Sunday, August 28, 2011

Drag Me To Hell


Theatrical poster from Wikipedia
Sam Raimi's Drag Me To Hell is the best monster movie I have seen since Gore Verbinski's The Ring. The film is scary and gross without ever falling into mindlessness. I hadn't heard of the film until Sarah, knowing that I like both Sam Raimi & Justin Long, gave me a copy as a gift. I was extremely surprised and impressed by the quality of the film; I liked even more than The Evil Dead. Dileep Rao, whom I had only otherwise seen in Inception gives an extraordinarily impressive performance in Drag Me To Hell. I don't want to give much away, but the film is remarkably fun and definitely worth checking out.


Sunday, August 21, 2011

A House-Hunting Horror Story

for my good friend Lauren and her husband Neil. Good luck, guys!

At the beginning 2009, Sarah was done with the MSW coursework she intended on taking at IUPUI, and I was still trying to get into grad school. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 included a first-time homebuyer credit of $8000 that need never be paid back so long as the first-time homebuyers stay in their homes for at least 3 years. Since we had nothing to hold us in Indianapolis but our jobs, we started applying for jobs near the graduate schools that I applied to, hoping that one of us would get a job near a school that I would get into. We had crunched the numbers and discovered that, for roughly the same monthly payment as our rent at the time, we could buy a house, build equity, and get a free $8000.

I didn't get into grad school that year, but Sarah landed a job near Bloomington, Indiana, and the house-hunting began.

A nice thing about house-hunting in Bloomington while living in Indy is that we didn't have to take off work to do it - the cities are close enough together that we could do it all during evenings and weekends. I worked in the state building, and I spent my lunchbreaks applying for pre-approvals at the financial institutions in Circle Center (the center of Indianapolis). For what it's worth, 5/3 and Chase were my first choices going in, since I already had accounts at both of these institutions. The representative that I spoke with at 5/3 made it clear that my lunchbreak was close to his lunchbreak, and he'd rather be taking an early lunch than working on a mortgage application for some punk kid. The rep at Chase was superprofessional, though, and Chase had a better rate to offer us anyway, and lower closing costs. The only downside to Chase was that they couldn't guarantee we'd be able to close by the time our lease was up at the end of May.

I talked to our (wonderful, fantastic) landlord, and he said it was fine if we paid month-to-month without a contract until he found new tenants, meaning we could stay past our lease and push the closing back a month. I went down to Chase and paid the application fee to get the ball rolling.

Sarah had already arranged to quit her job in Indy and start her job near Bloomington to coincide with our original closing time. Meanwhile, our Realtor suggested we apply for a mortgage with a company in Bloomington called Mortgage Masters. Sarah went in and talked to a representative there who said it would be "no problem" to get a mortgage closed by our original anticipated move date. I went back to Chase, got my fee back since they hadn't actually started processing the app yet, and went down to Mortgage Masters in Bloomington and paid the fee there instead.

On May 2, 2009 (Free Comic Book Day), we made an offer on a house, it was accepted, and we signed the paperwork to make our agreement binding for 30 days. We ordered a home inspection and put down our earnest money. We dropped off all of the paperwork asked of us at Mortgage Masters, and we went home to our apartment feeling pretty proud of ourselves.

The representative stopped answering her phone and responding to emails when Sarah would try to check on our application. The representative kept emailing us, asking for updated bank records and paystubs, and for older documents that we had already provided. The representative did this so much that we started keeping records of what we sent her, when, and how many times we had to send it again. By the time our scheduled closing date came around, our mortgage master had not even finished our application. We met up with our sellers, apologetically, and we all signed paperwork to extend the agreement another 30 days.

So we paid an extra month at the apartment in Indy. Sarah's parents live near Bloomington, so while she was working there but before we moved down there, she stayed with her parents so she wouldn't have to waste so much time/gas/money commuting so far.

The next 30 days went about the same as the previous 30 days. By the time our new closing date came around, our application was complete but had not yet been sent to the underwriters. We tried to extend our contract with the sellers again, but they were too pissed at already taking off 2 days of work each and getting nowhere. They refused to extend the agreement, raised the price of their house, and said that even if we agreed to pay more than they were asking they wouldn't sell it to us.

All along, our Mortgage Masters representative acted like I didn't exist. When we were there in person, she'd tell Sarah to tell me or ask me things. And when the application still wasn't ready a full month after she said it would be, she laughed with her apology, saying it was no big deal, and it's not like we'd be homeless because of it.

We really thought that an extra month beyond "no-problem"-time would have been enough time for our mortgage master to get it together and we'd be able to move in. We had rented a U-Haul for the second time in as many months, and since we'd had all of our stuff packed up since late May anyway, we went ahead and loaded it up. We'd already agreed to be out of the apartment by the end of June. In one day, we'd gone in our minds (and our lives) from homeowners to homeless.

Sarah's parents let us stash our boxes of everything-we-own in their garage and let us stay with them while we tried to find a new place to live. We made a point to chip in for groceries, but Sarah's parents wouldn't let us pay them any rent or utilities.

We did a lot of hand-wringing about our situation, particularly about whether to stick it out with Mortgage Masters where we'd already sunk thousands of non-refundable dollars and more than three months time. They'd screwed us over bad enough that everything we owned was packed in boxes in a garage, but if we changed lenders, we'd have to spend all that time and money again. We doubled down and hoped that it would not be another three months before we were done with Mortgage Masters.

Somehow, it was a lot easier to house-hunt when we were living in an apartment than when we were overextended houseguests. We saw a lot of interesting houses, many of which would have been fine if we would have had some time to fix them up a little before moving in. As it was, we wanted to find something we could move into right away, so that we could not be homeless anymore.

