Sunday, August 28, 2011

In Case of an Emergency

I live in Washington DC, and as many of you know, we just had an Earthquake (I know, it was small compared to the standards of the California) and a Hurricane in a matter of 6 days.

And I know I am going to sound like I am paranoid (or worse, like your mother) for saying this, but one thing I learned is to be prepared. When Mother Nature decides to not play nice, you never know what will happen.

Many in this area knew that Hurricane Irene was coming and the word was first that it would be here Sunday afternoon, but Irene decided to pick up some speed and its new time of arrival was now Saturday afternoon. On Friday evening, my girlfriend was getting her hair cut, so I figured I would pass the time at the grocery store and walk around. Yes, I know how to have fun.

To my shock, the store was pretty much a mad house. Eggs, bread, toilet paper, and milk were all just about gone. Beer/wine, chips, chicken, and condoms were not offering a big supply either.  (But fear not, the fruits and vegetables were not touched.)

Here is a picture from the store.

The Bread Isle
What I found most amazing was that people were complaining that the grocery store did not have enough stuff in stock. I actually said to one person that he knew the hurricane was coming at least 3 days in advance and asked why he did not stock up sooner. He pretty much told me what he thought of my mother and I.

The reason I am talking about this is the people to blame for this bad service is really the customer. These people knew the storm was coming. They had almost a week to get ready. And if you live in a area that might be evacuated and you are not leaving, you might need to stock up. Why wait until the last moment? I know that the storm moving up a day might tripped up some plans, but let’s be real. These people knew the storm was coming. The customers knew the store was going to be packed at the 11th hour. It’s not the store’s fault. They had a full staff to handle the registers, but when every line has a cart filled to the top and they are 5 people deep, well, you know what I am getting at. I am pretty sure the store stocked up before the rush, but there is only so much they can hold. With some venders, they restock the shelves everyday, so if people made a rush on their items on Tuesday and Wednesday, they will refill the stock Wednesday and Thursday.

I know there is a panic about the storm that is due to the consumers’ perceived view of the meteorologists’ inability to tell a storm to a hole in their butt, so everyone just assumes it will be like the movie “The Day After Tomorrow”. But if you know there is a storm coming, do the right thing yourself and your loved ones around you, prepare early.

Sometimes “better safe than sorry” is really the right thing to do,

Monday, August 22, 2011

Use Your Warranty

One common complaint I hear is about items breaking after the warranty has expired.  I will admit, this is frustrating beyond belief.  But another thing I hear about is how people ignore the small problems on the items they own while the item is still under warranty.  

Many new items out there have a free warranty.  If there is something of concern about the items functionality, the use the warranty.  I have seen people do that and get a replacement phone or system before the warranty expired and a new warranty came with the item.  I have also seen parts replaced and issues resolved before the warranty.   

Another reason I tell people to use the warranty is that I have seen some companies take care of their clients after the warranty has expired.  This is because there is a paper trail of the company trying to fix the issue but can't just seem to fix it.  This is not always the case, but as they say, the squeaky wheel gets the oil.

Let's just face facts.  Everything will wear down and sometimes an item needs to be looked it.  And with this economy, if you can get e repair done for free, why not?  

There are many companies that want to do the right thing and take care of their customers.  Let them.  It can be a hassle to get the item looked at, but it beats having to buy a new one out of your pocket.

Happy shopping,

Friday, August 19, 2011

Shop online or in person?

I have been asked if shopping online is a better option than shopping at a store in person.

It really depends on the situation. If you are you looking for something specific to try and you need to talk with someone face to face, going to the store might be the best option. At least that way you can get info, possibly try the item out (if it’s something you can do that with). Also, if you need the instant gratification of having it in your hand, going to the store is better.

As for shopping online, if you are looking for items you don’t need right away, online is not a bad option. I have found that many companies have a clearance section which has some pretty good deals. You will have to take some time to find something in a color/size/etc. that you like, but like I said, you can find some nice stuff. Also, on a side note, the best gift I can get is gift cards. If I get a couple of gift cards for the same company, I hit the clearance rack, and yeah, good times. Add waiving the shipping fees, even more good times.

