along with them, because you’re going to be working closely with this person, and I get a lot of people who ask me, “How much is this going to cost?” You have to understand, it’s hard for an architect to give you an estimate on their work if you don’t know what work you’re doing. So be clear about what scope you want, how much involvement you want with your architect, and talk to them too. An architect could hand hold you through the whole process, or they could be more hands off and just help you with the design or help you get the filing done. So really be clear about how much you want, and also be clear about your budget. Tell them what your budget is for construction, because that’s going to give them a good estimate on what their fees are. Generally, I think architects in New York charge between 10% and 20% of your construction cost, but that depends on how much hand holding you need during the process. An architect could come to your job site every week and check everything out, or they could not come at all, and you could just take over. So be clear about or think about your options on how much you want. What’s your budget? Think about if you can afford an architect and how much hand holding and involvement you want from them.

So let me ask you, so in terms of the architect role, it sounds like there can be a wide range of what the responsibilities are for the architect, and it sounds like it also could be more than just helping with the design of the project, as you called it.

Yes. If I was going to do a full service contract with someone, how we would start is we would do a conceptual design together, where I would meet with them and talk to them about their needs, look at how they live, what their requirements are, what their budget is and their scheduling is. Then we can walk through some conceptual design ideas. 

For instance, I just finished an apartment combination a few months ago, and with this client, we did a full service contract. So we sat down for a few meetings and found trace paper and pens and paper and really looked at her options on how to lay out the space. Tthen I proceeded with putting together what’s required for the permit drawings to get that started, because the process with the DOB takes 4 – 6 weeks, not including the time it takes to get all the signatures from management and so forth. So we got that started, and then I helped her select contractors. So we picked 3 contractors where we did a walkthrough with a good set of bid documents, which is really important too, because as an architect can provide you with bid documents, which is a set of drawings that outlines the scope of work graphically and with text. So when you walk through with the contractor without an architect, what happens is that each contractor will say, “Well, what about this, what about this, what about this?” They’re trying to be helpful. So at the end of the day, you end up with prices from three different contractors, and they’re not pricing the same thing because 1, the conversation may have change with each visit, because they have different suggestions. Number two, there are no documents stating what is the scope of work that clearly states that these are the things you’re going to purchase. You may be thinking you want to get this really cool door, but they’re going to price the cheapest things, because when they competitively bid something, they’re going to price the most competitively priced item. So at the end of the day, the price can be like a moving target. An architect can help you get a firm price. For the most part, all of my projects, we bid it out, devise some of the drawings and competitively bid it out. We include my drawings as part of the contract document, and there are almost never any change orders, which is a change in price, so you know what you’re getting into. 

And then other things that I could do is, like I said, I could do a weekly site visit where I work with the contractor to work out any design problems that occur or design issues that occur during the project. I also can help the client design the kitchen, help them layout the kitchen, bathrooms, floor tiles, what to look for. There’s so many things I can do, and then I also review payment requisitions too. You don’t want to really pay a contractor for more than what they’ve done in the case if they go out of business. You want to be able to walk away from a general contractor and still finish your work without losing any money. So I review payment requisitions and make sure that you’re good to pay it without overpaying. Because a lot of people like clients end up thinking, “Oh, we’re done,” and then they pay them all the money, but then there are punch list things, which are little small items that the contractors fix, but if you pay them all their money, they have no incentive to come back. So I advise on payment, I advise on what needs to be done, what’s typical, what’s not typical, there’s a lot, and we end up really actually saving the owners money.

Wow. That sounds amazing. All of this that you’ve described, you gave such really wonderful advice, because, you know the expression, you’ve got to compare apples to apples and oranges to oranges. You just gave the whole example. If you’re bringing in several contractors then the conversation changes. They’re not really comparing Project X to Project X. They’re comparing Project X, which has now been tweaked by the contractor, so that’s an amazing service that you offer to help people to understand what they’re actually getting a quote for to make sure that it’s all for the same project.

Exactly. At the bare minimum, I always, almost every client that I work with, I at least do the bid documents for them to make sure that they get an apples to apples comparison between the contractors, as well as my opinion on the contractor and my advice. Also, like I said, those documents, those bid document drawings go in as part of the contract documents in the contract that you sign with the GC, and in my drawings, I have a lot of notes, general notes, that cover things like, for instance, you may think you’re going to get your paint included, but then they say, “We only included that you get the ready-mix white paint.” So you think, “No, I don’t want to pay extra to get blue paint.” Little things like that. Also defining, “You need primer, plus 2 coats of Benjamin Moore paint in something other than ready-mix colors.” Things like that, that I know about, but the average home owner won’t know about. So this way you can cover yourself, make sure you get the best products. The architect really is a client’s rep, so we watch out for the client.

That’s awesome. In terms of these projects, if somebody wants to make a renovation, how would you say is the first step? Is the first step looking at the alteration agreement and then looking for an architect, if it’s necessary or required by the board? Where would somebody start? What would be the first step?

