Archive for June, 2006

Should You Prepay?

Thought I’d post this since I’m having conversations with a large number of people about the Home Ownership Accelerator loan program we’ve been mentioning.

Should you prepay your mortgage?  The conclusion is: maybe.  And that’s what we’ve been saying.  It depends on what you want to do, and whether there is something better you could do with your money, and – especially – whether you’re going to have some way to get your money back if you need it.

And we have a way.  Give the above a read.  Then read this.

The Times That Try Men’s Souls

A couple days ago I posted about how the rewards of much of the work we do only come at the end.  Today I got the following from Michael, one of my faithful readers (there really are some!), and a truly swell guy:

I’m a regular on your blog.  Your last post about distribution of labor vs. return rings very true.  That is exactly how our home sale in Phoenix was.  Tons of work and worry up front with little reward, but finally it was all worth it in the end.  It seems like some problems/activities in life have a fulcrum point.  Once you have passed a certain point, momentum benefits rather than restrains.  Question is always where that point resides.  This concept has merit in many other aspects of life… enduring to the end.

Michael is correct, and I have no quibble with his note, but I do hear something in there that I want to caution against, since I started it and would hate to not have been clear.

C.S. Lewis wrote an excellent, though oft overlooked, story called The Great Divorce, in which a busload of the damned take a holiday to the doorstep of Heaven.  And, not surprisingly, very few of them want to stay there.  If they were, in fact, the kinds of people that would enjoy being in Heaven, then they would have been there all along, wouldn’t they?  Among the many parts of that book that struck me as obviously true is this gem:

“…[M]ortals misunderstand.  They say of some tempoal suffering, ‘No future bliss can make up for it,’ not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory.  And of some sinful pleasure they say ‘Let me have but this and I’ll take the consequences’: little dreaming how damnation will spread back and back into their past and contaminate even the pleasure of the sin.  Both processes begin even before death.  The good man’s past begins to change so that his forgiven sins and remembered sorrows take on the quality of Heaven: the bad man’s past already conforms to his badness and is filled only with dreariness.  And that is why, at the end of all things…the Blessed will say ‘We have never lived anywhere except in Heaven’ and the Lost, ‘We wwere always in Hell.’  And both will speak truly.”

There’s the famous story about the man sitting along the road not far from a town.  A traveler approaches him and asks “what sort of people live in the next town there?”  The man replies with a question: “what are the people like where you come from?” and the traveler proceeds to tell him of the most horrible, nasty, vicious people he used to live with.  The man sadly informs the traveler, “you’ll find the same sort of people in the next town.”  A few minutes later, another traveler comes by and asks the man the same question.  “What are the people like where you come from?” asks the man in reply.  “Oh,” says the traveler, “they are the kindest and best of people, always cheerful and witty, and I hated to leave them.”  The man smiles and says “You will find the very same people in the next town, son, and you’re very welcome.”  The moral of the tale is that you should always remember that the common thread among all your failed relationships is you.I mention these things almost by way of contradicting my earlier post on the rewards coming only at the end.  What I wrote was true up to a point; there are certainly rewards that are not available at the beginning and the middle that only become available at the end.  But those that do not seek the rewards of the beginning and the middle will not find them at the end, either.  No one that says “I’ll be happy when…” or “If only thus and so, and that will put my mind at rest…” will actually be able to BE happy when, and his mind will never rest.  If you are not looking at the blessings in front of you right now, you will find that you cannot see any later on.Humans are not very good at this.  I am certainly not going to give anyone lessons on how to do it; they would see immediately how poor at it I am.  But I do occasionally see that rolling around on the floor with my 2-year-old had better be good whether or not I have closed an important deal today, or I am going to be one wretched man most of my life.  My tomatoes are growing, and I need to delight at them now, even before there is a hint of red on any of the fruit, or I will find that the fruit itself is not what I anticipated.

Truly there are times that try men’s souls.  Perhaps in these times we can remember to good effect that much of the reward we seek is going to be deferred ‘til the crisis is past, and that, as Lewis says, Heaven will work backward and make even this Hell a glory.  We ought therefore to take the more cheer from the now, knowing that all things work together for good for them that believe.We all know those that are hardly ever happy with what they get, and those that seem happy no matter what.  We ought to be more careful to be some of the latter sort; those that are happy right now are always happy, those that are not happy now will find that now is the only time there is to be happy in.

Turn Out the Lights

I hate being right. Ghana beats us 2-1 thanks to the extremely questionable refereeing and some absolutely abysmal attacking by the US. Meanwhile, Italy brings the hammer and gets a lucky goal late to win 2-0.

I’m sick.

World Cup Predictions

Most of us here understand how big a US victory in the World Cup would be.  For the uninitiated, the US is playing Ghana tomorrow (sad for me; my parents-in-law just came back from 18 months there and it’s a wonderful nation) and must win and have Italy beat the Czech Republic in order to advance to the second round.

