Building a new house in Palo Alto

Building a new house in Palo Alto

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Building for resale value: Feng Shui afflictions to avoid

Three things matter in real estate: Location, Location, Feng Shui.

When my parents learned we had won the bid on our house in Green Acres, Palo Alto, they congratulated us profusely.  "Asians like to buy in that neighborhood," said my father approvingly.  "Mmm hmm," I responded, as if I had known that all along.  (As an Asian kid, you've got to take credit for good decisions whenever you can.)  Wondering if there was any truth to the statement, I ventured on a fact-checking mission.  Here's what I found from the 2010 US Census Bureau:
Asians in California:  13%
In San Francisco Bay Area:  23.3%
By city:
  Cupertino: 63.3%
  Sunnyvale: 40.9%
  San Francisco:  33.3%
  San Jose: 32%
  Mountain View: 26%
  Los Altos: 23.5%
  Palo Alto: 21%
  Menlo Park:  9.9%
  East Palo Alto: 3.8%
Asians in our Palo Alto zip code (94306): 29.5%
Asians at our neighborhood high school (Gunn): 34.9%
Indeed, like a weird murmuration of starlings, Asians are flocking to the South Bay in record numbers and nesting in our hood.  Not knowing what to make of this information, I turned to our all-knowing real estate agent, Erika Enos who told me a cautionary tale about an Asian ailment called tetraphobia.

Early in her career Erika worked with a young Asian American couple looking to buy their first home.  They scoured the Peninsula in search of the perfect abode.  When they finally found it, they drafted up an offer, signed the disclosure papers, prepared a deposit, and waited with crossed fingers like all hopeful buyers.  When the seller accepted their offer they rejoiced at their good fortune.  However during escrow, the young couple took their parents (who were generously helping them with the down payment) to see what would soon be their new home.  Much to their surprise, they got no further than the front door when their parents demanded that they not buy the house.  The reason?  Bad feng shui.  The inauspicious house number: 444 would lead to certain demise, they insisted.  In the end the couple, like all good Asian kids dependent on the largesse of their parents, backed out of the offer.

Whaaa?!  Stories like these make my head explode.  What other crazy Asian deal breakers do I not know about?!  Half out of fear and half out of a desire for ultimate perfection, I decided our house plans  would undergo an audit by a critical Asian eye.  A real Asian too, not a twinkie like me and definitely not my parents, disciples of the of McFrugal school of thought, who said they'd have no problem buying a 444 house for the right price.  No, I need ruthless Asian scrutiny...I want feng shui for anal retentives...whatever it takes to get an A+ in Asian studies, I told my husband shaking my fists in the air as he backed away slowly.

Fortunately for us, my Singaporean friend Dr Jin Peh happens to be a feng shui master.  (Side note for parents: Jin actually finished med school and residency and could be a doctor but has found much more success as a feng shui practitioner).  Not only is Jin the resident feng shui columnist for Hong Kong's South China Morning Post, but he also globe trots around the world doing feng shui assessments for clients in places like Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Australia, US, Canada, Switzerland, Germany, Kuwait, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.  Who cares about Facebook millionaires and their new money?  Once the Feng Shui doctor is done with us, our house is going to be fit for a rich Arab sheikh, I say.

Dr. Jin's Feng Shui Afflictions to Avoid

1.  No front door - back door alignment
Jin says when deciding whether or not to buy a house, "note the position of the front door; is there a direct line between it and a window, balcony or bedroom door? If so, say no!"  When the front door directly faces a back door or window it is believed that energy or "chi" (and wealth) will come in and flow right out.  We originally had a window directly across from our front door, but we shifted it over to the left out of view of the front door.  This was easy enough to do at the planning stages and didn't have any impact on the aesthetics of our house.  Phew, close call!

2.  Avoid the T-junction
This blog post is
brought to you by the
letter T & number 4
A classic feng shui concept is one of poison arrows and "sha chi" which refers to negative energy attacking your house.  A common example of a poison arrow is a road that points toward your front door, which is why most feng shui believers will not buy a home situated at the end of a street facing a T-junction.  Regardless of whether you want to call it sha chi or not, most people are not fond of headlights shining into their windows as cars approach at night or bad drivers careening into their lawn.  Landscaping and adjusting the placement of the front door and windows can alleviate such issues, but generally these homes translate to lower resale values.

3.  Beware of house numbers ending in 4
The reason the number four is considered inauspicious is because in many Asian countries the word four sounds similar to the word death.  Saying "I live at 444 Cherry Lane" is the same as saying "I live at death-death-death Cherry Lane."  When it comes to house numbers, the last digit is the critical one.  In fact, in many Asian buildings there is no fourth floor or any other floor that ends in four.  It's not always going to be a deal breaker, but consider it analogous to a house number of 13 or 666.  On the flip side, the number eight, which sounds like "fortune" in Chinese, is considered good luck.  This is why realtors often choose a selling price that ends with 88--double fortune to lure in Asian buyers (sure enough, our house was listed this way).  Fortunately our house number doesn't end in a 4 and we're not at a T-junction, so we're in good shape so far.