I think the first step would be to talk to your board or talk to your management or your super. If you’re close with your super in the building and he’s very involved, just ask the super, because he usually knows everything that’s going on. Let them know, “Oh, we’re thinking of doing a little bit of work,” and ask him what he thinks the process is for you, and then you can always reach out to your management and get the alteration agreement. Then ask around for architects and find a few that you want to reach out to, and give them a call or email them, and just talk to them on the phone. You could send them a plan, if you have a plan of your apartment, and just start a conversation going.

Fantastic. So I wanted to just quickly ask if you could tell our listeners how they can reach you if they have any questions about their upcoming projects and if you have any final words for us.

Well, you can reach me through my website. It’s www.anjiecho.com, and that’s spelled A – N – J – I – E – C – H – O.com, and any perspective clients can always call me directly. My phone number is on the website, or email me directly. That’s another thing that you should look at with the architect, too. You might want to see if you’re actually going to be talking to the architect throughout the process or if they have a bigger firm and you’re going to be talking to a project manager or someone lower level. I know, I basically do all the design, and I have freelancers and some staff and interns that help me, but I am the one designing. I’m the one who’s contacting the client all the time, and I also am available. I always respond within 24 hours, and that’s something that you should ask. How long will it take you to respond to emails, and will I be working with you? Maybe you don’t mind if you’re working with a project manager, or maybe you really want to work with the architect, but in any case, I’ll respond to all the emails and I’m the main contact with all my clients, so anyone can reach out to me with any questions.

Fantastic. And I feel that anyone who is considering renovation in their place should definitely consider reaching out to you, because you’re very knowledgeable and you have so much experience, and you’re really great to talk to, so I think working with you would probably be really easy.

That’s what my clients say. That’s another thing too! Sorry, one more thing. You can also ask the architects you talk to provide you with some references that you can call too. That’s really important.

That’s a great point, probably with anybody that you work with. You might want to compare and find out what the experience was with other clients that they have worked with.

Absolutely.

Fabulous. Thank you so much Anjie. Thank you for being here.

You’re welcome! Thank you so much, Sabra. It’s always so much fun. We always have so much to talk about.

Yes we do. There’s always really interesting information and fascinating stories that you share. So I want to thank you again for joining us this week and join us again next week during our weekly Coffee Break with Sabra.

by Anjie Cho


Coffee Break with Sabra: 5 Tips to Creating Wealth and Abundance Using Feng Shui

I'm thrilled to be a guest on Coffee Break with Sabra again! This time, listen as I share five tips for bringing wealth and abundance. Some are as simple as switching up which stove burner you use! Take a peek below, or a listen here to hear the whole list and how to draw more abundance into your life

Interview transcript:

SS: Welcome to the Coffee Break with Sabra where we answer your burning questions, the questions you didn’t ask, didn’t know to ask or were afraid to ask. We ask them for you. Each week, we bring you another 20 minutes so that you can get your answers and get back to having a productive and fabulous day. 

Today we are here with Anjie Cho, who is a holistic interior architect and a sought after expert in the fields of Feng Shui and green design. As a New York State registered architect and certified Feng Shui master, Anjie creates beautiful and nourishing spaces throughout New York City and beyond. Today she’ll be speaking on a very interesting topic, searching for wealth and abundance, 5 tips to creating wealth and abundance in your life and business using Feng Shui. Welcome to the program Anjie.

AC: Hi Sabra!

Hi Anjie. I’m so happy to have you here. 

I’m so happy to be here!

You’re speaking on a really interesting topic today that is of interest to lots of people, and I’m curious, because of your expertise in Feng Shui, how you’re going to show us how we can attract more wealth and abundance into our lives. Maybe just start out with explaining what is Feng Shui and start from that place.

Sure. You’re absolutely right. There are two things that people are really interested in when they hear about Feng Shui. They’re interested in relationships, and they’re interested in how to get more wealth and abundance, so it’s a very popular topic. So what is Feng Shui? That’s a good place to start, because not a lot of people know what Feng Shui is. First of all, it is pronounced “Feng Shui,” but you could say it any way you want, really, as long as you understand what it is. “Feng Shui" is just one pronunciation, and all different cultures have a form of Feng Shui, and even within China, there are different forms of Feng Shui, so they might pronounce it differently based on the dialect. Feng Shui is an ancient art of placement. It started in China thousands of years ago, and it seeks to improve the energy in the environment around us and to really deepen the connection with you and your environment so you can create a harmonious and supportive space that can help you improve energy so you can gain more wealth and abundance in your life.

Okay. And how do you do things like that? What kind of things would you do to create that?

Well, in Feng Shui, we might have you look at certain places in your home and in your office, maybe move some things around, and we look at different layers and go so far as to suggest personal energy adjustments in correlation to making a change in your space. But specifically, in terms of abundance and wealth, we’re going to talk about 5 different ways that you can look at your home and your office to really hone in and focus on creating more wealth and abundance in your life. 