Applying for a job while not having an address is superdifficult, by the way, so my Bloomington-area job hunt was rather stagnant, and I was commuting to Indy during our homeless days.

My favorite inside-a-house-while-house-hunting memory came during this time. Our realtor had found a foreclosure that was quite a bit less than we'd been expecting to spend, but not so low that we suspected anything terribly wrong with it. When we stopped to look at it, we quickly realized that it has almost the same floor plan as my parents' house. We were pretty excited about it until we discovered one of the rooms was missing a wall to the outside. Well, the wall was laying in the yard instead of attached to the house. Besides that, the house looked great.

Eventually we found the house that we bought, and we closed on it on August 19, 81 days after we were told we'd be able to. 5/3 lent us the money. Our Mortgage Masters representative was late to the closing. My name is spelled "Jonhnanthan" on our documents.

Way back in May we'd gotten some coupons for free grilled KFC that Oprah Winfrey had been giving out, and the night we bought our house, we sat on the floor of the filthy, dirty, empty, wiener-dog-smelling house and ate our grilled chicken. It's been good since we finally moved in, but it was a mess going through the process.

Oh, when we asked our Realtor why she'd recommended Mortgage Masters, she told us that she'd heard good things but had never worked with them before. She said she's not going to recommend them anymore!

So, my advice, if you'd like it: finance your house with an institution you've worked with before and trust and/or plan on the process taking a lot longer than advertised.

Good luck guys!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

"Proposed New Health Insurance Forms Seek To Make Sense Of It All" from the Consumerist

via the Consumerist:

Proposed New Health Insurance Forms Seek To Make Sense Of It All:


Much about the health insurance business is deliberately byzantine, intended to discourage customers from understanding all the fine details of their policies. But today the Department of Health and Human Services proposed a new way of labeling insurance policies that would spell out the costs and benefits of health plans in easy-to-understand language.



"Today, many consumers don't have easy access to information in plain English to help them understand the differences in the coverage and benefits provided by different health plans," said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.



Under the proposed regulations, consumers have access to two forms that will help them understand and evaluate their health insurance choices, including:



*An easy to understand Summary of Benefits and Coverage; and

*A uniform glossary of terms commonly used in health insurance coverage, such as "deductible" and "co-pay."



The forms must be made available to enrollees and potential customers upon request before they buy coverage.



"By making the terms of health insurance plans easier to understand, consumers are less likely to find themselves in health plans that don't meet their needs," said Lynn Quincy, senior health policy analyst for Consumers Union. She says she's "heard too many stories of consumers that purchased a health insurance plan that they didn't understand. Creating this health insurance disclosure will help reduce that confusion much in the same way that recent disclosures for mortgage terms or credit cards have helped to better inform consumers."



To see a PDF of the proposed labels, click here.



Providing Clear and Consistent Information to Consumers about Their Health Insurance Coverage [HealthCare.gov]

Monday, August 15, 2011

Taxes & Services

I often hear people complain about how high taxes are.

I often hear people complain about how shitty government services are.

Sometimes I even hear people complain about how shitty government services are in relation to how high taxes are.

I am tired of how often I hear people complain about how the government is trying to take away their entitlements while complaining about taxes and the very existence of government services.

As I am wont to do, I am calling us to action. If you think you might be a person like one of the generic people I described above, or if you are otherwise dissatisfied with taxes or government services, do something. And by "do something," I do not mean "start to complain" or "keep complaining."

By "do something," I mean if you think that you are better suited for an office than the current officeholder or the favorite for the next election, run for that office. If not, find someone who you think is better and support their campaign.

We act like elected officials are some sort of aloof subsection of society, selected by divine right, when really, they are just people who thought they could do better respective jobs than the people that they replaced and ran against.

Sure, there are some dynastic political families in America, but the only advantage a politician's child has over anyone else in fair elective politics is more opportunity to impress people who have experience supporting winning campaigns.

You'll probably be the underdog, and you'll probably lose the first race you enter and every race thereafter, but you cannot win if you do not run. And you cannot expect the government to do anything differently than it does unless you make changes to the government.

Power to the people.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Federalism

Federalism is one of the keystones of the US system of government, but with today's unsurprising downgrade of the US credit rating, I've been thinking about how much we, in the states, rely on the government at the national level. According to 'kipedia, as of 2011 August 1, the division of national, state, and local resposibilities is roughly as follows:

National government domestic policies

State government policies

Local government policies

  • Variances (adaptation of state law to local conditions)
  • Public works
  • Contracts for public works
  • Licensing of public accommodations
  • Assessable improvements
  • Basic public services

I hadn't ever really thought about it before today, but I am kind of shocked that the local level has the fewest responsibilities. Of course this Wikipedia list is not comprehensive, and some responsibilities, like currency and intellectual property rights make much more sense to be as general and centralized as possible. But I think a compelling tactic to correct the United States budget deficit is to review the responsibilities of the federal government, determine what tasks would make more sense to be done locally and move those tasks from the federal level of government to the local level of government, with the states doing the same thing as the federal government.

People are often expressing concern with alleged "government takeovers"; the government should lose as many duties as it can, pushing them as far down the division of power as possible. Let's use the far-reaching government for things like civil rights protections. Let's use the local level of government for things like business regulation, trade restrictions, immigration policy. States can fill in the gaps on either end.

Why have levels of government if we're going to depend on the most abstracted level for everything? We might as well have a parliamentary monarchy at that point.