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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

December 2011 Real Estate Market Update

December 2011 Real Estate Market Update:

December showed a bounceback in buyer activity from a slight slowdown in September through the first half of November. Pending sales were up along with showing and website activity.

With 2011 as the year the market began to move off the bottom, the focus now turns to how fast will we get "back to where we were?" With the extent of the market decline and the economy's slow growth, most of the real estate industry is cautious in predicting getting back to peak levels. Over time, values will return to and even exceed peak levels and they will do so faster than expected (just as we fell faster than expected). What we are seeing day-to-day "on the ground" is strong pent-up buyer demand for residential real estate and buyers willing to pay more than the asking price (albeit at prices 40% off peak). This activity is not being reflected in the national statistics since they tend to be four to eight months behind current market activity.

Based on a steadily improving economy and using a combination of historical appreciation rates and an estimate of the decline in foreclosed properties, the following is our current forecast of home values.
We have moved from a peak valuation point in 2005 to the bottom point in early 2011. A little over five years to hit the bottom of the market and it should take about the same amount of time to recover as well. Interest rates are the biggest wild card in a steady recovery. With property values at a low-point, there is room in the market for higher rates without hurting demand. However, if rates rise dramatically, three to four years from now when values have recovered, to a degree, this could result in another market set back extending the "back to peak" point a few years. The main point of this exercise is to show that "peak" values are a few years away, so if a seller is waiting for their 2005 values, they should plan on a few years, not months. But, keep in mind, all boats rise in a recovery, so as a seller waits for their value to rise, the property they want to purchase rises as well (but in the future, at higher interest rates and payments).

The banks are expected to increase their inventory release rate, which will have some impact on appreciation rates this year. However, a large share of those properties are in poor condition and therefore will tend to draw investors and bulk buyers, with less impact on the typical single family property sale. Overall, it cannot be said enough that 2012 and, probably, 2013 will still be in that perfect balance of being an improving seller's market as well as a great buyer's market.

As for our Company activity, 2011 compared to 2010 show the steady improvement we have been talking about all year. We hit another milestone, breaking last year's record for the most real estate transactions by any broker in Michigan, which is 17,252. We also had a total of 26,295 customers served and 261 sales associates achieving their own personal record years as well!

If you'd like more information on the market, like to list your property, or want information on any property from any broker, you may call or email at anytime.

Thank you,

Suzanne O'Brien
Your Expert Advisor
P: 313-516-6644

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Ask The Experts: House Can’t Be Separated from Other Assets In Trust

Ask The Experts: House Can’t Be Separated from Other Assets In Trust

Posted By susanne On January 11, 2012 @ 5:07 pm In Today's Home Spun Wisdom | No Comments

[1](MCT)—Many homeowners are struggling with upside-down home loans. How to pass those troubled mortgages on to children in a trust can be a challenge.

Here’s some advice on that topic from John B. Kelly, a certified financial planner in Folsom, Calif.

Question: I have two houses with mortgages. I’m upside down on one of them, but continuing to make payments. Can I have two separate revocable trusts, each with one of the homes? The idea is that when I die, my children won’t have to worry about the “upside-down” home draining resources from my modest trust, which would include the other home. A friend told me he had heard of this. Please help; I’m confused.

Answer: I applaud your efforts to navigate for your family during this difficult economic period. Unfortunately, I’m advised by legal counsel that two separate revocable trusts will not help.

While you are alive, your trust is not considered a separate entity from you. Putting the two houses in separate trusts will not keep them from creditors while you are alive. When you die, all of the assets in all of your revocable trusts are available to pay creditors.

Your loan documents probably address this specifically. Your children will have the option to refinance or pay off the mortgages. If your children do not want to keep the house that is upside down, your estate or trust may be able to default on the loan and give the house to the bank without owing anything from your other assets. That’s the case as long as the mortgage is from the original purchase.