I want to first, actually, start with, what does it mean? What does "wealth and abundance" mean in Feng Shui philosophy? People think wealth is money, but wealth is much more than that. Wealth means having a plentiful supply of things in your life, whether that means money or helpful people, or having abundance of health and abundance of energy and to be overflowing and have a lot of fullness. So that’s really our goal, to create a supportive lifestyle and a supportive home around you so you can have the best opportunities to attract the most wealth to you. Actually, there’s a Feng Shui map, and it’s basically like a tic-tac-toe. It’s a 3 by 3 square, and one of those areas is represented by wealth and abundance, and it’s also, interestingly, related to the idea of self-worth. In Feng Shui, we really relate those two things, because if you don’t have a lot of self-worth and if you don’t have a lot of self-esteem, it’s hard to attract abundance to you, so that’s one thing that we look at. We look at really working on yourself, but in the Feng Shui perspective, so that’s that abundance area. If you’re standing at your front door, like the entrance to your apartment, if you’re in New York City, and you’re looking in to your home, it would be the far left corner of your apartment, so the furthest away from you on the left. If you’re just looking in your bedroom, you would stand in your front door looking into your bedroom, and it would be the far left corner, the corner farthest away from you. That’s your abundance or wealth area of your home. Do you know where yours is, Sabra?

Yeah, it’s far from the door, and it actually is a very open space right near a huge window that I have.

Okay, that could be positive. The map is conceptual. You can use it on your desk, so if you’re sitting at your desk, the far top, left corner of your desk, if you divide your desk in a 3 by 3 square, would be the wealth area of your desk. You can go big in terms of your property or your whole office. You could start as big as your property, you could go a little bit smaller into the entire floor plan of your home, and then you can go smaller into the layout of your bedroom, and then even the layout of your desk, and find the wealth area. So it’s really important to look at the wealth area in your home and your office, because you want to look at a couple of things. One, you want to look at if it is there, because sometimes it’s missing, and that’s an issue. Say you have an "L" shaped floor plan, and that area, the wealth area, is missing. That can be a problem. It could mean that you have difficulties with receiving wealth into your life. One way to alleviate that would be that you could put a plant in that missing area or you could put a mirror, because a mirror extends the view and takes back that missing space.

I’m into it.

It’s interesting, because a lot of times, people also have a bathroom in that area, so that means that there’s a lot of water. Water represents wealth, and so in a bathroom, that’s a lot of water going down and being drained away, so that’s also an issue too. You never want to lay out an office, for instance, if possible, with the bathroom in the far left corner, because that represents water going away. If you are stuck with that situation, one way you can alleviate it is to put a plant there. What the plant does is symbolizes growth, and that water energy that’s going down symbolically, you can water the plant and transform it in to a positive upward growth, because the water feeds the plant. So you’re taking something that is, maybe, flushing away from you but transforming it to an upward, expansive energy.

One other thing to look for in your wealth area is if you have a second door in your wealth area. Now, this is really important for a lot of homes, a lot of houses. If you have a second entrance in your wealth area, that can mean that there is money that’s slipping out, away from you, that’s being leaked out. That’s a really important thing to look for. A good way to alleviate that would be, if possible, not to block the door, but to place something, like maybe a table, that redirects energy away from that front door. There are a lot of other things to do, but I would have to look more specifically at the space. But in general, that’s something to watch out for, not to look for a second door in your wealth area, because you really want to be able to keep your wealth in there and not have it leak out.

Yes, sure, you want to capture it and hold on to it and then decide what to do with it, rather than letting it slip away.

Yeah, even in properties, if you have a home in a shape that’s wider in the back and smaller in the front, that’s actually ideal. It’s called the money bag property shape, and what it means is that a lot of money can go in and you have a lot of room in back to hold it in, because the back is really about wealth, so that’s really something I look for. 

So those are the first 2 things. One is to look at the wealth area in your home and make sure it’s not missing, and if it is, try to adjust it. Then two is to look what’s happening in your wealth area. If there’s an extra door, that’s not a great thing, and if there is a bathroom, add a plant to adjust it. If you have those 2 situations, it’s really great to bring someone in to work specifically on it, especially if you’re having wealth issues.

The third way that you can look at your space to improve your wealth and abundance is to look at the stove, so look at fire energy. The stove in your kitchen represents how you nourish yourself in the world, so it’s really important to keep your stove clean all the time, because if it’s dirty, you’re really kind of mucking up your energy to support yourself and nourish yourself. If you can be healthy in the world, you can really attract the best energy to you. So it's good to keep it clean. It’s also good to have a lot of burners. These houses, sometimes they have 6 burners, that’s really great. It actually represents a lot of wealth. The more burners you have, the more wealth you can attract.

That’s great, okay.

Usually we only have 4, but one way you can improve that, actually, is if you can set up a mirror that reflects the burners. Then, if you’re standing at the stove and you can double your amount of burners, that actually doubles your wealth.

Just said simply, huh? Just putting up a mirror.