Think about this, if you don’t like the public, and a company has a policy where you can return or exchange items back at the store AND you can get free shipping, then shopping online is a great idea.

As I said, if you don’t need to have the item in your hand right away, go online. No crowds, no trouble finding parking, no pushing sales people. If the company allows you to return things back at the store, you don’t have to worry about trying things on. I personally found this as a nice way to shop for clothing for work, gifts for people’s birthdays, clothing for kids, so on. Also, many companies have more options available online than they do in their stores (different colors, hard to get sizes, maybe different sports teams, so on.) One a side note, I have also found some companies will even offer the ability to order products from the website at a store or even have it shipped to a store.

Now, I am not saying avoid the stores, but sometimes you can avoid bad service by shopping online, which can save you peace of mind.

Happy Shopping,

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

When getting a mortgage . . .

Yes, I know, with today’s economy, getting a mortgage might be next to impossible. With changing requirements from lenders and home values dropping, it might be easier to convince the cast of Jersey Shore to get over themselves.

In spite of all market turmoil, one positive has come out of this. The really crappy loan officers have been weeded out. I remember during the boom, I would see people because a loan officer with no idea what they were doing. Granted, most of these people had the best intentions. You know, help people get into their dream home while they make tons of money. With everyone and their mother out trying to get a home as well these exotic no documents loans, it was like shooting fish in a barrel with a photon torpedo from the Enterprise. (Yes, I am a nerd!) But when the party ended and the exotic loans were being discontinued, tons of loan officers were forced to realize they did not know what in the hell they were doing. Some stayed and learned how to actually read the docs, others went to the next big craze, and a few others crashed and burned.

Of course, with that being said, people are still being approved for home loans (either for buying a home or a refinance.)

I know I said that guidelines have tightened up, but if you are good shape to get a mortgage, you actually have power over the loan officers. You can look for the ones that not only know what they are doing, but won’t try to club you like a baby seal on the fees.

How do you find one? I thought you would never ask. (I mean, I know you like some of my banter, but let’s be honest, you want the facts.)

You can always ask friends and family who they used. Also, if you are buying a home, you can ask your Realtor. Now if you do this, I have to put this out there. Gauge their reaction. If someone says the loan officer was ok, chances are the person you are talking to has some reservations about them. But if the person is singing their praises and doing a dance like Fred Astaire, then chances are you should give that person a phone call.

Another thing I tell people, talk to a couple of loan officers. This is different from buying a used where they might be only one car of its type with in a few hundred miles. With loan officers, you will find they are more common than you think.

Before you start “interviewing” loan officers, there are a couple of things I tell people that are sure fire signs that you should run and run as far as you can. If the loan officer only does this part time, don’t use that person. Most likely that person has other obligations or another job that will them from focusing on helping you. Banks are open from 9 – 5, and if the loan officer has another job that is from 9 – 5, when are they going to take care of you. I understand if they are helping other clients looking for a mortgage, but like I said, if they are doing something completely different during bank hours, just walk away.

Also, if the loan officer won’t let you visit him at his office (assuming the office is near by) or insist that you only call on their cell phone, they are hiding something. Chances are you don’t want to know.

Also, do research online. And I don’t just mean going to yelp. Look for their name and company info. If you find things like convictions or having their loan officer license revoked, run. I once saw a loan officer who had his license revoked by the state of Florida. And at that time, Florida pretty much let anyone do mortgages. If Florida took away your privilege to handle loans, you really had to screw up. I mean, it’s easier to go through Eagles game in Philadelphia wearing Washington Redskins, New York Giants, or Dallas Cowboys stuff and live than get a loan officer license taken away in Florida.

Ok, now that weeded out the nonsense, now it’s time to interview the loan officer. There are some questions you have to ask.

1.) Ask if that person specializes in a certain type of mortgage. And if so, will that product be beneficial for you. Some lenders only deal with certain types of loans, such of Conforming, Government, Hard Money, Reverse Mortgages, Investment properties, so on. They might have the product that can help. If they only deal with Reserves Mortgages (a type of refi for older home owners) and you are looking to buy a home or you are too young, obviously this person won’t be able to help.

