Thursday, August 19, 2010

A Car By Any Other Name

A couple of months ago my car suffered from a seemingly life-ending fire that started when my Ipod Nano overheated overnight.  Apparently the combustability of the Ipod was not a big enough selling point for Steve Jobs to tout when it was released, although I am not the only one to discover its incendiary properties.

Hoping she was still salvageable I took my faithful car, which I had just told Heather the day before how much I still loved, to a mechanic but the prognosis wasn't good.   If the car were my grandma, and the mechanic were a doctor, he would have advised pulling the feeding tube and starting to sort out who gets the afghan collection.  Have you ever wondered how the afghan was invented?  Was it like, "I've got a great idea!  What if you had a blanket full of holes made out of yarn, so it's neither warm nor attractive, but you can't throw it away because some old lady spent countless evenings hand making this thing?"  But I digress.

Needless to say, the car was going to cost more to gut and replace the melted wiring than it would cost to buy a replacement vehicle.  It seemed the Vibe was headed to the big junkyard in the sky.  Or more accurately, the big junkyard at the edge of town, where they would give me $300 bucks for her.  Then fate intervened.  A friend from church asked me if I was interested in buying a damaged Vibe at a car auction and using the parts from my car to fix it much cheaper than buying the parts from a junkyard or dealer.  I told him sure, and he found a t-boned vibe that was one year newer than mine with 5,000 more miles, and we got it for only $2,000.  It was in need of new doors and a couple of front fenders, but since my car's exterior is still in great shape, it was a great match.  In fact, the car was even the same color of blue, so it was a perfect match. 

Currently Garry is working on transferring my old Vibe's exterior parts and hoping to get it fixed up for around another $2,000.  The new Vibe does have a couple of key differences from my old one - I will now have front wheel drive instead of all wheel drive, which means hopefully better gas mileage and acceleration (yeah) but less sure-footedness in the winter (boo).  On the positive side, the new car has the moons and tunes package, which means 6 speakers, a better radio, and a moon roof.  I love riding my motorcycle but with summer winding down I am looking forward to having a car again.  Not just having a car again, but having my Vibe again.  I have even decided on a name for her: Christine.  Seems appropriate since she is a reincarnation of my old car rising from the ashes.  Let's just hope she doesn't chase me down any alleys.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Bureaucracy: The Fastest Way to Slow Things Down

A while back I wrote about my foray into the real estate market as an investor purchasing a second home in which I likened the experience to playing Monopoly.  Buying a property in Monopoly, for those of you who grew up without any siblings, consists of landing on a space that holds a property, looking at the amount required to buy said property, and giving the banker (usually the child with the strongest will who wants to be in charge) the appropriate amount.  The banker then gives you the "deed" and the transaction is complete.

In the real world, there are commissions to pay (selling agent, buyer's agent, mortgage broker) and paperwork to complete.  It is said that the seller pays the commissions, but if the buyer is providing the funds to the seller, aren't they in fact paying the commissions?  I digress.  During the last several months I determined that the best way to finance the second home was to clear out our savings account and place it all on "Mama's Cooking" at the racetrack.  Heather would have none of it, despite the 20:1 odds, so I had to revert to plan B, which involves the aforementioned mortgage broker and a lending institution.

I found a mortgage broker with reasonable fees and a great interest rate through Zillow (I'm not kidding) and started down the road to financing.  I quickly realized that there were two options to finance the investment property.  Option 1 was to take a mortgage on the property, which would be classified as an investor loan, which has a higher interest rate.  Option 2 was to refinance our primary residence and use those funds to buy the investment property with cash, which allowed for a lower interest rate.  I opted to take that route, and the beauracracy began to wield its ugly head.

Over the course of the last few weeks I have been required by the lending bank to provide the following in order to take a mortgage on my home (which I own free and clear):

Purchase title insurance.  Really?  Because I'm afraid the previous owner might have a lien against the house?  But I am the previous owner.  I have owned the property for 3 years.  I understand the need for title insurance on the home I am buying but on the house I live in and am refinancing?