It’s also interesting too, because the stove represents how you nourish yourself. I always ask my clients, “When you woke up this morning, you probably went to your stove, and you went to your favorite burner, and…” Sabra, which one is your favorite burner?

The front left.

Everyone has their favorite burner. I think mine is the front left as well, and you always go to that. That’s your go-to burner, but in Feng Shui, since your stove and your burners represents your wealth, it’s really important to not just go to the same one all the time. We really encourage people to rotate and to try new burners. It’s really interesting, because when I first learned this, when I would go to my stove, I realized every morning, “Oh, I need to really look at other ways to incorporate different tactics in my business and in my life to attract different things.” If we always go to the same things, we might miss something. It’s really easy to just go and do the same thing out of habit, but if you open up your opportunities and start to use different burners and start to look at different aspects of your life, it really starts to open things up for you and bring you more wealth.

Oh my goodness. That’s fabulous, but it sounds too easy.

Well, you know what? It doesn’t have to be hard.

Yes, you’re right, a lot of things don’t have to be hard. That’s actually one of those, I think, false beliefs that many people have. If I’m not working hard enough then that’s why I don’t have whatever it is that I want. You’ve got to work harder. But sometimes that’s not just working harder…

It’s about working smarter.

Exactly and you’re demonstrating that here today. Thank you. 

Well I think it’s a really great reminder every morning, because it's something that you do every day, usually. Most people go to the stove every day, but you should actually use your stove every day because, again, it represents how you nourish yourself, and it represents fire energy, which represents how people see you and your ability to be seen and attract wealth. You should use it at least every day to boil water or something, but to go there every morning and go to put your teapot and think, “Oh, I should use a different burner,” then you get that reminder every morning, “I need to open up opportunities for myself, I need to bring new things to me, I can’t just go do the same thing all the time and expect to really flourish my experience, my business and my life and my opportunities for wealth.”

Exactly. If you want to see different things in your life, you have to do different things. Doing the same thing over and over again is going to probably yield the same results you have now, so what a great fabulous reminder first thing in the morning. That’s a great way to start your day as well.

Yes, that’s my third tip. My fourth tip is about water energy. A lot of people know this Feng Shui cure, or adjustment, is about putting a fountain. They know that fountains have something to do with water. Water represents, or can symbolize money, especially if it’s flowing water. That represents cash flow, so it’s really ideal, kind of a Feng Shui 101 thing, to have a fountain in your entry because, your entry represents your mouth of chi, where energy comes in to your home. If you have a water fountain, you want the water directed in towards your home. You don’t want the water to be directed out, because then it’s flowing the water away from you. If you have a home, you can have it in front of your entry and have the water, again, if possible, flowing into the center of your home, because that’s directing the water energy or the money energy, wealth energy, into your space. That’s a really easy one, and, in a practical way, it helps humidify your home and creates nice soothing sound, and it’s a really nice way to welcome yourself into your home. And again, it’s a reminder every day when you come home or when you leave that this is an intention you put into your life that you’re going to attract more wealth to you.

Nice, another simple, easy thing to do. Fabulous.

I have another question for you having to do with water. What about having a vase with flowers in it, fresh cut flowers? Does that have some kind of symbolism of water in a place or something?

Well that’s a little different, because it’s still water, and for abundance you want moving water, which is something like a fountain. You can also use something like an aquarium with moving water. I actually have a fish tank with a filter that pours like a waterfall, and it directs inside my home. But flowers are actually really great for something else, which actually ties in to the fifth tip. One thing that’s really important to look at with your wealth is what your career is like, and your desk represents your career. So really look at your desk and see what you could do to make it more organized and less cluttered. Also, the way that flowers can tie in, is flowers represent a few things, but they're all a very positive, joyful energy. The fragrance of flowers is a very powerful thing in Feng Shui that we use for joy, but it also represents the wood element, because it’s a plant. It would be really great if you could put fresh flowers on your desk in the wealth area of your desk. You can also do it in fame area, which is the far center. Sitting at your desk, if you divide it to 3 by 3 grid, it’s the back, center square, so either the wealth, or in the fame, or maybe right in the middle. Having a fresh bouquet of flowers would really be something beautiful to look at. It represents wood energy, which represents growth and expansion, and also, because the same area represents fire, you’re feeding the fire with wood. It’s really helping you expand and bloom and flourish in your business or in your wealth so you can get that raise that you wanted, so that you’re seen for all the good work you do. That would be a really great way. Even red flowers would be really great. Also, because you keep it fresh, it’s really something beautiful to look at, and you pay attention. One thing that’s not good is it’s not good to have dead flowers or dry flowers in your space, because that actually represents negative, dead energy.

That’s so interesting. I was going to ask you, what do you do, or how do you know when to remove the flowers, because they will eventually wither and die. So that was one question. The other question I had is, I remember going to my prom and the guy brought me a corsage, and when I came home, I hung it upside down to dry out the flowers and save them for a few years, so I was curious what you have to say on those two items.