Unfortunately, the US performance could end up being directly correlated to a bad result in the other game.  To wit:

Italy does not need to win.  A tie guarantees them to go through.  The good news here is that Ghana could still win the group, so Italy has to play for the win or face Brazil in the next phase.  So Italy comes out playing for the win, but the stronger the US performance, the less incentive there will be for Italy to press for it.  If the US wins, Italy needs only a tie to win the group.

Czech Republic also do not have to win to go through.  In fact, beating Italy seems quite unlikely, and pushing to do that leaves CR open to defeat, which puts the next round seriously in doubt.  Therefore CR will come out early looking for the tie, and will watch the scoreboard closely to determine whether tactics have to change.  Unless the US beats Ghana by 4, they are in no danger from us.  Again, the stronger we are, to a point, the less hard CR will push for the win.

Worst case scenario: US comes out and scores a quick goal, but nothing else for 30 minutes.  This practically guarantees a listless, draw-oriented match in the other game.

Best-case scenario: US scores 5 goals in the first 5 minutes.  CR then has to play for the win, and Italy have to respond or face the possibility of losing out altogether.

Likeliest scenario for a US second-round berth: Ghana scores an early goal.  This forces both CR and Italy to play for the win.  Neither wants to play Brazil, and playing for a draw with the risk of losing could cost them the next round altogether.    Italy is likely to be more successful at this, and should get a goal or two.  Then the US scores in the 80th and 91st minutes and wins the game.  Italy beats CR 2-0.

Likeliest scenario considering that the US will likely have to score more goals in this game that it has SHOTS on goal so far in the entire World Cup: Ghana gets a goal in the first half and scores again on a quick counter late in the second, while the US manages a goal at some point.  Italy and CR play to a 1-1 draw.


Stumbling on Happiness

I learned something interesting today about the way humans perceive things.  This is from the so far (I’m not finished yet) excellent book Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert:

We agree to babysit the nephews and nieces next month, and we look forward to that obligation even as we jot it down in our diary.  Then, when it actually becomes time to buy the Happy Meals, set up the Barbie playset, hide the bong, and ignore the fact that the NBA playoffs are on at one o’clock, we wonder what we were thinking when we said yes.  Well, here’s what we were thinking: When we said yes we were thinking about babysitting in terms of why instead of how, in terms of causes and consequences instead of execution, and we failed to consider the fact that the detail-free babysitting we were imagining would not be the detail-laden babysitting we would ultimately experience.  Babysitting next month is an “act of love”, whereas babysitting right now is an “act of lunch”, and expressing affection is spiritually rewarding in a way that buying French fries simply isn’t.

This little example is familiar to most of us, I think, but its significance was very much enhanced for me this morning.  We at The Chris Jones Group are in the process of putting together our plan for the next year, and part of that plan calls for the upgrading of our systems to produce better experiences for those we’re doing loans for.  Almost inevitably, what starts out as a very pleasant association turns, in the middle of the complicated and difficult details of the last couple of weeks of the loan, into something stressful and distasteful.  The fact is that the mortgage process is very often highly convoluted and almost always frustrating at one point or another.  It is hard work for us.  Some of that work can be seen and a great deal cannot.  Some of that work can be spared the client and some cannot.  That there will be friction is practically inevitable.

But what the client imagines at the beginning, and in fact what we here also imagine, is the end of the deal, where the client has money and/or a new house, and we have a fat check for our trouble of getting it to them.  In the end, most of the time, we have those things, and we ought therefore to be happy about them.  But we frequently forget that for 99% of the time from the start to the finish, we will have none of those things.  What we will have instead is a lot of work, time expended, dozens of phone calls and an inch-thick stack of paper, coupled with a growing annoyance and even concern that things are taking this long and we still have nothing to show for it.  We’re working on a loan right now that has taken 19 months.  We’ve been paid in that time $1000.  Yes, we have a large bill outstanding.  But we’re not going to get any of it if we don’t close the loan eventually.  Similarly, the client wants something he doesn’t have yet, and he’s not happy about it either.  In the end, I think we will all be thrilled.  But right now, things are tense.

Much of life is like this.  We look forward to something happening, and imagine how we will feel when it has happened.  What we practically never imagine is the amount of trouble it will take to make that thing happen, and almost all the time the thing we desire cannot be obtained little by little.  One does not buy a car by going to the dealer every week for a year and returning with a bumper or a headlight each time.  The car comes all at once.  It’s very binary – either you have a car or you don’t.  Similarly, you either have the cash from the loan or you don’t.  All the work you put in before that has, until you get the cash, produced nothing except headache.

But there’s a way out of this trap.  Once in a while (this is so rare I didn’t even think of it until just now), we get a loan that seriously threatens not to close.  In that moment, the house itself, the cash, all the things we were imagining at the beginning come back into focus, because the serious possibility exists that we will never get them.  Well, then, magically, the desirability of those things rises up and eclipses the troubles we’re having now to the point that not only do we not mind our present difficulties, we are willing to endure far more of them if only, at the end, we can have the thing we originally desired.  Lots of self-help gurus have discussed this, talking about “keeping the end in mind” and “focusing on the goal” and things like that, and that is precisely what we’re talking about here.  The question for my business is then – how can I help?