2.) Ask them if they can suggest any Realtors (if you need one) and closing attorneys. If they can’t, chances are they either are new or they did such a great job pissing those people off they dare not speak their names. If they can name some, give them a call. If the people they referral spoke highly of the loan officer, possible winner. But if the words are synonyms for fornicating feces are used, avoid this train wreck.

3.) Ask about their background. If someone worked in car sales finance or in other sales relevant to finances, then you might have someone. If someone changed fields because of a better opportunity or because the lender was stupid enough to hire them, let someone else be the guinea pig.

4.) Ask about their training. If they did not go to college for finances (or did not go to college at all), it does not automatically disqualify them. Again, if they have worked in other sales where finances were involved or can go into detail about how they were trained by the lender (or a previous company they were with), then it’s good. But if you see a smile on their face and they say “what training?” Run. Run as fast as you can and if you better half falls down, leave them. The monster got them already.

5.) Ask them what’s the best way to reach them during and after work hours. The loan officer job is not really a 9 – 5. Most of their clients don’t live a 9 – 5 life, so they are sometimes visiting or talking with clients after hours. Some loan officers will say that during 9 – 5, they can be reached at only one number and their work email. That’s normal. Sometimes they will be stuck at their desk. But if they say you can’t reach them after 5 any day of the week, then don’t use them. I understand that they are not available after 5 every night, but we are also talking about tens of thousands of dollars, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars. If they can’t pick up the phone after 5 a couple of times during the week, then they obviously just don’t care about you. (Also, on this topic, ask them if they will be unavailable for an extended period of time while your loan is going through processing. Sometimes it might be a matter that requires their attention, which they have set up people to help out their clients while they are gone. This is not a bad thing, but it’s a good way to keep yourself in the loop)

6.) Ask them how often they will update you (and the Realtor, if there is one). I like being updated once a day unless something important pops up. Some people like to be updated by phone because they can quickly interact with the loan officer. Others prefer email because they can read it on their own time. A good loan officer will update you once a day or every two days. If they say they update you when something happens, that is not a good sign. There are quite a few people who like the once a day update, even if there is no new news. It means the loan officer is on the ball (in theory)

7.) Ask what documents will they need? If you know in advance you will need to go to the Social Security office or you need docs from 3 years ago and you need to start making phone calls to get a copy, it cuts down on the stress. But also remember, loan underwriters seem to pick what documents needed by throwing a dart at the board, so sometimes you will be asked for stuff at the last second.

Now, when it comes to fees, you have to ask them the break every fee down. Some fees make sense. Taxes have to be paid, people doing the work at the title company need to be paid, so on. But if the loan officer can’t explain the fees, they you have a drone in front of you.

Also, I have been asked if someone should go with a direct lender (or bank) or with a mortgage broker. It’s really 50/50. It’s about who can get you the best rates and service.

Remember, when comparing apples to apples, you can get the same rate at any company. The big issue is how you are going to be taken care of. In mortgages, if you can qualify for a loan, you have the power to shop around.

Happy Shopping,

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Check the Ego at the Door

Today, I got a lesson in humility.  My girlfriend and I decided to go to dinner in downtown DC after work.  This does sound harmless, but since its me, this means a misadventure is in the making.

I decided to drive to the restaurant we agreed upon.  Those who are familiar with traffic in the greater Washington DC area will tell you driving is in DC during rush hour is about as wise as juggling set of butcher knifes while blind folded. I could have taken the train, I figured driving would be quicker (why yes, I love punishment.  I mean, I am a Washington Wizards and Capitals season ticket holder).  Normally, I am right, but nope, not today.  Because of a accident and construction, a 25 minute drive took about 90 minutes.  As I type this, I can only imagine what Lewis Black would say.  His head would have exploded.

Anyways, those who know me know that I hate lines.  I will forgo human contact at banks and just use the ATM in order to avoid a line (no, I don't want to refi my house right now. I just want to make a desposit).  So waiting in traffic pretty much makes me go nuts.  I had left early with the plans to visit a store before dinner, so thankfully, I go there in time to meet up with my girlfriend.

We meet up and go in to eat and she can tell I am less than pleasant mood.  Having sat in that traffic and add the normal rush hour traffic on top, I pretty was an asshole in the making.  Well ok, I am an asshole already, but work with me.