If it is from a refinance, the lender could get a deficiency judgment, which would require your children to use your other estate assets to pay off the debt. In that case, your children would not have to pay the mortgage from their own assets. But they may have to sell or refinance the house that has equity in order to pay off the judgment.

The general rule is that assets cannot pass to your beneficiaries at your death until any debts, such as a lien or judgment, are paid off.

Please check with your own attorney who has expertise in real estate and estate matters.

If you'd like more information on the market, like to list your property, or want information on any property from any broker, you may call or email at anytime.

Thank you,

Suzanne O'Brien
Your Expert Advisor
P: 313-516-6644

Monday, January 16, 2012

Mortgage Rates Continue Trend of Record-Breaking Lows

Mortgage Rates Continue Trend of Record-Breaking Lows

Posted By susanne On January 15, 2012 @ 1:07 pm In Business Outlook,Consumer News and Advice,Finance and Economy,Home Owner News,Real Estate Information,Real Estate News,Real Estate Trends,Today's Marketplace,Today's Top Story | No Comments

[1]Freddie Mac recently released the results of its Primary Mortgage Market Survey®, showing mortgage rates easing to new all-time record lows for all products covered in the survey helping to keep homebuyer affordability high. The average for the 30-year fixed mortgage rate has been below 4.00 percent for six consecutive weeks.

The survey concluded that the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 3.89 percent, with an average 0.7 point for the week ending January 12, 2012, down from last week when it averaged 3.91 percent. Last year at this time, the 30-year FRM averaged 4.71 percent.

The 15-year FRM this week averaged 3.16 percent with an average 0.8 point, down from last week when it averaged 3.23 percent. A year ago at this time, the 15-year FRM averaged 4.08 percent.

Additionally, the 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) averaged 2.82 percent this week, with an average 0.7 point, down from last week when it averaged 2.86 percent. A year ago, the 5-year ARM averaged 3.72 percent.

Results showed that the 1-year Treasury-indexed ARM averaged 2.76 percent this week with an average 0.6 point, down from last week when it averaged 2.80 percent. At this time last year, the 1-year ARM averaged 3.23 percent.

“Mortgage rates eased slightly this week to all-time record lows following mixed indicators in the labor market,” says Frank Nothaft, the vice president and chief economist of Freddie Mac. “Although the economy added 1.6 million jobs in 2011, which was the most since 2006, the unemployment rate remained historically elevated.”

If you'd like more information on the market, like to list your property, or want information on any property from any broker, you may call or email at anytime.

Thank you,

Suzanne O'Brien
Your Expert Advisor
P: 313-516-6644

Friday, January 13, 2012

Tips on Saving Big on Monthly Expenses

Tips on Saving Big on Monthly Expenses

Posted By susanne On January 12, 2012 @ 4:53 pm In Today's Home Spun Wisdom | No Comments

[1]The beginning of a new year is the perfect time to resolve to save money. With just a few basic lifestyle changes, renters can save up to $368 per month, or $4,416 per year!

Finding the perfect balance between pinching pennies and enjoying your home and life can be difficult, but easy money-saving techniques can help your readers stay on budget in 2012. By making eight simple changes in your home, renters can save up to $368 per month.

1. Ditch Cable - Renters pay, on average, $100 per month for cable television. Busy lifestyles mean that many rarely get to watch shows when they air, and rely on services like DVR to watch their favorite programs later. Why not consider a service like Hulu Plus or Netflix? It’s simple to connect your computer to your television and watch TV when it’s convenient for you.
· Average Savings per Month: $92

2. Space-by-space Heat – Energy bills run, on average, $183 per month. By using a space heater in the rooms where you need it and setting the thermostat to 62 degrees, you can save approximately $200 each year.
· Average Savings per Month: $17

3. Cut the Phone Cord – With all of the functionality of smart phones, a landline may be unnecessary. By eliminating a monthly telephone bill, renters can save, on average, $35 per month.
· Average Savings per Month: $35

