There are some folk who don't see the gem inside my rough exterior who might consider me a hot head. To which I say a hearty "bite me". But let this opinion be a caution that within this blog may lurk items of a venting nature or perhaps those which might be considered a rant. So be it. Proceed with caution. You have been warned.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Some Holiday Cheer

Last Sunday I participated in a holiday tradition I first experienced over forty-nine years ago. That makes me a youngster in the history of this tradition which began two hundred and seventy years ago in Dublin Ireland. That tradition was a performance of George Frederic Handel's oratorio "Messiah". This masterpiece has never fallen entirely out of favor since its beginnings and has survived grotesque though well meaning "editing/arranging" as well as monster concerts with numbers of performers undreamed of (and probably rightly scorned) by Handel.

Evidently it was sometime in the late 1960s or early 70s when the phenomenon of "scratch" or "sing it yourself" Messiahs began to spring up in the United States. These events feature a core group (the orchestra and soloists) prepared in advance to which the audience itself adds the chorus parts. I began singing in these 25 years ago and for the last twelve have played in the orchestra for one that has a history of over 26 years in the same city.

Evidently you don't have to be Christian (or really a very good musician!) to participate in these as I have seen people happily singing their hearts out that never darken a church doorway the rest of the year. And as our conductor reminded the audience this year, such an event now joins a community of hundreds of these events involving thousands of people around the world.

What seems remarkable is that in this era of mass commercialization of the holiday season along with its frustrations and abuses, the spirit of good will, brotherhood, hope, and joy springs forth in these performances. As I sit in the orchestra and look out into the audience/chorus as they listen to the soloists I see the years drop from their faces and they look as they might have looked decades ago in the anticipation of Christmas morning. When they stand and sing the joy in their eyes is unmistakable. How does it happen? I'm sure that the genius of the music has something to do with it. During the three hours the venue where this takes place becomes a haven where you can forget the craziness of black Friday shopping, the resentments and disappointments of holidays past, the sorrow and strife that pervades the world. For this brief period those of us involved have our Scrooge personas drop away and somehow magically know what the words "spirit of Christmas" can sometimes conjure up.

So once every December I am reminded that things are not all that bad, that there are probably more good people than evil in the world and that "faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."


Monday, December 5, 2011

Housing Market Follies

I'm sure that there is no one left in the United States that doesn't know that the housing market is in the crapper and circling the drain. There is no doubt whatsoever that the largest part of this situation was created by greedy, near criminal, irresponsible banking institutions and other financial corporations trading obscure derivatives on wall street like bubble gum cards with about as much real worth.

However, there is another smaller yet integral part of the puzzle that makes it nearly impossible to sell a house even if you have an willing buyer. That part is eagerly supplied by incompetent realtors, title companies, bankers (there they are again - what a coincidence) and small time swindlers. This will be a tale of a hypothetical situation (hypothetical to avoid any implied information about actual people who might be involved in such an actual collosal FUBAR).

The story begins when the matriach and patriach of Midwesthappyfamily passed away. Midwesthappyfamily then embarked on a series of marathon weekends where members of the family visited from several remote locations to clean out the house and prepare it for the auction of its contents in preparation for the sale of the house itself. Now imagine how easy these transactions would be if the following desired events were to occur.

1) Auctioneer takes charge of auction preparations per instructions from family, house contents are sold and house is ready for sale.
2) Realtor lists house and performs duties regarding communications of offers, counter offers, needed documents, etc.
3) Offer accepted
4) Bank sets up appraisal- appraisal is made.
5) Decision to make loan is made. If decision is no, return to #2.
6) Loan is okayed - closing date is set.
7) Title company performs title search.
8) All documents finalized.
9) House ownership changes hands at closing.
10) Buyer and seller go away happy.

Now let's examine how in our hypothetical case things go wrong.

1) Instead of auctioneering all items auctioneer forgets who he is working for and cherry picks what he wants to auction. The rest he leaves in the house after thoroughly trashing it. He also disables water to the house after breaking the water line when removing the refrigerator. All members of the family are authorized to remove any articles from auction prior to sale date. Auctioneer tries to deny granddaughter access to items previously designated for her. After auction takes place family is left with a massive clean up job and disposal problem with items auctioneer couldn't be bothered with. Proceeds from auction disappear mopping up unethical auctioneer's leavings.
2) Realtor does list house. Tells family she has cash offer. Family accepts cash offer for house "as is". Oops! Realtor now says it is not a cash offer but there should be no problem with the loan. Closing date set.
3)Bank appraiser doesn't show up on time, closing date postponed. Weeks go by.
7)Title company can't get title search done on time, closing date postponed again.

Now buyer who has not had "as is" explained by realtor wants mold inspection and more cleaning done. Family declines. Realtor completely clueless and gives family false and conflicting information during this period. Finally family demands a firm closing date and buyer claims this is "too much pressure" and backs out.
So it's back to step 2.

To skip all the feverish phone calls and urgent emails from family to the realtor with the realtor whining that "I've never had trouble like this before" let's move ahead to the offer which finally culminated in a sale. Once this offer has been accepted, the house appraised and the loan approved a closing date is set and the realtor tells family "we have all the documents we need, everything is all set".

By now the family realizes that this statement means that there are going to be problems ahead and sure enough one week before closing each member of the family receives a packet of forms from the title company by email with an instruction list on which members need to sign which documents and which ones need to be notarized. The instructions are so incomprehensible that the family requests revised instructions that can be understood by normal human beings. A new set of instructions arrives the next day with instructions that totally contradict the first set. Requests for better instructions result in being told to call the office so "we can walk you through it." This produces an explosion from the family threatening to withhold commission from the realtor for non-performance. Finally this produces crystal clear instructions and the forms are returned from locations scattered all over the continent barely in time for closing.

Finally after three months of blunders, false starts and stupidity the sale closes.

The point of this rather lengthy tale is to ask - Why does it have to be this difficult? Of course corollaries to this question include "Why can't people just do what they get paid for?" and "Why is it so hard to keep incompetent people out of critical positions?" In this case our hypothetical family had a realtor that had to be told what to do and what was expected at every step in the process and who gave false information on numerous occasions, an auctioneer that was a borderline confidence man, appraisers that couldn't manage their work load, one title company that couldn't meet a deadline and one title company that had at least one employee that couldn't write comprehensible English. These aren't volunteers, these are people who get paid to do what they so egregiously fail to do in a satisfactory manner.

The American economy is going down for the third time, and these are the people and thousands like them standing firmly in the way of recovery. Lets let incompetents do hard manual labor and get some intelligence into the places that make capitalism actually work shall we?