All posts by nozenji

The Big Short, Zen, and Chogyam Trungpa

Big ShortSee these guys? These guys are portraying big money investor types on Wall street in The Big Short, which I just came home from seeing. These are the kind of people who have 50 million dollars to invest, in something. I never got even remotely close to anyone like this, but I was taking on mortgages during that era and I saw the madness on the street level up close.

In 1998 I wrote this poem:

“Middle aged white men with excellent credit, the Mortgage Man and I become kings of the Earth for a while.

Our bald heads shine in the soft Spring sunlit office, and his eyes twinkle as he spins out sheets and sheets of numbers.

My income and debts expand and contract with only a moments thought, and what I’m worth and how much I can afford all depends on how we look at them. Kings of the Earth can borrow enough to do anything !

His friends, the lenders, love me. My credit history shines for them like the Hope Diamond. They will lend me more money than I could ever pay back !!”

And that was what the banks did, they lent money to hundreds of thousands of people who couldn’t afford to repay them, and that’s what led to the Great Recession that almost brought down the world economy, and cost 6 million their homes. But I’m going to highlight a different side to the crisis that the movie ignores.

As mentioned in the movie I could get, and did get, more than one, “no income verification” loans. In other words, all you had to do was tell the lender how much you made and no one checked to see if you were telling the truth ! The Mortgage broker often encouraged me to borrow more and more money during those years, I remember having to say no thanks to huge loans that I couldn’t afford. But you know what saves us from being seduced? Practice.

Chogyam Trungpa tells us that, “Wisdom is seeing and knowing.” In everyday language you could interpret this as, “If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.” Because if someone is offering you a deal which is going to screw you over, you can SEE and KNOW that. Now, anyone can become more wise. It’s not a factor of your IQ, or your background, or your education. Trungpa tells us how to become more wise, “The Earthy situation of actual things as they are is the source of wisdom. You can become completely one with smell, with sight, with sound, and your knowledge about them ceases to exist; your knowledge becomes wisdom.”

So, I was wise, I saw, and knew, that this whole thing was a trap, and I could lose my shirt, so I said no. I tapped out my little numbers on my little calculator and knew that I couldn’t make the big payments on these big loans and I said no, many times. You can too. Just say No when a deal seems too good to be true. Be wise. And, if you’re not wise, there is hope. There are things you can do that will help you be more wise. They are hard works, they involve being more present, and Seeing and Knowing.





It’s always easy…..

It’s always easy to take good tenants for granted. Especially if they rarely call you with problems. I try to send a little something once in a while to let them know I appreciate them…..IMG_4337

The Way to Stay in Business, and Create Less Suffering, is to Extend Compassion in All Directions.

9I guess I’m not much of a blogger, for months on end I have nothing to say, but I have been thinking lately about an earlier post I wrote about Compassion. Specifically, “Extending compassion in all directions.”

Often, I see people causing problems for themselves and for others because we all tend to focus on what is in front of us, and forget what’s going on, on the sides, behind, above and below us.

When compassion is directed in one direction, for example, at your tenant, or your partner, or on yourself, you are missing a huge part of the picture.

When people who want to be Good become landlords, they tend to direct compassion towards their tenants only. Maybe they keep their rent artificially low so that the tenant will like them and be their friend. Or maybe this is what they think a good Christian or Buddhist or Muslim should do, and there is some basis for that. I think there have been rotten selfish landlords throughout human history.

There is nothing wrong with behaving this way, if it sustains all involved, and creates less suffering.

However, if doing this is going to put you out of business, even if it takes 15 years, this is not a wise manifestation of compassion. Does the landlord/lady have kids ? We need to think of them too, who’s going to pay for their college ? A spouse who needs health insurance? Your rental income can help with that. How about the lenders who helped you acquire your real estate ? They need to be on our radar too. If you screw up and can’t make your payments, that’s causing harm to whomever’s money you used to buy your rental. It’s also harmful to you. You will probably suffer a lot if you can’t make your mortgage payments !

Here’s what I found on the Huffington Post when I Googled “Idiot Compassion.” A term popularized by Tibetan Buddhist teacher Chogyam Trungpa.

“…this is known as wise compassion, action that is inherently skillful, that sees the whole situation and aims to bring release from suffering; its opposite is known as blind or idiot compassion, which does not take into account the whole situation and so, while appearing compassionate, is inherently unskillful and may actually increase suffering. For instance, idiot compassion occurs when we support or condone neurosis, such as giving a slice of cake to an obese friend.” –

The example I use for idiot compassion is the driver who stops hard on a busy street to let a mother and her baby cross. On the surface this sounds like a kind and generous thing to do. But I was once crossing the street with my daughter, when a nice young woman hit her brakes unexpectedly to let us cross. The car full of people behind slammed into her ! The kind driver was looking forward but not behind, just like the unwise landlord. She caused a big problem involving 6 people, and their families, and their Insurance companies, and people’s rates going up, and auto body shops, and the ripples of this crash radiated out and out and out.

