Fixed or variable?
Back in December I talked about a snag we encountered on the road to our mortgage renewal.
I have an update.
You may recall, our mortgage renewal plans were sidelined because our property had a “title defect” associated with it. Our bank officer was ambiguous as to the exact nature of the defect, but he assured us that he was in contact with the lawyers and that this would be cleared up in no time. I wasn’t really worried about it, I figured a week, two weeks at the most and we’d be all ready to go. A week later, Zack (let’s call him Zack because that was his real name) called to say that he still hadn’t heard anything. He called the next week, and the week after that, and the week after that. It was suddenly Christmas, and a full month since Zack talked to the lawyers and still no response.
No response. Not a “the lawyers called and are working on it and it should be cleared up” kind of thing, not a “the lawyers faxed over their records and our people are just confirming the details” kind of thing either. It was a “nothing at all” kind of thing. I didn’t even really know which lawyers we were talking about. The bank’s lawyers? The lawyers that sold us our house? I asked Zack if there was anything we (i.e. my wife and I) could do to speed things along, but he said that this is all part of the process and he was looking after it. The one thing I can say about Zack is that he was very regular with his “phone calls of no news”. They always came on a Monday, and they were always a disappointment.
Well, this carried on all through January and the first part of February. I actually kind of started to look forward to Zack’s weekly call of no news. I guess I’m just kind of a dumb boob.
But that all changed this week, because Zack made the fatal error of not calling me at work. He called my wife at home.
My wife is slow to anger in most instances, but good LORD getoutoftheway when she’s reached her tipping point. Her tipping point was reached this past week, as Zack and I found out.
My wife met me at the door. “Yeah. That Zack guy called ME this time. He wants you to call him. He STILL hasn’t heard from the lawyers. What the HECK? It’s been over two months. I think you should call the lawyers yourself. This has got to stop.”
I was skeptical. I mean, this is Zack’s job: dealing with mortgage renewals, bank loans, lawyers, title searches, etc and if he couldn’t get any answers from the lawyer’s office, what chance did “Johnny Bookworm” (i.e. me) have? I said as much to my wife and she said, “You took two years of law school. You know their lingo, you know how they operate. Call them.” and she was out the door to work.
I also knew that in almost ten years of marriage, my wife’s intuition was seldom wrong. I went downstairs to our “filing cabinet” (i.e. a rubbermaid bin with file folders inside that is perched on a work-bench in a corner of our unfinished basement) and dug out the manila envelope that had all the house/mortgage stuff. I found the number of the law office we used ten years ago and went back upstairs.
I called the number and got the receptionist who after I began explaining my predicament said she’d pass me right along to one of the junior clerks. This didn’t sound promising, but I was patched through to Robyn. While I was telling her the long and stupid story of what led me to her, she was calling up a title search and LITERALLY within three minutes Robyn was able to tell me that our title was CLEAR, and not only was title defect cleared up, there never was a title defect in the first place.
“What? Sorry, could you say that again?”
Robyn repeated it. There was never a title defect associated with the property. “This title couldn’t BE any cleaner. There’s no liens, no hydro easements, no encumbrances of any kind. And there’s just one mortgage on the property, registered to you.”.
“That’s us! That one is supposed to be there. Could you do me a HUGE FAVOUR and call our bank officer and tell him that? This guy seems to think he’s been talking to you for over two months and getting nothing back.”
Robyn said, “Well I don’t know who he was talking to, but it wasn’t us. As you can see, a 5 minute phone call would have cleared all this up. I’ll do you one better, though. I’ll email you a copy of the title search that you can show to the bank and and hopefully things can proceed as planned.”
As good as her word, an email popped up into my inbox with the title search attached. When I got to work the next day I sent this off to Zack. His response was pretty unsatisfying. It basically said something like, “Great, I’m glad to hear that the title defect is all cleared up, we can proceed with the rest”.
No “I’m sorry for putting you and your wife through a stressful couple of months.” No “we will look into why we couldn’t find out this information ourselves”. No admission of negligence or incompetence at all. I sent an email back to Zack pretty much saying, “Not so fast. I think you owe us an explanation as to why a. you said there was a title defect on our property when there wasn’t and b. why it took me 3 minutes to find out the correct information and c. why calling the lawyer’s office yourself seemed to not be an option for you.” Before I sent it I did something else that I think was kind of clever. I called the branch to find out who the branch manager is, (i.e. Zack’s supervisor) and copied her on all future emails with the bank.
I did get a response from the bank manager, but it wasn’t the one I was expecting. She emailed me, thinking she was emailing Zack, coaching him as to what he should say to us (i.e. passing the buck/responsibility to an outside company that does title searches for Scotiabank). It would have been nice if SOMEONE at Scotiabank just said, “We’re sorry this happened. It was our mistake. Let’s make it right.” but for a bank that prides itself on customer service in its advertising, there was little to be proud about with our experiences over the past few months.
I couldn’t resist responding to the bank manager’s mis-delivered email. I told her that I think this email was intended for Zack and didn’t appreciate being referred to as “the customer”, and that my wife and I have names, etc. I was laying it on a little thick, I know. The truth is, I wasn’t really all that angry. The truth is it was a kind of a “pretend” anger, a false sense of self-righteousness. The truth is that our mortgage isn’t up for renewal until May and that I wouldn’t even be thinking of renewing until about now anyway if it wasn’t for the “act by Nov 30 to get the low rate” kind of talk we received in the mail last fall. But I wasn’t going to let this “injustice” go unvindicated.