In general, yes, dried flowers represent negative or dead energy, because they’re dead, but if there’s something like a wedding bouquet or, I don’t know about a prom corsage, I guess if you’re a high schooler, that’s exciting at that time, but I think its equivalent for adults could be your wedding bouquet or something very meaningful, then actually those flowers have a whole different energy, because you have your own memories associated with them. As long as there’s something very positive of those flowers, those dried flowers, there’s not a problem if you have a positive association and they mean something really good for you and it’s supportive for you. But, in general, they’re not good. If you just have dried flowers for decoration, you want to avoid that. But if you have a really some positive, happy memory attached to it, it’s perfectly fine.

Great, that was awesome. I know we’ve been talking a lot about wealth and abundance, but it’s a lot of fun to talk about, and you shared quite a few tips. Did you have any more for us?

I think those are good. That’s 5 tips. That’s a lot to do.

How would you recommend people start implementing them? One at a time? Should do they do over the course of a week, a month…Should it take longer for them to really feel into these different tips that you provided us?

I think the best way is to find something that speaks to you and something that’s not going to be too difficult, because a lot of times, people overwhelm themselves and want to do all of them at once, and then they don’t do any. If there was one that spoke to you, for instance, for you Sabra, the flowers, that was something you’re interested in, give yourself a little task. Put it in your to-do list to get some flowers, and it’s good to do it within 3 days of deciding you want to do it. Even one little addition can shift your whole perspective. Even just looking at your stove, your burners, that’s an easy one to do. My whole MO is to make it really simple and digestible for people, because we’re so overwhelmed with so much information every day, and it’s so easy to not do anything because there are so many options. I really want people to look at what is easy for them to do, what’s really going to be something that’s manageable and how to integrate it in your daily life so you have this gentle reminder to put yourself first and to take care of yourself and have positive intensions. 

Great, great. Well you definitely gave us some wonderful tips, and I agree that making a decision and implementing it right away, even if it’s just one thing, is a move in the right direction, and when you’re moving in the right direction, good things tend to flow if that’s the right direction and a good direction. I don’t know if you would add something more. Wonderful. Thank you so much, Anjie, for joining us this week. It’s so exciting to have you.

Thank you Sabra. I love being on! Thank you so much for having me on again.

Thank you again for joining us this week and for joining us during our weekly Coffee Break with Sabra. Join us again next week.

by Anjie Cho


Coffee Break with Sabra: Top 5 Dos and Don'ts for Sellers

I'm happy to share another interview with Sabra Sasson on Coffee Break with Sabra! For this show, I provided five tips for homeowners preparing to sell! Take a peek at our conversation for tips on how to set your home apart from others on the market! 

Interview transcript:

SS: Welcome to the Coffee Break with Sabra where we answer your burning questions, the questions you didn’t ask, didn’t know to ask or were afraid to ask. We ask them for you. Each week, we bring you another 20 minutes so that you can get your answers and get back to having a productive and fabulous day. 

Today, we are here with Anjie Cho, who is a holistic interior architect and has been creating beautiful and nourishing environments throughout New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles and beyond for the last 15 years. Anjie is also the founder of Holistic Spaces, a blog integrating beauty, spirituality and green design. She creates and enhances balance and harmony by designing spaces with an understanding of sustainability and informed by the ancient practice of Feng Shui. Her focus is to create a nurturing and supportive environment for each of her clients at whatever level they feel comfortable. Anjie is a Feng Shui and green interior blog contributor to inhabitat.com and streeteasy.com’s blog, Own Your Home. She’s a licensed architect, LEED accredited certified professional Feng Shui consultant and is currently working on her forth coming book: 108 Ways to Create Holistic Spaces, Feng Shui and Green Design for Healing and Organic Homes. I’m so happy to introduce Anjie Cho, and she’ll be speaking on the topic today of the top 5 dos and don’ts for sellers in a hot marketplace. Welcome to the program Anjie.

AC: Hi Sabra. I’m so excited to be back on!

Me too, very happy. Last program was amazing, and I’m sure this one you have some great tips for us. New York City is a happening place. Unfortunately, inventory is super low, so it’s a hot marketplace for sellers and they really have to do something to make their home stand out, out of the few that are out there and the buyers that are all out there competing for their homes. So today you’re speaking on this topic. Would you like to start?

Yes, yes, of course. So when you ask me about the top 5 dos and don’ts for sellers in a hot marketplace, a lot of tips came to mind, but the most important one, the first one that came to mind, was to look at your front door. Your front door is so important, because that’s your face to the world, and the first impressions are really important, the first impression that a viable seller will have when they come to your home. So I recommend that you do look at your front door, the outside part, and look at do you need to repaint the door? Here in New York City, we have lot of apartments. You could ask your management company to repaint the door or maybe just need to scrub it down and clean it. But when someone, a seller, comes up to your door, when you have a dirty door, that already sets them in a kind of negative mindset, so it’s really important. Do look at your front door. Repaint it and clean the door. 