4. Illuminate Your Savings - While not a large savings monthly, replacing light bulbs with an Energy Star qualified light bulb can save $6 per year, and nearly $40 over its lifetime—and it will last six times longer. For example, if you have six lamps in your apartment, you can save $3 per month. It may not seem like a lot, but the savings will add up over time.
· Average Savings per Month: $3

5. Skip the Hot Water – By doing your laundry in cold water rather than hot, you reduce energy usage by 90 percent and can save $72 per year! Plus, your clothes will be just as clean.
· Average Savings per Month: $6

6. Work Out in Comfort - Skip the gym membership and save, on average, $775 per year. In many cities, you will find the savings to be even more. You can still get in your workouts—consider running, or many exercises that can be done with little or no equipment in the comfort of your own home.
· Average Savings per Month: $65

7. Use Your Kitchen – You are paying rent for your kitchen, whether you use it or not. The average American eats out 6 times per month, spending an average of $172. Eat out just once a month and cook at home instead.
· Average Savings per Month: $144

8. Pull the Plug – By unplugging appliances and electronics when you are not using them, you can save a bundle on energy. Unplugging one fax machine, one computer monitor, and one television can save $70 per year. Just turning it off is not enough.
· Average Savings per Month: $6

If you are renting in one of the top 10 most expensive cities, you may find your savings to be even more. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics, the following metropolitan areas have the highest cost of living, as determined by the consumer price index as of August 2011.

1. New York/Northern New Jersey/Long Island, N.Y./N.J./Conn./Pa.
2. Philadelphia/Wilmington/Atlantic City, Pa./N.J./Del./M.D.
3. San Francisco/Oakland/San Jose, Calif.
4. Seattle/Tacoma/Bremerton, Wash.
5. Miami/Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
6. Los Angeles/Riverside/Orange County, Calif.
7. Chicago/Gary/Kenosha, Ill./Ind./Wis.
8. Detroit/Ann Arbor/Flint, Mich.
9. Atlanta, Ga.
10. Houston/Galveston/Brazoria, TX

If you'd like more information on the market, like to list your property, or want information on any property from any broker, you may call or email at anytime.

Thank you,

Suzanne O'Brien
Your Expert Advisor
P: 313-516-6644

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Real Estate Market Update

Michigan Monthly Market Update - November 2011

The market continues its march towards recovery, but at an inconsistent pace. For example, November started out at a slower rate, but picked up speed toward the end of the month, catching up with last year, not surprisingly following the consumer confidence trend as well as car sales. Comerica's Michigan Economic Activity Index confirms our jumpy recovery, showing the economy moving in a consistent range, bumping up and down within that range.

The number of new listings coming on the market continues to decline, with sales rising (compared to 2010), causing the Months Supply of Inventory (MSI) to fall to a seasonally adjusted low point for the year. There is no doubt a constantly declining MSI will push home value up, and we have seen evidence of that over the past six months with over bids on many homes. The overall MSI is still above 5 months, which is considered a neutral market (for appreciation). In reality, the market is moving in two speeds, about 1/3 at under 2 months and 2/3's at over 7 months with the average being 5 months. For the most part homes are either selling quickly, at or above list price (those in the best condition and priced competitively) or they are still selling at a large discount to asking price (poor condition/location/pricing). With that said, the steady downward MSI trend shows that buyers are beginning to compromise more on what they will accept in terms of condition and features, dipping into the less than salable inventory (but at a discounted price, which temporarily exacerbates the low appraisal issues).

CHART: Solds - Pending Index - Price per Sq. Ft.

The chart above compares this year to the same month last year at three levels, which gives a seasonally adjusted view of each indicator. Home values per square foot have shown a steady rise, particularly over the past five months. Homes sales, both closed (Solds) and pendings (Pending Index) have shown mixed results compared to 2010, mainly as a result of being compared to the tax credit months in 2010. Overall, sales have matched last year, which means natural housing demand has replaced the artificial demand created by the tax credits. The Pending Index on the chart is a projection of closed sales based on the 60 day average lag time from written to closed sales. The index shows that although the growth rate of sales slowed August to November, we can expect a quickening of activity carrying into the new year.