My daughter and I could have waited to cross another minute, and none of this would have happened. No one would have suffered at all if the young driver had seen the entire situation, instead of just focusing on what was to the front. Wouldn’t that have been much better ? Even more compassionate ?

Image: AMAZING Buddha statue at Art Institute of Chicago

Here’s a radical idea…. the Landlord as employee.

To my thinking a landlord is an employee of the tenant. The tenant is hiring the landlord to do a job and is going to pay them for the services they provide. In this case why not have a letter of recommendation from your last employer ? If you are a good landlord then your tenant might be happy to provide one for you. If you want to set yourself apart from other landlords you can bet that this will do it !

Here’s one I just received….

September 29th 2014

Dear future renters,

(Name removed) was my landlord for three years and I can say without reservation that he is the best I ever had. And I have had a lot! Unlike so many, he is sane, consistent, unerringly reasonable and fair. With ______, I always knew where I stood.

If something wasn’t working, he fixed it right away. Even when he was on vacation he responded to my texts and calls quickly. Never once did I have to leave a second message.

As a tenant, I also appreciated his concern for the environment. He invests in his properties to keep them energy efficient. The windows are well sealed and the furnaces are extremely efficient. As a result my bills were lower and I didn’t have to feel guilty heating the place to a livable level, as I have in other, draftier places.

When we moved out, _____ gave us all our deposit money back (except for $35 which we totally owed!) and I never had to worry about it. When applying for the apartment ______ showed his letters of recommendation from former tenants and I really appreciated it. I’m thrilled I get to write one for him now.

________ has my wholehearted recommendation. If we hadn’t bought a house, we might never have left. You’re in good hands if you rent from him.

All the best,

Tenant name removed for privacy.

Disappointed applicant, disappointed Landlord.

disappointment“When we refuse to work with our disappointment, we break the Precepts: rather than experience the disappointment, we resort to anger, greed, gossip, criticism. Yet it’s the moment of being that disappointment which is fruitful; and, if we are not willing to do that, at least we should notice that we are not willing. The moment of disappointment in life is an incomparable gift that we receive many times a day if we’re alert. This gift is always present in anyone’s life, that moment when ‘It’s not the way I want it!” Charlotte Joko Beck
Recently a good friend of mine applied for an apartment and didn’t get it. She was so very disappointed that she was almost in tears, very upset and felt rejected. Her response was a very normal one I think, she felt personally rejected by the person “holding the keys” to a beautiful apartment that she wanted to live in. She, as expected, wondered why ? Why was she rejected in this way ? Since I haven’t been a renter in many years I haven’t been on her side of this situation, but, quite a few times I’ve been on the other. The side of what one might call the “rejector.” I can’t remember how many times I’ve had to call an enthusiastic rental applicant and tell them that I decided to rent to someone else. What’s interesting is that I felt very disappointed too. Disappointed that they didn’t make enough money to pay the rent, maybe disappointed that they never submitted the financial information that I asked them for, and, sometimes, even disappointed that I can’t rent the place to all the wonderful people who want it – I have to choose only one tenant ! Above all these disappointments is often just the sadness I feel when I have to tell them I’ve chosen someone else. I often know that the person on the other end of the phone is going to be pretty heartbroken by the news I have to give, and yet I have no choice but to rent to the person most qualified. If I don’t rent to the person most suitable, I know that we all will suffer.
Both the landlord and the perspective tenant can learn from Joko how to work and be transformed by the emotions of this situation. We can throw anger and criticisms at the other person, or we can realize that sometimes there is disappointment in life and no one is to blame for it. “You can’t always get what you want.”
Some disappointments are so major that they even may lead us to suicide, like being asked for a divorce by (who you thought was ) your loving wife or husband. But even these kinds of difficult   experiences can be transformed by the light of awareness. We can become more free by seeing them as temporary manifestations of the human condition, instead of something that has destroyed our life forever.

If you’re gonna get screwed, get screwed by someone you like.

businessman_getting_screwed_lg_clr_st-1I don’t actually mean this sexually, but I like the sound of it, and I guess it applies in that arena as well. What I’m mostly talking about today is the fact that in some business situations one comes away feeling like one has been screwed. Sometimes it’s true, you were screwed ( out of money or time, mostly ) and sometimes it’s not actually true, you didn’t get screwed, you just FEEL like you did. A good example of this comes when dealing with a contractor or a craftsperson. You, the client, thinks that the job will be done in X hours, but it takes 3 TIMES X hrs. You think you’ve gotten screwed, but in reality, the fact is, when a person does a job they get very close to the situation, and what the situation truly needs. For them to do a good job it sometimes takes a lot longer than you, or maybe even THEY, thought. This is where liking the person comes in, if you like the person, and hopefully trust them, you can say to yourself, well, so-and-so is a nice guy, I LIKE them…. so it’s not so bad. Because, the truth is, for a lot of us, in a lot of client-contractor situations, you don’t know if you got screwed or not, because you are not an expert on this work being hired. If you were, you probably would have done it yourself !

