Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Goodbye, Wells Fargo

I have officially dumped Wells Fargo as my bank.

This was sorta difficult, as the individual front-line Wells Fargo employees with whom I have dealt have been, in every case, really nice, helpful individuals.  (On the plus side, as they were really nice, helpful individuals, they were really nice about the whole leaving thing.)

I dumped them because they screwed up my refinance.  More on that in a moment.

I'm posting about dumping them, though, because, in retrospect, it looks like there was something totally underhanded going on.

It started a few months back, when some dude from Wells Fargo kept cold-calling me to refinance my mortgage.  Which was already with Wells Fargo.  I finally called him back just to stop him from freakin' calling, and he offered a surprisingly good deal.  Surprisingly.  It looked something like this:

- they will refinance my mortgage with a lower rate (and/or shorter term, if I'd like)
- for no costs or fees
- no really, no costs or fees -- not even rolled into the balance or anything

When someone offers me a free lunch (particularly a bank), I am suspicious, so I looked for the catch.  When I couldn't find the catch, I asked why, exactly, Wells Fargo was offering to refinance my mortgage at no cost (when, as far as they were concerned, I seemed perfectly happy with my current Wells Fargo mortgage).

And the dude said there were two reasons, basically.  The first was that rates were really low, and Wells wanted me to refi with them before I refi with someone else.  This struck me as sort of bullshit.  The second was because of the government program, HARP, and that they had to do a bunch of refinances so that they could tell the government they were doing all these refinances like a good little bank.

(OK, I added on that "like a good little bank" bit.)

Now, let me be perfectly clear.  I was not behind on my mortgage and had no trouble making payments.  (Knock wood and all that.)  I knew there were government programs out there requiring banks to help out folks who were underwater on their mortgages (or otherwise being screwed) and I was not one of those folks.  It made perfect sense to me, though, that a bank would -- perhaps instead of offering these refinances to the people who actually needed them -- offer them to their better customers, and then cheerfully report to the government that they did a bunch of refinances.

So I signed up.

Long story short, Wells Fargo screwed up something in the math in my paperwork.  They admitted it was a mistake, but refused to correct it.  (Said there wasn't enough time to correct it before closing and for me to sign it anyway and they'd refund the difference and it was no big deal.)  I did my refi with another bank.  Another bank that actually charged me costs and fees, but gave me a better deal on the mortgage and didn't try to pass it off as a HARP refi when it wasn't.  (When Wells finally realized I was going with another bank, they managed to FedEx me the revised documents before closing anyway.  Of course, I was already committed to the other bank -- having paid them fees -- by then.  And the documents were still wrong.)

Once I closed the loan with the other bank, I closed my accounts at Wells.  

The whole incident was brought back to mind today.  (Someone at Wells sent me a mailing to keep in touch with him and let him know if my mortgage needs change -- this was, ironically, the same dude to whom I said, "I'm giving you the last chance to save me as a Wells Fargo customer by fixing this paperwork," who responded to just sign it anyway.)  And I wondered -- was Wells Fargo totally gaming the system by offering me a HARP refinance?  Were those loans really only for homeowners who were in trouble?

So I looked it up.

This is the HARP page on the Government's Making Homes Affordable website.

Under "Eligibility" it says "You may be eligible for HARP if you meet all of the following criteria"

- The mortgage must be owned or guaranteed from Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae (check)
- The mortgage must have been sold to Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac or or before May 31, 2009 (check)
- The mortgage cannot have been refinanced under HARP previously .... (check)
- The borrower must be current on the mortgage at the time of the refinance, with a good payment history in the past 12 months (check)


- The current loan-to-value (LTV) ratio must be greater than 80%.

Come again?

The current loan to value ratio must be greater than 80%.  In other words, this is for folks who are nearly (or actually) underwater on their mortgages -- when the home's value has declined so much, it only slightly (if at all) exceeds the loan.

Now, when I did the refi with the other bank, it required an actual appraisal (Wells would not have required one for their refi), so I happen to know the appraised value of my home.  And the value has, rather annoyingly, dropped since the time I bought my house.  But, I also bought my house with a fairly significant downpayment (as I'd had a ton of equity in the condo I sold to buy the house).  Result:  my loan to value ratio is about 35%.  On no planet is it over 80%.

And it makes sense that HARP would have this requirement.  After all, according to the government's website, the point of HARP is to help you out "[i]f you're not behind on your mortgage payments but have been unable to get traditional refinancing because the value of your home has declined." 

Clearly, that's not me.  Indeed, I obtained traditional refinancing with another bank with about one phone call.