Lastly, Buyer Interest is holding steady in terms of showing appointments and open house visits and we expect this activity to continue going into the new year. So Sellers, if you have been thinking about it, it is still a great time to put your house on the market!

If you'd like more information on the market, like to list your property, or want information on any property from any broker, you may call or email at anytime.

Thank you,

Suzanne O'Brien
Your Expert Advisor
P: 313-516-6644

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Top 5 tax breaks for homeowners

January 11, 2012
Top 5 tax breaks for homeowners
REThink Real Estate
By Tara-Nicholle Nelson
Inman News®

CORRECTION: The original version of this article contained an error, and the article has been updated with a correction. The Internal Revenue Service reports, in Publication 530, "You cannot deduct transfer taxes and charges on the sale of a personal home."

Q: We bought a house this year! We put $33,000 down and the bank financed $28,000. Can I write this off on my 2011 taxes? How much of it?

A: First things first: Congratulations! You've become a homeowner, and seem to have done so using an enviable financial arrangement. But now that you own a home, you might need to shift the way you think and look at some things, including your taxes and other financial matters.

Owning a home is one of those landmarks that signify financial adulthood. And one of the things that responsible financial adults do is get professional help when the situation requires it. Taxes are one of those areas that often do warrant calling the pros in.

I'm not just shilling for the tax prep industry here, either: The ultimate aim of using a tax professional is to make sure you get every deduction, credit and other tax advantage for which you qualify, without jacking up your chances at triggering the universally dreaded Internal Revenue Service audit by claiming dubious deductions.

Your mortgage debt is fairly small, as was your home's purchase price, though I don't know whether they are large or small in the context of your overall financial picture (i.e., income, assets, investments, etc.).

The fact that you saved or somehow came up with such a sizable chunk of change to put down makes me hesitate to assume that your finances are as simple as your mortgage balance might otherwise lead me to believe.

So, it might be the case that you can easily handle your own taxes -- in fact, it's even possible that your real estate-related deductions won't even outweigh the standard deductions, so that filing a simple form without even itemizing your deductions is actually the financially advantageous move.

Whether that's the case cannot be determined in a vacuum -- you may have other financial and tax issues going on. But with software and tax preparation services as inexpensive as they are, starting at under $20 for simple returns, I think it behooves you to get some professional advice and ensure you get the deductions you need.

Hiring a tax preparer might be a worthwhile investment to make, even if just this year, so he or she can brief you on what records you should keep and strategies you should do moving forward, like home repair and improvement receipts, or documentation of your use of an area of the home as a home office.

Now, let's talk more substantively about the deductions that are available to you, in the event you do decide to itemize your taxes (IRS Publication 530 offers a more nuanced view into Tax Information for Homeowners):

1. Mortgage interest deduction. Assuming this home is your personal residence, 100 percent of the mortgage interest you owe and pay before Dec. 31, 2011, is deductible on your 2011 taxes. In January, your mortgage lender will send you a form documenting the precise amount of interest you paid, although most lenders also now make this form immediately available to borrowers online.

Chances are good that you paid some amount of advance interest on your home loan at closing -- expect to see that on your statement from your lender, but you should also be able to find it on the HUD-1 settlement statement you received from your escrow agent at closing.

2. Property tax deductions. Again, assuming that this is the home you live in most of the time, you should be able to deduct 100 percent of the property taxes you've paid to your state and/or local taxing agency this year.

3. Closing-cost deductions. Discount points and origination fees paid to your mortgage lender and/or broker at closing are frequently deductible, but there are rules around this, which tax software and/or professionals can help you make sure you meet. Note that, according to Internal Revenue Service Publication 530, "You cannot deduct transfer taxes and similar taxes and charges on the sale of a personal home."