Make sure the door bell and the buzzer are working, because also if they come to your door and you can’t hear them when they’re at your door, when they can’t be let in to your home, that also creates a negative impact on their first impression. Look at all the parts of your door, like the hardware. When you open your door, does it squeak? When you open a door and there’s a squeak, it’s not very relaxing, and you want to have a door that opens smoothly. You want the door knob and the hinges and everything to be clean. The number on your door can also be cleaned and not crooked, because it gives an impression of thoughtfulness, of cleanliness, of relaxation when you have everything in the right place in the first impression.

Wow! I love that first tip. It was totally took me off guard. I wasn’t expecting that answer. Here I’m thinking of seller’s tips for inside the home and, wow, the front door, first impressions, you hear that all the time, so fabulous. Fabulous tips! You have so much to touch upon just upon the entry way and the doorway.

Yes. And absolutely the don’t would be: don’t overlook the front door. People often, like you said, only look inside. Don’t overlook the outside. Look at your hallway that people arrive in, if you’re in an apartment building, or if it’s a house, what’s the curb appeal? Are there old, dying bushes? You need to really look at what people see when they first arrive to your home. Make sure, this is one that I always point out, don’t have an old, dirty door mat. A lot of people have an old, dirty door mat. I would also say don’t have one that’s too personalized, like maybe with your name or frogs on it or something. Just have something that’s very basic, generic, but clean. I would even advise people to go out and buy a new door mat for this.

Great point. So it’s the surroundings and the first impression of your front door and your entry way. Great. What’s your next tip? What else can you tell us?

The next tip is actually when you walk in to the entry foyer, what do you see? So this is just past the front door. So again, buyers make their decisions on whether they like or don’t like a home within seconds of walking in. When my husband and I were looking for apartments, we would walk into a space and immediately we would say no, just no, no. I’ve talked to many real estate brokers, and it’s the same thing. People walk in and they just say, “Nope.” They’ve already created this no in their mind. You want people to walk in and feel like, “Oh, this is amazing!” You want to create a really good first impression. 

So it’s really important, in the first tip, to look at the front door. The second tip you should look at is, you should definitely brighten and lighten your entry and your foyer. That means, the views are, you should change your light bulbs. This is a really important one, because some people don’t have lights in their foyer, so get something up there. Maybe get a floor lamp or something, because it’s very important to have a light by your entry. When you walk in to a dark entry, you automatically feel negative and by adding a new light bulb, you’re kind of doing a little Feng Shui cure, where you’re adding new fire energy in to your entry, and fire energy is all about recognition and fame and being seen in the world. So if you’re adding this extra fire, new fire energy to your entry, you’re letting the universe know that “I am creating this big bright light that I want people to come to and be attracted to,” so you can attract the most viable buyers to your home. 

And the don’t would be: do not keep any personal items. Some people keep their shoes there. Don’t have any shoes out. A lot of people, especially when they’re moving, start to put their trash out in the entry. You start moving the things that you need to throw away or give away closer and closer to the door, and that’s not the best place to have the things that you want to give away and your trash and your waste. You should not be keeping those in the front door, even when you’re not showing, especially when you’re showing the space though. And storage and clutter, you need to really put those items away and keep a bright light entry foyer. Light, as in actual light, and then bright, as in bright and clear and not stuck with clutter. So it’s really about keeping it spacious and well lit to create a really strong first impression.

Great. So I know you’ve talked a lot about light bulbs and lightening up the place. If the entry way happens to have windows, I would assume that that would be even better, to open up the shades and curtains to let in natural light in to the entry way if that’s possible.

Absolutely, absolutely. That’s actually my fourth tip, it’s something about windows.

Oh is it?

Yeah, when we get in to that. But I was actually in an apartment with a broker, and the entry was, it did have a window in it, but it was in a light well, so it was still so dark, and it was a tiny entry and he had this big shelf that was right in front of you as you walked in. Then the radiator was to your left, and it was all dirty and the window was dingy. This is not the first impression you want to give to your possible buyers.

Nice. So something very welcoming. You want people to walk in and kind of like feel they came home. They came in to a welcoming place that’s warm and comfortable and inviting and when the lights are on and it’s lit, you obviously feel like you’re supposed to be there as opposed to walking in to a dark room that doesn’t feel so inviting. I can feel that in the way that you talked about it.

Absolutely, yeah, and these are really, really important things to make your home as attractive as possible to get you the best price when you sell your home.

Fabulous. And also probably setting your home apart from the others that are out there, because you’re doing something with a purpose. So set it up, not to cover anything up, but just more to reveal and show your home in the best light, no pun intended. The best light possible so that, say, a buyer will find your place more appealing.

Exactly. That’s exactly what I’m talking about.

Great. So what’s your next tip? I want to hear more.