In comes our waitress, who could tell I was not a happy camper.  She actually was hesitant to approach us, but she was willing to walk into the lions den.  She took our drink orders and gave us time to think about food.  And for those who are wondering, I was too worked up to order any alcohol.  I figured getting myself a buzz when I am not in a good mood would not be wise.

At this point, the waitress comes up to take our orders.  Now there is an industry standard I was told about that was when you order your food, you should get it in about 12 minutes.  After being stuck in traffic, waiting for something else was not something I wanted to do and I started to get antsy about the food.  I look down at my phone and realize, it's only been 4 minutes.  Yep, time for Will to shut the fuck up.

Lesson learned:  Check the ego and your problems at the door.  The waitress did not cause me to sit in traffic.  I should not take it out on her.

When it was all said and done, I found out our waitress was great.  Our drinks were never empty and she checked on us in a regular basis.  She was also making sure her other tables were taken care of.  She was top of her game, she earned a nice tip.

Yes, I got to spend time with my girlfriend, had a good dinner, and learned a lesson.  I guess it was one fine evening.

Happy Shopping,

Monday, August 8, 2011

Al Bundy would hate this guy (or how to get good service at a shoe store)

I think many of us guys have seen Married with Children (and let’s be honest, most of us just wanted to see Christina Applegate), so we are familiar with the patriarch of the family, Al Bundy (played by Ed O’Neil).  We all remember Al for complaining about fat women and his wife.
Though, one thing people also remember was that Al was a shoe sales person at Gary Shoes (Yes, I also have a ton of useless knowledge in my head!)  Many people who have worked in shoe sales, rather it’s a high end ladies shoe store to a athletic shoe store to a discount retailer, has been called Al Bundy at least once.  Having worked in shoe sales when I was in college, I got the Al Bundy jokes, but most times, I just laughed off and did a bad impression of Katy Sagal’s Peg Bundy.
Anyways, unto the point of this blog.  This past Sunday, my girlfriend decided that she needed new cross trainers for her work out routine.  (Sorry ladies, but I am taken.)  I think this was due to seeing that her current shoes she used had pretty much been beaten worse than Rodney King by the LAPD, I made some comments about the shoes.  Since she needed to get a few more items, we decided to go to the mall. 
Shoe shopping with the girlfriend?  Have I just entered the 5th level of hell?  Hmmm, it was more like the 3rd level to be honest.  (And if my girlfriend is reading, I love you.  Please don’t slap me this time.)  What makes this more difficult, she was looking for cross trainers, which seem to be a type of shoes that shoe makers feel women avoid, much Harry Potter fans avoid Twilight.  Add the fact my girlfriend is a vegan, so no leather (though, fake leather is ok), has issues with her feet (they roll outwards) and she was a budget, some guys would just pull out a samurai sword and end their own life at this point, but I endured.  (Well ok, scenes from Airplane, where people killed themselves after listening to Robert Hays’ role of Ted Striker tell them of his life story might have come to mind.  Surely I can’t be serious?  And yes, I am serious and don’t call me Shirley.)
A lesson I have learned to help relieve some of the grief is that when shopping for something specific, look for an associate who is not only free, but also looks like he/she knows what he/she is doing.  Yes, I know, judging a book by it’s cover blah blah blah, but after you have been in the trenches of sales like I have, you know that if the person looks like a lazy, useless, person who no idea the difference between a flux capacitor and a horse shitting on the floor, you don’t play into Vegas’ hands and just look for someone else.  The reason for this idea?  Well, if you find their “best” person and he is completely useless, just think of what the actually useless one is like.  With this trick, we quickly weeded out a few places.  One person actually was trying to convince my girlfriend that a pair of running shoes was cross trainers.  Also, on this lesson, I can tell you about the times I have seen customers stop in mid sentence and just walk away from a sales associate because the associate looked like they were not listening or not giving a damn.  It’s common actually.
Another lesson when buying shoes for a purpose, tell the person helping you what you need in the very beginning.  In the first 4 places we went to, we found the sales associate that looked most knowledgeable and to them about my girlfriend’s feet tendency to roll outward and refusal to wear leather.  We were met with either a look of lostness in their eyes or someone trying to bull shit us.  You can tell when someone is trying to bull shit when they are grasping for the words to make up and they look like they are about to shit themselves.  (BTW, going through the 4 stores only took about 30 minutes total, including the time I took trying to find t shirts of my football team.).
At the 5th store, we were greeted by the person who seemed to know what they were doing, so we hit him with my girlfriend’s needs, and his eyes lit up.  He actually seemed to enjoy helping someone who needed shoes and were not just looking for a pair to kick around in.  It was almost as if he wanted to be challenged.  His name was Ryan and he asked the right questions.  He asked what kind of activities my girlfriend was going to be using the shoes for, any other issues with the feet, what kind of budget, since leather was out of the question, would synthetic leather be ok, so on.  He showed a few models and went into detail about what model offered. 
What really amazed me was he was not afraid to say “I don’t know” when asked a tough question.  And we to a product guide and looked up the answer.  Ryan even engaged me in the conversation, which is an art lost in sales.  Any sales people, who are reading, always engage the people with the buyer.  You never know how much influence they have on the buying process. 
When it was all said and done, my girlfriend got a pair of shoes that fit her budget, fit her needs, fit her lifestyle, and she even bought a few more items.
Another tip that helps in the big picture is if you get amazing service, let the company now.  Don’t just like their facebook page or follow them on twitter.  Post a message explaining why you were happy.  I even call their corporate office.  Let them know who is doing a good job.  Chances are they will get rewarded or promoted and it can help build up their company.
When shopping for a certain need, look for staff that looks like they know what they are doing.  If it looks like they can’t get it done, don’t chance it.  Also, let the person helping you know right away what you are looking for.  You can gauge to see if they are paying attention, but it also helps weed out being shown items that just were not what you were looking for. 
Hopefully, with this, I helped weed out some grief in your shopping.
Happy Shopping,