There are various home improvements (especially those that increase your home's energy efficiency), state and local tax credits for buying a foreclosure, and other tax advantages that might be available to you.

My advice is to work with an experienced, local tax preparer or, at the very least, use reputable tax preparation software to ensure that you get the maximum tax advantages available to you as a result of your new role as a homeowner.

If you would like expert advise and representation in your next move, please contact me.

Suzanne O'Brien
(313) 516-6644

Friday, January 6, 2012

3 steps to surviving a financial setback

3 steps to surviving a financial setback
Book Review: 'The Wall Street Journal Guide to Starting Fresh'
By Tara-Nicholle Nelson

Book Review
Title: "The Wall Street Journal Guide to Starting Fresh"
Author: Karen Blumenthal
Publisher: Crown Business, 2011; 208 pages; $15

Few things in life signify a fresh start like New Year's. At the risk of stating the obvious, the concept of a fresh start is the most appealing to those who need it. It's only when you've been struggling, floundering or have been through some trials and tribulations that you even need to start over.

And trials and tribulations are precisely what many of us have been through over the last few years, when it comes to our personal finances.

If you've lost a job, lost a home or simply lost a lot of equity in your home or on the stock market, the latest entry to The Wall Street Journal's Guide series might be just what the doctor ordered to help you reboot your money matters this year.

In "The Wall Street Journal Guide to Starting Fresh: How to Leave Financial Hardships Behind and Take Control of Your Financial Life," Wall Street Journal columnist Karen Blumenthal takes an understanding -- and understandable -- approach to tackling the daunting exercise of financial rehab.

This book is not about fancy tricks or secrets; rather, its power lies in the simple, systematic and comprehensive approach it presents, and in its offering of customized prescriptions for special situations (i.e., recently divorced or widowed, recent health disaster, etc.) without overly complicating the book for everyone else.

Blumenthal starts out walking readers through the exercise of conducting an inventory of their life priorities, assets and liabilities, and creating a basic foundation of daily stability (i.e., functional home, transportation, emergency funds, etc.) from which a deeper financial recovery effort can be launched.

This book represents a step-by-step approach to getting your finances under control, resetting your daily finances to align with your new reality, and getting your financial goals and aims back on track. Here are three steps Blumenthal provides for starting fresh, after experiencing money trauma:

1. Build your "trust team." Blumenthal recommends interviewing and seeking advice on your financial plan from a trustworthy financial adviser, attorney and tax preparer.

In addition to providing interview questions for these folks, she also recommends avoiding debt settlement firms (most cannot do anything you can't do for yourself) and accessing low- or no-cost resources like nonprofit credit counselors, the IRS' Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program and even support groups.

It might seem unrealistic to pay for advice if cash flow is tight, but I've seen many strapped households make costly errors as a result of doing some things on their own. Especially if you're considering a short sale or walking away from your home, it behooves you to consult with a local attorney and tax preparer first; I would personally add a local agent and mortgage broker to the list.

2. Adapt to your new reality. Have you ever known someone who's fallen on hard times, but can't seem to give up the creature comforts of his or her former life? Blumenthal reality-checks such readers, exhorting them to recalibrate their monthly budget and expenses in line with their new situation.

From deciding whether to move or stay in your home, whether and how to seek a loan modification, and making necessary alterations to plans around college and car expenses, Blumenthal walks readers through the big decisions and changes they must consider to press the financial reset button.

3. Invest for your future. When we encounter financial hard times, it's easy to get stuck in survival mode, and continually postpone turning our attentions back to our future financial plans. Blumenthal tries to snap readers out of this, reminding them to shift their viewpoints from right now to the future, and to re-up their focus on investing, saving and insuring.

As she provides resources for configuring a new financial plan, Blumenthal provides some very user-friendly tools for necessary need-to-knows around reading and understanding stock market information.