Write and sign a letter of intent.  I had to write a letter stating that I am refinancing my home to purchase an investment property, and that I will use savings to finance the remainder of the purchase.  I had to submit a bank statement showing said savings, and Heather had to sign a letter saying she was ok with using this money since her name is on the account.  What does it matter how I use the money?  Could I not refinance my home and blow the money at Vegas if I wished?  The bank has a lien against my home for a reason - if I can't pay my new mortgage they get the house.  Who cares how I spend the money that they loaned me in return for the lien?  Then when Heather signed the statement on using the savings and the statement on how the mortgage money would be spent I had to reaccomplish the latter document with just my signature, since she's not on the loan. ???? Really?

Submit a quote for homeowners insurance.  This one makes sense.  I had to show that my home is insured since it is the collateral on which the loan is based.  No wait, the bank didn't want to see the insurance on the house I live in, but the cost of the insurance for the home I'm buying.  The one they have no vested interest in.  Why?  Because they consider monthly homeowner's insurance premiums (as well as the annual property tax) as "debt".  I actually lost my patience on this one and asked the mortgage broker if they wanted to see my monthly cable bill as well since that could easily run higher than the insurance.  I know, don't shoot the messenger.

Once we jumped all the hurdles Heather and I were finally able to sign the mountain of paperwork that comes with taking a home loan.  On one of the forms Heather noticed that I had signed but forgotten to date it, so she dated her line and my line.  That was a mistake.  Two days later the title company informed us we would have to not only reaccomplish that form with my handwriting for my date (because apparently having 30 sheets of paper with my signature and date accompanied by one sheet with my signature and someone else's handwriting for the same date is unacceptable to some bean counter hunched in a cubicle somewhere) but we also would have to resign the "right of rescision" paperwork, which means instead of closing on the home on Monday we have to start the mandatory three day waiting period over again and the bank won't release the funds until Wednesday.

The sad thing is that all of this analness is not ultimately driven by the bank's lack of desire to lend money, but by the government's felt need to insert itself into every facet of our daily interactions.  I would not want to wade through the volumes of regulations that have driven every piece of paperwork I had to sign or create.  Buying property was so much easier as a kid.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Travails of Travel

My mom and niece are coming to visit, which is nice.  Unfortunately mom doesn't like making airline reservations so this job usually falls to me.  I could understand this when mom didn't have a computer.  Now that she has high-speed internet I'm not sure what part of Priceline befuddles her.  She did squeeze me out of her body after 12 hours of labor so I guess I owe her.  After a plane delay in Dallas last year she decided she wanted to fly straight to Denver this year.  Since I didn't want to drive all the way to Denver and I'm not a good travel agent I booked her a flight to Colorado Springs with a connecting flight in Dallas again and assured her that she would not get delayed in Texas this year.

An hour before her flight is scheduled to leave mom calls from St. Louis to tell me her plane was delayed and she will miss the connecting flight in Dallas.  Mom's not happy.  I'm not happy.  I tried to talk her through the process of getting the airlines to help her rebook to a different flight.  She called back after managing to wrangle a new departure time 15 minutes after the original one - still missing the Dallas flight.  Now she is spending the night in Dallas and leaving in the morning.  I told her to insist on a free hotel room if they hold her overnight.  She got them to offer her a discount.

An hour on hold with American Airlines and I got mom a new flight.  I was offered a flight through Chicago but the plane is delayed and I was concerned she would miss the connecting flight if it is delayed again, so I got her a direct flight to Denver.  Mom will be thrilled.  When mom got to the counter the plane was full.  So she's back to the original flight with an overnight stay at Dallas.  The agent promised me she'll get a voucher for a hotel room.  I hope she's right or I'm going to be picking up a very grouchy mom at the airport tomorrow.  Next year mom's booking her own flights.