Monday, March 19, 2012

Will a Short Sale Work for You?

In this time of falling interest rates, and home foreclosures, it should be a buyer’s market, and it is. You just have to know how the game terms. For instance, the short sale sounds like it would be a fast sale, not so. What it really means the bank is willing to take less on the loan than originally owed just to move the house. This is good for both the buyer and seller, but by this time the bank is usually the seller.

What this means is that the bank will not move as fast as an individual home owner because the bank is dealing with hundreds of short sales and foreclosures. It may take anywhere from a month to six weeks for the bank to even accept your offer. Then you can start your loan process which usually runs around six to eight weeks. Already you’re in the third month of the process. The bad news is a short loan usually takes six months to process to closing, although some will take up to a year.

So why even consider a short sale? It is a great way to pick up a better home for less money if you don’t have to move immediately. It is a good deal for investment property too.  If you can wait, then great. Here are some things to consider.

If the home has sat along time empty things happen especially if the utilities have been shut off from freezing pipes to mouse infestation. An inspector will confirm any problems for you. Another option is to buy a home warranty that will cover any of the unexpected problems for a modest fee. It isn’t a great deal if you move into your dream home only to have the plumbing malfunction the next morning.

What is the difference between a short sale and a foreclosure? A foreclosure is the final step in the process. The bank has tried to sell the home by consistently lowering the price without any luck. This process can take up to two years before it goes into foreclosure. You’d think the bank would be anxious to sell the home for as much money as it could, and it is, but sometimes banks move about the speed of a glacier.

Sometimes people reason they can wait for a house to go in foreclosure. You can, but there is no guarantee someone else won’t bid on the home, especially if it is a good deal. If you are just thinking about investment property and don’t have your heart set on a particular house, then foreclosure is a better way to go. Keep in mind with foreclosure, especially an auction you need to have ready money and a preapproved loan. No matter, which way you want to go, now is the time to buy before the economy improves too much sending the interest rate up.  Remember a short sale is not for those short on time.  

Sunday, March 11, 2012

When You Get Bad Customer Service

Yesterday was my birthday, so my sister wanted to take me out to eat. We decided to stop at Panera’s, which is close to my house. The restaurant was not crowded. For those of you, who aren’t familiar with the place you stand in line, give them your order, then wait for your food. I am a frequent customer, as is my sister, and we both have loyalty cards.

My brother-in-law came with us, as did my daughter, making up a group of four adults. The total bill was a little over forty dollars including a few specialty items. We specifically told the cashier we were eating in the store. When we were presented with a large sack of food as opposed to food on plates, I told the staff member, we wanted to eat in the restaurant. Her response was that it wasn’t her problem and pushed the sack toward me.

We sat at the table and attempted to eat salad out of boxes and soup out of Styrofoam cups. It was definitely not visually appealing, but a little harder than you might think. The manager came over and asked if we had changed our mind about our order because we were eating out of takeout containers. I explained once more, we hadn’t changed our mind, but were given a to-go order when specified otherwise. She smiled apologetically, shrugged her shoulders and walked away. Whatever happened to customer service? What happened to the customer always being right?

The next day at work, I explained the ordeal to a co-worker whose husband manages restaurants. Her advice was to contact corporate via the website. I took her advice and was rewarded with a certificate for a free meal within twenty-four hours. I could have left the restaurant slightly perturbed, and no one would have been the wiser. I could also have decided never to come back, and they’d never know why. If we don’t ask for good customer service, then we won’t get it.

You decide what it is worth to you. Complaining used to take so much longer when you wrote a formal letter. Now all you have to do is find the corporate web site. In your complaint, state the date, the nature of the complaint, what you felt should have happened as opposed to how you were treated, and the desired result of your complaint. For example: you might write a letter complaining about purchasing an item that specified twelve items in a package, but there was only eight. You could ask for the missing four, but you will get a coupon for a new item since they cannot get you four.

I bought a Christmas yard decoration on sale that had missing light bulbs. They were an odd size that I could not find a replacement anywhere. The company sent me an entire set of new light bulbs, plus a backup set when I wrote.

As a former customer service representative, let me remind you to never rant, defame, or use profanity. This will get you nothing. Remember to ask for reasonable recompense. If I bought spoiled milk, I wouldn’t ask for a cow. Companies want happy consumers, sometimes they just need us to remind them of what makes us happy.

In the end, if you don’t get any satisfaction. Remember there are plenty of other stores, restaurants, hotels, etc. out there who do care.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Coupon Stacking and Rainchecks

Ever see those great buys in the sale circulars, and when you go to the store they’re all gone. Me too, in fact it happens frequently to me. Meijers puts out Sunday ads, but when I get to their store on Sunday all the advertised items are gone, or at least the ones I wanted are. Often I am told a truck might be in later that week with the desired items, then again, maybe not. What I’ve learned is to ask for a rain check. The rain check is always the better deal. Let me explain why.