You have to hand it to Zack. If I had an upset customer who was copying my boss on every email, I would probably become a bit unnerved. Maybe he was, but his tone in the emails remained unapologetic. He did, however, fax me a couple of the title search done by the bank. The title search that showed up the title defect in the first place. He only sent it because I asked for evidence of the defect, copied to his boss, but he came through. Sure enough, it had my name, our address, and a large “title defect” stamped across it, like a b movie prop. I sent it off without delay to my new best friend: Robyn, the junior clerk at the law office. She responded within a couple of minutes saying that she ran a search on the reference number and the property they were looking at WAS NOT EVEN REGISTERED TO ME. They ran the WRONG FUCKING PROPERTY, and she questioned who was actually doing the searches for the bank. I took this info and forwarded it back to Zack and his supervisor.
An hour passed.
Then I got an email from Zack’s supervisor addressed directly to me. It was full of textbook “contrite” customer-service apology language, like ” we value you as a customer, we greatly apologize for this misunderstanding” etc. Which was all I really wanted to hear in the first place. The bank stopped short at throwing Zack under the bus, and that was fine with me. I didn’t want Zack to lose his job, but it was clear he didn’t know how to handle this. I’m glad that his supervisor had a talk with him about handling this situation better. It wasn’t a direct admission of malfeasance, but it was enough. The weird thing was that since I was including the law clerk’s emails in the exchange I was having with the bank, the bank thought that I wanted to refinance the mortgage through the lawyer’s office now.
God DAMN this bank has a problem with basic communication! I emailed back. “No, dammit. We just want to renew our fucking mortgage with you and open a god fucking damned home equity loan. What’s so fucking hard about that?” I’m paraphrasing, obviously.
The truth is, we probably should go to another financial institution after this, right? But the bigger truth is that I’m too lazy to start shopping around and transferring things and whatnot. And also, after that epic “three way” between the bank, the lawyers and me, I was spent.
We should have learned our lesson five years ago, our previous renewal period. At that time, we could have gone into our bank and signed papers for another term and be done with it, but I thought that we should contact our original mortgage broker and see if he could leverage us a better deal. When we first bought the house, no one would give us a loan, as my wife and I were both working part time and were as poor as library mice. This mortgage broker, in kahoots with our sweat-panted real estate agent, came through in a big way and came up with a mortgage through our current lender. We were so grateful that we get changed all our banking over from our previous bank, the bank of our childhoods, the very same bank that wouldn’t give us the time of day when we really needed them, a bank which I won’t name but it is named for a large cosmopolitan city in Quebec who used to have a baseball team called the Expos, to our current lender. I still have a credit card from them that I use but I always make sure that I pay it off every month just to spite them. I’ll earn the air miles, thank you very much, but you’ll never get another cent out of me, suckas!
And so five years ago we thought we’d contact our former mortgage broker, Vic. He seemed touched and delighted that we would have remembered him from 5 years previous. He said he’d get right on it and we felt good about it. There was a small part of me that felt a little guilty that we were abandoning our current lender, the one that came through for us when no one else would, but I rationalized it by thinking that we are just exploring options, and if Vic could come up with a better rate than what our lender was offering, we could go to our lender, armed with this new information and see if it could be matched.
A couple of weeks passed and Vic replied to our query. Sure enough, another lender had a better rate on better terms. Vic had taken the liberty to check with our lender, and although our lender had offered a better option that they had previously to us, it still was not as good as the current one, so it looked like we’d be switching lenders for this next term. I was starting to get the hang of this “mortgage renewal game”.
The day came to transfer and I checked the activity on our account. Sure enough, there was no withdrawal from our older lender. Things were working. But wait, why wasn’t the payment coming out for the new lender? I remember when we first got our mortgage there was a delay of about 4 weeks from the time that we took possession to the time when our first payment was withdrawn from our account. It was like we were living “rent free” for a month, and maybe something like that happens when you renew? I didn’t worry about it too much until the next pay period came and went and still no withdrawals from the new lender. I mentioned this to my friend’s older brother who worked for a bank in Toronto. I asked him if this kind of thing was normal, and he said it was NOT and that I should investigate. As I was looking into it, there was a HUGE withdrawal made from our account, approximately 4 times what the normal mortgage payment would be. But this withdrawal didn’t come from our new lender, it came from our old lender.
We called Vic to see what the hell was going on, and get this: he forgot to send in the paperwork to the new lender. It was, quite literally, the only thing he had to do, and it didn’t get done. He was embarrassed and apologetic and everything, but that didn’t help that our bank account was in overdraft now and we were in mortgage limbo. As it turned out, our old lender came to the rescue again. They said that they would renegotiate with us and provide us with a mortgage, restore the missing money from our bank account and give us what we were originally offered. It wasn’t as good as the offer put together by Vic, but at this point we weren’t in a position to negotiate. We were beaten and were happy with the status quo.
The weirdest part about all this was that in the course of our mortgage renewal five years ago, Vic found out somehow that my wife did water-colours, and he asked if she could paint something to go into a charity auction he was organizing for a local summer camp. My wife agreed, but when the shitstorm hit, Vic awkwardly asked if he could still have the painting. It was already completed, so my wife thought, “why not?” I thought that she should paint another picture of a family standing outside their foreclosed home, American Gothic style, but she stayed with the landscape theme. One night Vic came by our house to pick up the art. He was still apologizing for his oversight, and I felt bad for him, but you can see why we didn’t call him up this time.
So we’re close to finalizing the paperwork. The power dynamic has shifted a little bit now. Instead of emailing Zack and copying his supervisor, I’m now emailing the supervisor and copying Zack. It’s a subtle shift, but I hope a significant one. We may still need to meet with Zack for the final signing, etc, but there is nothing going down that his supervisor isn’t going to know about.
Nothing now stands in our way! Although, to quote Indiana Jones after Sapito says, “We must hurry, there’s nothing to fear here.” Indy responds, “That’s what scares me.”