Okay. The third tip is: do depersonalize. Now, we’re getting now into the inside of your home. Do make sure to depersonalize, and I think this is really important, because when you depersonalize your space, it allows possible future owners to really engage their personal energy in to the space and to visualize their home there. So don’t have a photo of you staring down at them when they walk in, and do start packing up those family photos. If you can, it would be even better to move them out of the house, because when people walk into a space, they don’t want to see your home. They want to see their home. They want to see them there. They want to be able to visualize their own family there, and that’s why a lot of stagers recommend you paint the walls white and not have anything that stands out too much, because it allows a blank canvass for people to begin to visualize themselves. It’s really important to, at the same time, when you start depersonalizing and taking down those family photos, you also as a home owner start to detach from the home and then you really have to step back and say, “This home served this purpose for me,” and really appreciate and thank the home for what place it served in your life, but now it’s time to close that door and to move forward on to your next place and the next part of your life. 

So many times, I see people that are trying to sell homes, and even businesses go through that too, where there’s someone in the family that’s not happy with leaving so they kind of dug their heels in and they want to stay, and that energy actually fills the space and keeps the space so other people can’t see themselves there. So even the process of taking down the photos, depersonalizing things, really is kind of a process and a little ritual that will help you start to disengage, and then in a real common sense way, allows people to then have a blank canvas to visualize their own life there.

That makes perfect sense to me, because I know in the apartments that I lived in, when I went looking for apartments, there was something…I just knew I would know it when I walked in to the space. It’s just like you said, I could visualize myself there. I could visualize my furniture, my things in certain places around the place, and when I didn’t feel that there is space for me, that’s when I knew it wasn’t right for me. So that makes perfect sense what you’re saying, because you’re kind of being gracious. You’re taking down your personal things, making room for this new person, the new owner that’s going to come in and saying, “Hey, I’m now removing myself from here and stepping back so that you now can come in and fill the space.” It’s beautiful how you described it.

I love how you described it too, because it is very gracious. You’re being a gracious host and you’re saying, “Look, this home served a great purpose for me and now the next step is to take my things down and to allow physical space for you to come in and then have that same beautiful experience or a better experience.”

Yeah. And everyone has their own vision of how things should look, and you’re making it, like you said, a blank slate like a white wall or neutral walls, so that they can visualize their own things on that wall filling up the space.

Absolutely, being neutral. And there’s actually one more point, another do that goes along with depersonalizing. When you depersonalize something, people might think it looks too, empty and it is sometimes true that, when you have a completely empty apartment, some people have a hard time visualizing. So do keep your furniture, if you can, or get it staged, but if there are areas where you had a lot of personal stuff and you feel like it looks too empty, you can add very neutral items, like plants. Mirrors are great, because they expand the space and make the space look bigger, and lighting is actually really great too. So you can add plants, mirrors and lighting, and those will all enhance the space and fill the spots where you started to take away your own personal items.

Great, wonderful. So that was just 3 things so far. We have to move on because we have a limited amount of time. What’s the fourth tip that you have for us?

The fourth tip is do clean your windows. Your windows represent the eyes and the mouth of the inhabitants of the space, so when you have dirty windows, people will feel like they can’t see. They won’t be able to see your space clearly for what it is, and in a common sense way, it just brings in so much light, creates clarity. You can start to really see the beauty in the space when you have clean windows. It will make a huge difference. I recommend you get in there, or you hire someone, to just clean those windows really well and make sure that they’re spotless during all the showing. And then don’t block the view, or the light, with any furniture, with any objects. Even with drapes. People have drapes and mini blinds. If you can open them all up, if you can maximize the windows and the views because those are so important and people really need that connection to the outside. If you have a view of anything green, really emphasize it and enhance it. Simply cleaning the windows would be a huge thing.

Nice, yeah, there’s nothing like natural light. I love opening up my curtains at home to bring in the lights. It makes a very big difference.

That’s the fourth one, and the fifth tip is also very important. So you know how, Sabra, you were saying that when you were looking for an apartment you knew you would walk in and just kind of know? 

Mhmm.

This is what clearing the energy is about. It’s really important that you clear the energy of your space. We kind of start doing that with the first 4 tips, but really formally clear the stagnant energy of the space. Have you ever been in to an apartment where maybe somebody passed away or even where someone’s lived there their whole life and it just has this kind of old, stagnant feeling?

That’s really, really unattractive, right? People don’t like that, and people are repelled by that, because it’s very stagnant energy, and it’s uncomfortable. It’s really hard for people to get away from that. It’s hard for people to even consider that the situation could be different, so it’s really important to clear the energy of the space. How you do this, is you open all the windows for 9 minutes. Open all the windows, all the doors, everything that opens to outside, open it and air out the space for 9 minutes, and then you close everything. Then, they have these orange or citrus essential oil sprays. They have them at Whole Foods or health food stores. I would get a can of that, and walk around your space and spray this orange oil, because orange is very energetic and it has a lot of life to it and is very fresh. What it does is, that essential oil, that scent, really is able to clear and balance out any of that stagnant energy in the space. I always recommend that you also do this before every showing. Open up the windows for 9 minutes, close them and then spray the orange oil, and it will really create a fresher environment, and again, this leads to a good first impression. It’s really important to clear the energy of the space, because it gives a fresh, like depersonalizing, a fresh place to start with.