A good day is when I arrived and there is still two packages of the .99 per lb skinless chicken breast left. I would only get a few packages because that’s all that was left or there was a limit on the sales. Usually the limit is two, never more than four. With a rain check I can go back with the item isn’t on sale and there is plenty of stock. Stores are usually generous with their rain check amounts allowing six, eight, even ten of the out of stock item.

Rain checks are only good for the time printed on them. Usually a month, but Walgreens writes open rain checks that have no expiration date. All you have to do is hold onto them. In the summer, when all the back to school sales were in full swing, Uniball roller pens were on sale at Walgreens. Very popular pens at an excellent price, which equaled no stock. I was able to save my rain check for later in the year when I did need to purchase more pens.

What if a store doesn’t issue rain checks? It should say so if their sales ad. If you carefully read Black Friday ads, it will say on the door busters in 4 count font, no rain checks. If you point out there was no disclaimer printed in the ad, they will often give you a rain check. Still, not satisfied, you can contact corporate via their website. Lost leaders, like turkey, around Thanksgiving do not get rain checks. In fact, they will often limit you to one. Need help on the rest of your shopping list, try coupon stacking.

Many stores issue coupons exclusively for their store. Their name is printed somewhere on the coupons. I can take my Huggies diaper coupon for Target, which is a dollar and combine it with my manufacturer’s two dollar coupon for three dollars off in total.

The store coupon value is usually over fifty cents, so the coupons are not doubled, if your store doubles coupons. Just a word of caution here about coupons: avoid installing a coupon printer. Many coupon sites will offer you free coupons if you install a printer. The coupon printer software not only gathers information, but often brings viruses with it. It took my computer down. I am eighty dollars poorer, but wiser whenever a site specifies a device has to be installed. Don’t do it.

So go out and get those rain checks. Patronize stores who offer rain checks this will usually be grocery and discount stores. I guess it never hurts to ask wherever you shop there maybe even more stores out there offering rain checks.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Vegas On the Cheap

My daughter jokingly calls me Cheapee McCheap because I turn over every stone for a bargain. How about a wedding and a honeymoon to an exotic locale for under $2000? It can be done because I did it. Here’s how I did it. We decided on small wedding since we were no longer spring chickens. We also decided on Vegas because my fiancĂ© always wanted to visit.

First step was to check out the flights. I couldn’t find any non-stop inexpensive flights on all the travel sites, so I went directly to the airline sites that often have web only deals. I found a round trip non-stop Southwest flight from the East Coast to Vegas for only $400 a person with two free bags checked per person. Ambassador shuttle service picked us up at the airport for a mere $13 a person.

The hotel which is billed as Vegas’s biggest bargain by NY Times is Bill’s Gambling Hall. It is located across from the pricey Bellagio, which gives you an excellent view of the water show. The rooms are modest, but hotels charging twice as much have the exact same rooms. At Bill’s, we get the free Elvis show, plus an eight dollar steak and eggs breakfast.

The secret to doing Vegas cheap is to by ahead, and online. The reason is once you get there everything is full price. Some resort destinations have great deals once you get there, but Vegas vendors are counting on people thinking this way. My big tips came from reading reviews on Travel Advisor.

Groupon offers great Vegas deals, and daily deals if you bring your computer. I bought the Vegas Entertainment book for only $15, plus free shipping and saved hundreds on meals alone since all the coupons we used were buy one get one free meals. Buying a bus pass will also save you money and give your tired feet a rest too. Vegas Strip hotels are filled with free shows to attract the tourist to their hotel. Take advantage of these wonders from a Circus at Circus Circus to an ocean battle at Treasure Island.

If you’re booking a show, go for a tried and true one like Penn and Teller. The prices are much better and you’re guaranteed a good time. Don’t settle for the first website either. Shop around. I usually ask for promo codes on Google, so I can get better deals. I managed to book a tour of the Grand Canyon and tickets to a Beatles Tribute Show buy doing this by more than 50% under price. Now it did help, we weren’t going into what is considered their peak season when all the kids are out of school.

Even got an amazing deal on the Graceland Wedding Chapel by booking ahead since many Vegas weddings are spur of the moment affairs. Merchants reward people who willingly book ahead with lower prices and upgrades. Can you imagine a wedding with the traditional flowers, church, minister, limo and cake for little more than $300? Add to that Elvis crooning your favorite songs, a photographer with a photo package, and a wedding coordinator too. All recorded on a DVD we can force our friends back home to watch.

With everything slashed to rock bottom prices, I splurged on wedding hair and makeup, not too much though. We even had money left to gamble. That’s doing Vegas on the cheap, baby.