Friday, August 5, 2011

Your Mother Once Said if You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say . . ..

Now, what I am about tell you is going to come to some as common sense, and to others, well they are going to think I just told called them a pretentious rat fuck in training.

Though my years in working with the public as well as shopping, one thing I noticed, the person who comes in as a loud mouth jack ass normally gets treated like trash.  I am not talking about the “They just got my order wrong for the 4th time and the manager will not address me” kind of loud mouth (though, that can be justified, but I will go into that later.)   No, what I am talking about is the person who comes in yapping about how great they are and how everyone around them should bow down before them because they just got the newest Iphone, Ipad, Mercedes, and front row season tickets to the sports team in town.  Or even the person who comes in at 4 PM drunk off their tail.
Why is this person more likely getting shitty service?  If I have to tell you, you either don’t get it, or you are hoping I will be funny.  Well, I guess it’s because you reap what you sow.  Think about it, if a man came up to you and said “I have a 7 figure income and I went to Penn State, you will never be better than me.  Now get these shoes in a 7.” you are going to think “What a fucking asshole” and “Wait, this man only wears a size 7, what a shrimp dick.” (My apologies to any man with a size 7 shoe and a big hog.  I do not mean to stereotype you.)
On a side note, why do all Penn State grads have this need to tell me they went to Penn State?
Anyways, when someone approaches you like that, you are going to be less likely to find the item he wants, let alone make suggestions that could save him some money, and you will think he has a small man hood.
I have seen it in restaurants.  Someone comes in with their mouth a blazing and they order their food to go, and lo and behold, their order was wrong.  Or worse, when they act like that on the phone, I have seen people put in a continuous loop of hold music and voice mails.
Now I know some will say that the customer is always right and shoe size has nothing to do with penis size.  On the topic of penis size, well, I can’t help with that.  But on the topic of the customer is always right, you have to take into account that the person helping them is a human, with emotions and possible being the person who handles your food.   Do you really want to give the person who has the power to tamper with your stuff a reason to?
And before someone says lawsuit or that the rat fuck should have done their job, remember what someone once said a once of prevention.  It’s kind of amazing what a little civility can get you.
I know I will sound like a parent or the bible thumping neighbor you have down the street, but sometimes treating others the way you want to be treated actually is a good thing.
Happy Shopping,