To be sure, this book is a better fit for those who have a job and can pay their monthly living expenses, but are seeking to reconfigure their savings, investment and housing strategies to thrive over the long term in light of recent life and economic changes.

(If you are truly struggling just to make ends meet or have a problem with chronic debt, I would recommend Karen McCall's "Financial Recovery" as a more appropriate starting point; you can circle back to "Fresh" after things have stabilized.)

If you would like expert advise and representation in your next move, please contact me.

Suzanne O'Brien
(313) 516-6644

Thursday, January 5, 2012

6 ways to save your underwater home

6 ways to save your underwater home
By Tara-Nicholle Nelson
Inman News®

What seemed like a housing market downturn is now nearly universally seen as the new normal. Accordingly, many homeowners are taking a tough look at their mortgage situations in this stark light.

This New Year's season, I've received a massive influx of reader questions -- quasi-challenges, really -- asking me why they shouldn't just walk away from their underwater homes and upside-down mortgages.

If you've read my work at all, you'll know that I almost never give an absolute answer to such an important question. The decision whether to walk away from your home is too big and too personal, and there are simply too many variables -- legal, financial, credit, tax, personal, lifestyle, family, etc. -- at play for me to give a glib black-and-white answer.

If you're trying to make this decision now, it absolutely behooves you to consult with a reputable real estate broker, mortgage broker, local attorney and local tax professional -- at minimum.

However, I've also noticed that most upside-down homeowners don't really want to default on their mortgages. If you count yourself in that number, I thought I'd take the opportunity this New Year's week to encourage you to harness the renewed energy and commitment that comes along this time of year and provide you with some direction for it, in the vein of avoiding foreclosure if you decide that is the right path for you.

Here are six alternatives to walking away, some more obvious, some less, but all underutilized, from my vantage point.

1. Get rid of your credit card debt. Again, this might seem obvious, but I've encountered a number of people who say they can't afford their mortgage payments who actually could afford them if they dealt with their credit card and other debt.

Call your creditors and make an effort to settle your debt; many will take a lump sum payment much lower than your balance. While this might have tax and credit score implications, it might also help you keep your house. Or work through steps No. 2 and No. 3, below, to just eliminate those balances, by any means necessary.

2. Get a second job. This seems obvious, too, but I believe it's simply not done nearly as often as it should be, mostly out of pride and emotional defeatism.

You already work 40 hours a week. You're already tired. But you know what? I know MBAs who got into a bad debt situation and are climbing their way out with high-end, table-waiting tips. It won't last forever and, again, could be very much worth it.

If you're not up for this sort of hustle, and you're a white-collar professional, there are tons of consulting or contract gigs out there to be had, which can help you catch up on missed mortgage payments or bring down your debt.

3. Start a side business. Sites like Etsy, TaskRabbit and elance allow people to monetize their spare time, quirky hobbies and special skills. I know a journalist who nearly matches her day-job income dog-sitting while she writes.

4. Rent a room -- or two -- out. Put your man cave on Trulia or Craigslist for rent. If you can't stomach the idea of a permanent roommate, check out Airbnb and see if you can generate some extra cash renting out your rooms to those visiting for short periods of time.

5. Apply for everything. Decide right now to simply refuse to be deterred by the first roadblock that comes up in your pursuit of a loan modification -- and there might be many. Commit, instead, to applying for everything for which you might possibly qualify, and don't make assumptions about what programs might work for you (many loan mod programs have loosened their guidelines or gotten more efficient over time).

Apply through your lender to the federal HARP program, and also to the lender's own loan mod program. Visit this federal site to determine whether there are additional state programs available to you under Treasury's Hardest Hit Fund. Apply to the wildly successful (as these things go) Home Save program run by NACA.

It ain't over till it's over.