This has happened to me the most often when hiring a painter, I don’t paint very much anymore, but when I do I remember just how long prep work takes. A lot longer that you think.

The second title of this post might be “if you’re going to get screwed, get screwed by someone you trust.” This is an alternative, if you can’t find someone you like, at least find someone you trust ( or vice versa). That way, when the cost of the job comes in at triple what you originally thought, you can trust that the cost is legitimate and you are not actually being taken. You just didn’t know all the details of what needed to be done and how long and how much it would take. I think this is the inevitable reality of being a business person who goes into an unknown situation and and your main intention is to not harm anyone. Generally, in the long run, you are going to be OK if you are wise and compassionate, but sometimes, along the way, you might get screwed, and if you like the person, it will hurt a lot less. And, since you are a Zen Landlord, you know that there’s no fundamental YOU anyway, so there’s no one getting screwed at all ! In fact, maybe the whole process went exactly the way it should !

But, as Joko Beck used to say, “Being compassionate doesn’t mean that you are a doormat.”

Good advice from a Tibetan Buddhist Teacher

mr. burns“When we’re stingy we always feel poor because we never have enough. Even when we have billions, if we’re only focused on how much more we can get, how to beat our rivals, we still feel dissatisfied. We lose a few million and we feel deep agony, in spite of our remaining billion. Whereas someone with nothing can be happy with that nothing, if they are preoccupied with how someone else is. Wealth is contentment, the happiness of forgetting about how much you have.” – Robert Thurman

While I don’t know any billionaire landlords, his words are a great reminder for most Americans who have more than we really need, and particularly for us landlords who are probably more wealthy than 95% of the people on this planet – even if all we own is a little one bedroom studio apartment tacked onto the back of our house.


3 Kinds of Tenants: A Gross Generalization

Hi all,

Sometimes gross generalizations can be helpful I think. They may be inaccurate, but at least they get us thinking.

I was driving home from the Zen Center this morning and I started thinking about my tenants, and decided they fall into two categories. I’m going to call these two categories the pleasing tenant and the neutral tenant. These are both good categories.

The pleasing tenant is the most fun. They send you Christmas cards and notes with their rent check, and you become friends, or at least friendly with them. These people offer you coffee when you go to fix their faucet !

The second gross category of tenant is the neutral tenant. They don’t care to have a relationship with their landlord. They already have busy lives, and don’t care that much about their landlord unless something breaks. These kinds of tenants are great too.

I intentionally said that my tenants fall into two categories. That’s because I avoid the 3rd category of tenant. The category of tenant you truly want to avoid is the “stickin it to the man” tenant. These are the people who fill out an application and they don’t have a bank account because they don’t want to deal with “the man.” They don’t believe in credit cards, or the government, and sometimes they want to share these beliefs with you when they apply. I don’t have anything against people who are thinking about America this way. In a lot of ways I admire them and support them, and believe the same things. But guess what – as soon as you become their landlord, you become THE MAN – and – they are gonna stick it to ya !

As always, your comments are welcome.

Appraisal Hell

I wake up at 3 am in Appraisal Hell.

A little background is probably in order. Wife is ready to retire in a few years. Income will drop when she stops working. Refinancing our home at a lower rate would reduce our payments and thereby increase our income. Submit a Refinance application. Have the property appraised to determine what it’s worth for the lender. Enter Hell.

I’ve only been to Appraisal Hell once before, when, during the housing collapse, we tried to take cash out of a property to pay for our son’s college. The appraisal was so low that we had almost no equity. This may or may not have been correct, but times were crazy and I couldn’t really dispute it. This time around though, I know the appraiser is saying that our house is worth about $75,000 less than it is really worth. Hey, I’m a property manager and real estate investor. I’m ALWAYS watching how much houses sell for, just to stay informed.

At this point in time we can still get the loan, but I am really mad that I have paid $450 for someone to write up an inaccurate appraisal. And, since it changes our loan to value ratio, our fees have raised by a couple hundred dollars. Now, I’m happy to say that the appraiser is being really good about addressing my concerns, it seems like he could just blow me off. So, he may be the victim of circumstances, which involve a dearth of comparable properties in the area. Or, he may be incompetent, I don’t know.

Practice-wise I feel like I am caught in a quandary. I don’t like the physical feeling of being angry, but if I let this go, will I stop fighting ? Maybe, maybe not. I guess I’ll talk to the Zen teacher tomorrow. I need some clarity to get me out of HELL !