4.  Stay clear of sleep & health impediments
According to the feng shui doctor, when sleeping, there should not be any overhanging structures (i.e. lights, overhead fans) above your body.  The same principle applies to exposed beams and uneven or vaulted ceilings which are believed to apply downward pressure to the body.  Ideally there should be a flat ceiling above a bed for the best health.   Beams are believed to cut into the body's energy and other overhead obstructions interfere with the natural flow of chi.  Beds should not point towards a toilet, be on the opposite side of a wall as a toilet, or be located directly above the kitchen stove.  Beds should not be placed underneath a window or on the same wall as the bedroom door, as it is believed a solid wall is necessary for proper support.

Argh, so many rules!  We started worrying that we wouldn't be allowed to have a bed in the master.  Fortunately, the good doctor told us that the bed can face the bathroom as long as no one who is sleeping in the bed has their feet pointing directly to the toilet door.  If this happens, the doctor recommends that you keep the door closed when sleeping.  One best practice that our architect follows is she always tries to design bedrooms in a way that allows for at least two possible bed configurations.  This gives residents the flexibility to decide what works best for them and avoid taboo furniture placements.  As for overhead, we chose coved ceilings that slightly raise the height of the room but are mostly flat and chi-friendly.  In the guest suite we decided to forgo our original plan of vaulted ceilings and exposed beams since we want our favorite feng shui master to have a restful night sleep when he visits us (and it was the perfect place to put attic space instead).

5.  Bedroom doors facing each other
Another key feng shui principle is that bedroom doors should not directly face each other or a bathroom.  Ideally, the door to a child's bedroom should not be opposite that of their parents, otherwise "conflicts may arise," says Jin.   Unfortunately, it looks like our future kid #2 may have to deal with some conflict.   We originally had the master and bedroom #2 facing each other.  The rooms are separated by a long wide hallway so we were able to shift the doors a couple feet over.  We weren't able to completely avoid an overlap, but the two doors are now slightly offset from each other.   Jin agreed that the new configuration was much better...maybe I'll only be half of a tiger mom.

These are just a few of the more common afflictions to avoid.  There are so many considerations when it comes to placement of rooms, doors, windows, stoves, toilets, furniture, landscaping, and the list goes on.  In the end, my true twinkie came out and I opted to for a pass/fail rating instead going for the A+.  Much to our relief the feng shui doctor gave our house plans his stamp of approval.  For those of you who want to learn more, I highly recommend Jin's book, Feng Shui: a Hong Kong Perspective.  It's an easy-to-read collection of over 250 feng shui columns that have been published over the last five years in the South China Morning Post.  You can purchase an electronic copy here or buy the book from Amazon UK.  I have a copy in case any of you locals want to check it out.  Below is the table of contents and a few sample excerpts.  You can also read Jin's latest feng shui articles here: South China Morning Post.

Feng Shui : Living in Harmony
- A Hong Kong Perspective

Chapter 1: Feng Shui Theory
Chapter 2: The Bedroom (Click To Preview)
Chapter 3: Children and Pregnancy

Chapter 4: Colours, Numbers and Water
Chapter 5: Date Selection
Chapter 6: Festivals
Chapter 7: Decorations and Symbols
Chapter 8: Doors and Windows
Chapter 9: Exteriors
Chapter 10: Feng Shui Calculations
Chapter 11: Internal Shapes and Structures
Chapter 12: Mirrors
Chapter 13: The Office and Work
Chapter 14: Other Rooms (Click To Preview)
Chapter 15: Spiritual Matters
Chapter 16: Chinese Astrology
Chapter 17: Chinese Names


  1. Interestingly enough, one of the first reasons Jay was drawn on our house when we looked at it, was the house number: 3456. :)

    1. That, combined with your lucky cats makes for an auspicious home indeed!

  2. Oh no we need help on the chi/wealth flowing out the back door. And I think we may be sleeping over a stove. Better than slaving over one though...

    1. To keep the chi from rushing out, the Feng Shui doctor says you can put a large plant between the front and back door. I'll have to look into the stove, but I imagine you're fine as long as no one is flambéing while you're sleeping.

  3. OMG, flashback! When designing our house, we had a number of opinions from people (mostly parents and elders). But NO ONE told me about the bedroom doors not facing each other!!! It really hasn't caused friction, it's only been easier for the two-year-old to wander over in the middle of the night and climb straight into our bed.

    1. Good to know, we ended up having the doors directly facing each other. Was just way more practical. Some of the feng shui rules make a lot of sense to me, others not so much. We actually like opening the windows in the two rooms in the evening to create a breeze across the second story.