6. Short-sell it. Banks are now taking a couple of years, on average, after the first missed payment to foreclose on and repossess a home. If you list your home for sale with a local agent who has experience closing these transactions right this moment, your chances of selling it and having the short sale complete in time to qualify for the income tax exemption that expires Dec. 31, 2012, are actually better than your chances of qualifying for the exemption if you stop making your mortgage payments right now.

Again, it's ubercritical that you work with professionals, from the folks at NACA to a local agent and attorney and certified public accountant (CPA) if you're seeking a loan mod or a short sale. Beyond advising you about implications to be wary of, the pros can help educate you about the full scope of options available to you.

Your best bet is to run even getting a second job past your trusted advisers before you do it, as it might impact your prospects of getting relief from your lender.

Fortunately, your options for avoiding a foreclosure are not so limited as they might seem at first glance.

If you would like expert advise and representation in your next move, please contact me.

Suzanne O'Brien
(313) 516-6644

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Rethinking the Resolution: Be Kind to Yourself in 2012

Rethinking the Resolution: Be Kind to Yourself in 2012

Posted By Suzanne On January 2, 2012 @ 2:39 pm In Today's Top Story - Consumer

[1](MCT)—After the indulgences of the holidays, in January we repent. We pledge to exercise more, eat less, save money, work harder. Sometimes we even extend these noble pledges to our spouses, sweethearts and kids.

No wonder a third of New Year’s resolutions fizzle before February hits. They are vague. And, worthy goals as they may be, they are bummers.

But self-improvement needn’t be a sad homework assignment demanding prudence and sacrifice. Perhaps we’d be more inclined to follow through if we resolved to be kinder to ourselves, to make our lives easier, to lighten our load.

Wish to be tidier? Promise to hire a maid to come to your house twice a month. Want to be more efficient on the job? Sign up for a class that requires you to leave work by 5:30 p.m.

From travel to food to love, a constellation of experts from varied fields offered advice for easing stress in the coming year.


Get centered before each segment of your day. Sit up straight, close your eyes and take three deep breaths so that you can channel your attention fully into the present moment. Doing this between projects, or as you transition from work life to home life, will help you be more efficient and connected to your purpose within each relationship or experience. —Terri Cooper, CEO of 305 Yoga & Outreach in Miami and founder of the Yoga Gangsters, a nonprofit that brings yoga to at-risk youth

Make a list of all your commitments and find a few to eliminate. Just send an email explaining that your plate is too full and you can’t commit anymore. —Leo Babauta, founder of

Making your time count

Identify the areas/endeavors in life that mean the most, and work for the “A-plus” there. In the other areas, let a “B” or even “C” work for you. Sometimes “good enough” is indeed just that. Get back to basics and figure out what you love to do, and commit to bringing that passion forward in any way you can. At the minimum, invest one hour a week doing what brings you utter joy and fuels your passion. The more creative, frivolous, exciting, outlandish and enlivening, the better. —Kathy Caprino, owner of career coaching firm Ellia Communications in Wilton, Conn.

Get in the habit of turning off your screens when you do not have a definite purpose for using them. The biggest time-waster in modern life is what I call “screen-sucking,” (which) refers to time spent in front of a screen of any kind, mindlessly sending and receiving messages and images of all kinds. One remedy is TIO: Turn it off. —Edward Hallowell psychiatrist and author of “CrazyBusy: Overstretched, Overbooked and About to Snap!” (Ballantine)

Learn to cook a few simple sauces (that can be) the base for several dishes. For example, a tomato sauce can turn into marinara sauce. A marinara sauce can be used as the base for spaghetti sauce, chicken Parmesan, spaghetti and meatballs, tomato bisque, etc. —Susan Harrell, personal chef, personal trainer and owner of My Cuisine Coach in Jacksonville, Fla.


Take turns planning downtime. Reciprocity is a great way to strengthen your emotional connection. Each partner writes down a date idea and you exchange notes. Maybe his idea of a fun night out is bowling. Hers might be a foreign film. Balance your time off together by alternating plans. When one partner is always the planner, you can get in a rut.

