- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 26, 2002

Terri Malloy, a realty resale agent based in Springfield, says some feng-shui adjustments in her home changed her business for the better."I had my house done a year and a half ago," she says of the process known as feng shui, the Chinese art of placement. She hired a feng-shui consultant to tidy up her home's wealth area, located in the upper left portion of her house as seen from above and facing the house.
The same day, Ms. Malloy received two unexpected calls from new clients a rarity, she says.
Ms. Malloy is part of a small but growing group of people who believe home, sweet home is a lot sweeter when they embrace feng shui.
The practice, which dates back thousands of years and has been passed on through oral tradition, once was the interest chiefly of Asian-American house buyers.
Feng shui, which literally means "wind and water," assumes that the energy force, or chi, all around us is affected by the layouts of our homes and the items placed within. Move a chair or mattress, angle an ottoman or plant a line of shrubs along your driveway, and that energy flow can be enhanced for the homeowner's benefit.
Annie Pane, a feng-shui consultant in Woodbridge, Va., says we all absorb the energy of our surroundings.
"If it's chaotic that's what the world is going to respond to," Ms. Pane says.
Feng shui takes a look at every area of your life, she says.
"It's based on balance, on having what you want by making that intention very clear in your physical environment," Ms. Pane says.
"It's instinctive," she continues. "You're gonna know immediately when you go into a place with good feng shui that you feel better. You may not be able to know why.
"Everybody's been to parties where things just didn't click. Nine times out of 10, it's the setup" of the furnishings at the party, she says.
Skeptics would argue its tenets are based on ancient lore and hardly appear scientific. For some, though, feng shui is a cultural marker that plays a role in the home-buying process.
Feng shui can be interpreted through a variety of perspectives, Ms. Pane says, from numerology to compass measurements. Ms. Pane practices Western feng shui, a version with practical applications for the home and office. Westernized feng shui, she says, translates mountains into tall buildings, rivers into roadways.
A compass-driven version of feng shui involves the positioning of a home and the person's birth date, she says.
Colors also play a role in this Eastern philosophy.
"Every color relates to one of the elements," Ms. Pane says. Red stands for fire; yellow represents the earth; and green is connected to wood.
Ms. Pane, a graduate of the Western School of Feng Shui in San Diego, will offer a home feng-shui consultation for $450 to $650, depending in part on the home's location. Such sessions typically last up to four hours.
Feng shui disciples may offer somewhat different guidance on a particular home, but she says the core philosophies remain the same.
Tell that to the interior decorator, who may or may not clash with feng-shui work.
"Good feng shui may not be the decorator's dream," Ms. Pane says. "It will always pull you into the room and make you feel comfortable."
Some examples of good feng shui include placing coffee tables to the side of, not in front of, a couch; setting a chair's ottoman off at an angle to allow people to sit down more easily; and keeping house clutter to a minimum.
Ms. Pane says Western feng-shui principles have taken root in American culture over the past five or 10 years. Before that, feng shui existed mostly in trendy social circles or in parts of the Asian culture.
Some feng-shui principles aren't as easy to apply as, say, replacing a lamp or flowerpot. Proper feng shui, for instance, demands that a house's layout be square or rectangular. Triangle-shaped homes are considered to have poor feng shui.
Rectangular homes also allow for an easier interpretation of the Bagua map, the nine-square grid that matches locations in a home to general life areas.
"In Westernized feng shui, it may not be perfect, but you can always make it better," Ms. Pane says. Modern feng shui takes into consideration the layout and idiosyncrasies of the modern home and office.
Gail Lyons, chairwoman of the National Association of Realtors' 2002 International Operations Committee, says feng shui suddenly became the "in" thing during the past year.
"It's taken over the baby boomers," says Mrs. Lyons, whose committee works with real estate groups worldwide and helps establish set business standards in the market. "They decided it's cool, and they want to do it. I think a lot of them believe in it as well."
The practice greases the wheels of the real estate market, in general.
"Homes that have been 'feng shui-ed' look better and are easier to sell [because of their] simplicity and lack of clutter," she says.
Some buyers bring up feng shui in a kidding fashion, Mrs. Lyons continues. Others may know little about it but feel they should know more.
She has heard of would-be homeowners who have backed out of deals after finding, for example, a design flourish in a bedroom that splits the room in two. Some couples fear such a design might lead to a marital separation.
Not all agents are embracing feng-shui. A call to the Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors found that the topic isn't addressed in its list of classes. Many agents, though, say there is a need to learn its principles to help clients looking for a new home.
Ilene Kessler, a Columbia, Md.-based Realtor with ReMax Advantage, says feng shui plays a small but vital role for her client base.
"In Howard County, we have a very diverse population," Ms. Kessler says. "To a certain percentage of our buyers, it is [important]. It's a small percentage, but it grows every year."
"If you went to areas of Montgomery County, you'd find the same [interest]," she says.
Often, a buyer's extended family will inspect a potential home purchase to make sure it follows enough feng-shui principles.
"Every year, we have to wait for parents to come to approve [the home]," Ms. Kessler says. "They give me parameters of what we can and cannot show."
For determined Realtors, she says, ignorance of feng shui isn't an option.
"I'm not an expert, but as a Realtor, you have to learn a lot of customs if you want to stay current," Ms. Kessler says.
Anthony Carr, director of communications with the Northern Virginia Association of Realtors in Fairfax and a free-lance columnist for The Washington Times' Friday Home Guide, says Asian-Americans still constitute the bulk of those dedicated to feng shui.
"But there are a lot of people all over the world who use it to set up their [office] desks as well as their houses," Mr. Carr says.
"The immigrant is the next big purchaser in this country. Feng shui is one of the things we try to get our Realtors to look at," he says.

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