Friday, April 22, 2016

Ain't No Change in the Weather, Ain't No Changes in Me; Gear Work and Title Companies

J.J. Cale was not thinking of the Maine coast in April, and I could certainly never write that line. For instance as to both, Tuesday started wet and cold, got mild and warm, got dry, sunny and breezy and then I lost track. I started the day with title work for a construction loan, cleaned up some blow-downs in the back yard for firewood, went back to the computer 'til lunch. After that, an out of state client suddenly needed something filed today, which was great except I had no printer out here on the island yet. After an aggravating hour and a half or so, documents were in the mail, so three of us switched to tree work on another property. Wrapping up the workday was a bit more fire suppression on mainland real estate matters.

I often question myself for trying to patch together this disjointed existence, feeling bad about neglected tasks for one or another of my business efforts, listening for irritation over the phone when I'm on the wrong side of the water or late on something for someone, feeling the grass get too long wherever I'm not.

Uptightness or no, the week was productive. Buoys for the year are ready. Rope has been groomed for the first batch of traps. The woodpile started to inch back up. The lilac out front looked as if a giant came down the beanstalk and stomped it right in the middle. Megan and I cut and hauled off the vintage tree/shrub, leaving one very healthy but small stalk. Fiona hauled brush, weeded, marked and bundled buoys and manage to sneak in some school vacation as well.

Last fall, the rope faery deposited large piles of rope from a retiring fisherman on my lawn. How it was loaded other than possibly a hydraulic pitchfork, I cannot fathom... It is one mass. Reason tells me there are at least two ends for the dozens of warps in the heap I'm working on this morning. Emotion prompts me to just flail my arms in an attempt to shake one length free from its clinging, entangled brothers. The last one is very sweet, because it can only tangle with itself.

Which One First?

From Chaos, Smaller Bundles of Chaos

As I do my fishing gear work for the year, I sometimes have a gnawing worry about being here or there, or neither, or doing the wrong work in life. I am getting better at mentally giving the finger to what I am supposed to be doing, or what people think. It's a work in progress.

Sometimes I am helped along by the realization that more and more are approaching life this way, by choice or necessity, and that fewer have that one job, that one career.

A recent case in point came from the real estate title business.

Real estate law practice in Maine until fairly recently was intensely local and done primarily by small firms in small towns. That's where title insurance comes in. In order to batch up mortgages and bundle them as collateral for investment banking and bond sales, title insurance makes risk more uniform, and is a condition of virtually any mortgage.

Two other forces have changed the business. One is the continual consolidation of banks. Small town banks are becoming rare. Bigger banks prefer bigger and fewer legal partners. Bigger in my opinion may help with scale and some efficiencies, but pretty much guarantees clumsiness, poor communication, bureaucratic over specialization and a lack of personal responsiveness and local knowledge. If I'm dealing with one bank officer here in town, that seems to work well. Dealing with a loan originator, processor, closer, post-closer and any number of other narrow job classifications is, my friends a recipe for poor customer service.

The other force is new banking regulations. The same financial consolidation that brings clumsiness and bureaucracy also brought you, tum ta da dum: "Too Big to Fail." [cue laugh track, because we collectively still haven't figured out who got the punchline in the nose]. Actually, they failed quite spectacularly, but at least executive bonuses did not suffer.

Shit flowing as it does, the reform measures prompted by the financial meltdown don't hurt the big institutions that caused the mess so much as the smaller title firms and banks that must meet all the new top heavy, policy-and-procedure-instead-of-common-sense type regulations. My "best practices" manual is probably the same number of pages as any city firm where there are multiple attorneys and dozens of staff in the title and closing department.

This long winded preamble brings us to Front Porch Title. I've changed the name to avoid embarrassment and litigation naming me as a defendant. (What do you call a guitar player wearing a tie?).

I wanted to put an attachment lien on some real estate before the deadbeat who stiffed my client sold it. I was too late because the sale had closed the day before I got the court order, but I did record the lien prior to the mortgage from said sale, so my guy is ahead of the bank. Banks do not like that.

In a spirit of collegial problem-solving, I set out to find the attorney who'd done the closing. "Front Porch Title" was the company listed on the mortgage recording at the registry of deeds. Google said they were in New Hampshire, but their website listed all sorts of branch offices in Maine. The one nearest the property in question had a phone number which, when dialed, was answered by someone who advised me this was her cell phone and she hadn't worked for Front Porch for 2 and a half years. I reverse engineered another phone number by searching the Front Porch address in the same town. This seemed like a match because this other title office had the same fax number as appeared on Front Porch's website. My heart warmed as I spoke with the gentleman at that number who clearly was trying to juggle kids, driving and my non-sensical call. I thought 'wow, he sounds like he lives and works like I do...I am not alone.' He had no idea who had closed this sale or why his fax number was on Front Porch's website.

The Front Porch home office at first had no clue what was going on or who had closed the deal I was asking about. It took multiple calls and emails to get things rolling. What if I'd been a customer?

Time for New Gloves, Cheap Bastard?
Front Porch Title is no local, responsive entity, no home town law firm. It is a sprawling bramble patch of everything that is wrong with the business, all the poor communication and bureaucracy and a dozen phone numbers and email adresses to nowhere.

I do appreciate that they helped me feel better about my patchwork crazy quilt existence. At least one other person in the title business is patching, too.

Back to the rope pile and the stacks of traps. It is my happy place, mostly.