Also, share a brand-new activity. Research shows that engaging in an activity that is new to both partners triggers emotions that are similar to the ones you had when you first met. So, at least once a month do a new or novel activity with your partner. Go to a new restaurant. Visit a nearby museum you’ve never been to. Take a cooking class or go out dancing. This new activity will feel like a first date —and you and your partner will get to feel excited all over again. —Terri Orbuch, marriage therapist and author of “5 Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage From Good to Great” (Random House)


Set clear and high expectations without any unhealthy pressure. While we want to be informed parents, we don’t want to tie ourselves in knots trying to do everything just right. For example, you can encourage your kids to eat healthy without turning into the food police. Have a bowl of fruit on the table and a bowl of cutup veggies in the refrigerator. To encourage exercise, choose video games that make your child move. We want our kids to learn self-discipline and the importance of effort, but we don’t want to run our family like a boot camp.

Remember, parenting is a delayed gratification activity. We should consider whatever rewards we get along the way as bonuses. However, the payoff does come — when our kids turn out to be the kind of adults we can be proud of. —David Walsh, Minneapolis-based psychologist, author of “Smart Parenting, Smarter Kids” (Free Press)


Consider a day pass in your airline’s VIP lounge. You’ll relax in comfortable chairs while almost everyone else is sitting in hard chairs bolted to the floor in the gate area. Use miles to upgrade, or pay to fly business class. The extra space (and attention) you get upfront is the ultimate de-stresser. —David Ourisman, California-based independent travel consultant affiliated with luxury agency Brownell Travel

Money wisdom

Take a step back and evaluate how you and your partner interact about financial issues. Do you meet regularly to touch base about the family money? Do you argue about money? Do you hide certain purchases from your spouse? There are five “money personalities:” Spender, Saver, Security Seeker, Risk Taker, Flyer. Understanding your — and your partner’s — money personality takes the mystery and stress out of day-to-day financial interactions. (Find out your money personality at —Bethany and Scott Palmer, financial advisers and authors of “First Comes Love, Then Comes Money” (HarperCollins)

Automate. If you aren’t automatically paying bills every month, set it up with your bank so you never miss a payment deadline. Use a free site like, which helps you track all of your monthly accounts on one page. Link your checking account to a savings account and make a regular contribution every time you get paid.

Also, create a Financial Rule of Thumb. Whether it’s “no jeans over $75” or “no more pricey beverages when dining out,” we humans gravitate toward rules of thumb. We like having guidelines to fall back on because making decisions is sometimes difficult. —Farnoosh Torabi, author of “Psych Yourself Rich” (FT Press)

Entertaining friends

Get your guests involved. If you are hosting a potluck dinner, ask your guests what dish they want to bring and what task they want to do that evening. Will you set the table? Be in charge of the flowers? How about signing up for taking out the trash? These assignments will allow the host to actually enjoy the gathering. And take the focus off trying to be the perfect host, and channel that energy into finding one or two things that pay a small tribute to your guests. For example, serve their favorite wine, or incorporate something on the table such as a napkin treatment that plays to their hobbies or special interests. —Cheryl Najafi, Arizona-based party planner, creator of


Many people think a walk on a leash is enough exercise for a dog. It’s not. Make the time for a good, hard play session (fetch, tug, “find it”), a hike off leash in a safe/legal place or some other form of canine aerobic exercise. Not only does exercise use up some of the energy your dog might otherwise apply to inappropriate activities (so you can relax without worrying about what he might be getting into), a good round of aerobic exercise causes a release of feel-good mood-regulating endorphins that will help your canine companion be a happier dog. —Pat Miller, owner of Peaceable Paws dog training in Fairplay, Md.

If you would like expert advise and representation in your next move, please contact me.

Suzanne O'Brien
(313) 516-6644