So, there it is.  Wells Fargo is totally trying to do HARP refinances for people who don't need HARP.  (And in the documents they sent me to sign, they acknowledged the value of my home, so it isn't like I was hiding it from them.)  I suppose there's no harm in a bank loaning money at a good rate (and without costs or fees) to anyone it wants to make those loans to -- but if it's reporting those to the Government as HARP loans (and if government funding breaks are somehow involved), well, that's something entirely different.

But they've all been very, very nice.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Lucy Liu as Watson? What?

Yeah, well, that whole "giving CBS's Elementary a chance" thing is pretty much out the window now.  Or if not actually out, it's on the ledge, teetering precariously.

This morning, my pal Peggy informs me of the cheerful news that CBS has cast Lucy Liu to play one "Joan Watson" opposite Jonny Lee Milller's Holmes in the CBS modern-day-Sherlock adaptation (discussed the very last time I blogged), Elementary.

This was one of those times where my first response was to check the calendar and make sure it wasn't April 1.

Seems that I'm not the only one who isn't taking the idea all that well.  Washington Post has an blog article entitled, "Lucy Liu will play Watson to CBS’s Sherlock Holmes. People appear to have a problem with that."  The blogger in question notes some of the negative reaction which followed the announcement, and then posits the question:  "But as a question to the general Sherlock-loving community: Is it truly that hard to accept the idea of a woman playing Watson?"

(First, that's the wrong question.  I don't have a problem of a woman playing Watson, any more than I have a problem with a woman playing Iago.)  The problem comes when one changes character of Watson into a female one.

And, honestly, I have to admit giving the whole issue a certain amount of thought, because I generally believe that there's nothing women can't do.  I do believe that women are (except for certain biological differences) the same as men -- it isn't that women aren't as intelligent, or that women are more emotional by nature, or any of that sort of crap.  

But the issue here, for me, comes down to something rather more basic:  if Watson is a woman, you're not really doing Sherlock Holmes anymore.  

And that's what we've been more or less promised with Elementary.  Lord knows, there have been plenty of characters on television who have been Holmes-esque, or even inspired by Holmes.  But CBS is here trying to do what the BBC so successfully did with Sherlock -- a full out, in-your-face, no bones about it, updating of the Sherlock Holmes stories.  The time period has changed, the tools have changed, the science has changed, the crimes have changed -- but the essence of what you're watching is still, at heart, the Sherlock Holmes stories.  And if Watson isn't John Watson anymore, you're losing a big chunk of the essence of those stories.

Here's the thing:  I've always thought that, whenever someone is embarking on a Sherlock Holmes adaptation, Holmes is easier to get right than Watson.  Everyone knows what Holmes is: a brilliant, perceptive, intellectual, annoying, aloof, inscrutable, condescending jerk, who is only tolerated because he is genuinely as good as he thinks he is.  But Watson is harder to get a handle on.  He's often played as a total idiot ("Boobus Brittanicus," is, I believe, the proper term for the species), but that's wrong, because he's not.  (He just sometimes comes off that way because he's chronicling Sherlock's triumphs and he's suitably impressed.)  But he's intelligent, educated, courageous, loyal, an exceptional writer, and good in a crisis.  He doesn't mind saying how impressed he is by Sherlock because he's confident enough in his own self that it doesn't diminish him in any way.

So it's hard to get Watson right.  But it's even harder to get the Holmes/Watson relationship right.  Holmes gets more out of Watson than just a biographer.  Watson is a companion and roommate.  He also has the social skills which Holmes lacks, and can smooth things over with people whom Holmes offends or doesn't understand.  Which is most people ... but very specifically includes female people.  

Holmes doesn't get women.  It isn't just that he's asexual (although, yes, there is that), it's that women are insoluble puzzles to him.  He gets Irene Adler (another character everyone seems to get wrong -- although, as a total aside, Sherlock didn't) -- but not any other woman.  He can't relate to women the way other men can, and this leaves him largely useless with roughly fifty percent of the population.

So how on earth can his best friend in the world -- the person on the planet he is the closest to -- be a woman herself?

If Watson is a woman, one of two things is true:  Either Watson isn't Holmes's best friend, or Holmes isn't Holmes.

Either way, Elementary is no longer Sherlock Holmes.

(And this entire discussion gives CBS the benefit of the doubt on the idea that it will be able to have two attractive performers like Miller and Liu play characters who work side-by-side regularly (and may well be roommates) without anything remotely resembling sexual tension or attraction between them.  That men and women can actually function in those circumstances without sex being a factor is certainly true.  That a one-hour televised drama can show them doing so remains to be seen.)