Wow! That’s interesting. I have a question. Where’s the 9 minutes, why not 5 minutes or 10 minutes, a round number? Where is the source of 9 minutes?

Well, 9 minutes is something that I do because 9 is a very auspicious number in Feng Shui. It’s a very complete number. 3 is a complete number, but 3 times 3 is a super complete number. It’s also the last whole single digit integer, and there are also 9 areas in Feng Shui. For instance, I receive all my payment, all my fees, in multiples of 9 and everything we do for Feng Shui is in a multiple of 9. I also think that it’s really interesting, and it gives more meaning, because you know it’s a different number. You’re think, “9 minutes, why am I doing it for 9 minutes?” So then when you actually do it, you think about it more and it feels more like a ritual, and it makes it feel like a more sacred ritual that you’re doing because there’s something unique about it, rather than just 10 minutes. Then you think “Okay, I’m doing it 9 minutes for a reason, because it’s very complete number, and I’m going to do this for 9 minutes and it’s an auspicious number and that will really give more meaning to what I’m doing.”

So you’re doing it for a purpose. It’s not something that you’re just casually doing. You’re opening the windows with purpose, you’re waiting the 9 minutes for a purpose, you’re spraying the orange. It’s not that it just so happens that this happens. You’re doing it with a meaning. Is that what’s it about?

Yes, with the intention and a purpose is really important, because that is also part of the space clearing process. It’s not just about the orange spray, opening up the windows, that’s part of it. 

Your own energy, it sounds like. It’s something to create the momentum for clearing out the energy in the space.

Yes, your participation is just as important.

Very nice. That’s a really great tip. So I guess, is there something that you would say that people should absolutely not do? Would be terrible, if someone didn’t like orange, if they used lemon scent or some other scent like vanilla or whatnot? I know that you said that orange is very positive. It’s energetic. It has its own energy to it.

I would stick to orange and not do any other scent, because they don’t have the same properties. But, my don’t for this tip would be: don’t overlook the fact that your energy that you left in this house is still going to be there, although maybe it’s positive energy. Say at an estate sale, people know when it’s an estate sale. They don’t have to be told, because they can feel the energy when they walk in. You can tell when someone passed away here or someone lived here for a long time. You can tell by the furniture, by the smells. Don’t overlook how much that impacts people’s impressions of the space. It will really bring your price down. It will really make people think twice about buying your space, so it’s really important to pay attention to it.

Great. Oh wow, these are fabulous tips for sellers in this marketplace. Are there any final thoughts that you have or something you would like to emphasize for the listeners with regard to sellers who are selling their homes in this type of marketplace?

I definitely want to emphasize again how much first impressions impact your ability to sell the space. It’s so important to realize that people make their decisions within the first few seconds of walking in, so really do look at front door and how things look on the outside and experience walking into a space, the first few moments of the space. It’s also really important to then highlight the best areas of your home. I didn’t talk about that, but if you have great views, find a visual way to lead people to the window. You can use a runner or something, people will just automatically find something to follow. Follow the runner and go over to the light, or maybe things like light fixtures in really amazing areas or up lighting and bringing up really high ceilings, things like that. Find out what the best qualities of your home are, whether it’s the view, whether it’s a great bedroom, and make sure you lead people to them. And again, do not forget about the entry door and the foyer, because that is where the first impressions happen.

That’s great, really fabulous tip. It’s almost like you’re asking the seller to remind themselves of what it was that they loved about the space when they first moved in the space.

Ah, yeah! Or what they didn’t like.

Well, I don’t know if they would have moved in the first place if they didn’t like things. But certainly these are fabulous tips for sellers, if they follow each of these things, I’m sure, and it will help to set their homes apart from the others that are on the marketplace.

Absolutely.

Thank you Anjie! Thank you so much for being here. This was fantastic.

Thank you so much. I can’t wait for the next one!

Yes, well maybe next time you’ll talk about the dos and don’ts for buyers, things that they can look out for. 

That’s a great idea! Yes, that’s a great idea.

Fantastic. So I want to thank you again Anjie for joining us and I want to thank our listeners for being there and join us again next week on Coffee Break with Sabra with our next guest.

by Anjie Cho


Coffee Break with Sabra: How to Use Feng Shui for a Long, Happy Marriage

I was interviewed on weekly program called “Coffee Break With Sabra."  The topic was: "Ecstatic about Your Engagement?  How to use Feng Shui For a Long, Happy Marriage".

Many couples preparing for marriage focus only on their big wedding day – the cake, the flowers, the place, the dress! But what really makes a marriage lasting and enduring through of the ups and downs and of life’s adventures?

Listen and learn feng shui techniques to maintaining and creating a long, happy marriage.

by Anjie Cho