WE’RE HEARING as this is a holiday week, it seems fitting that my blog post focus on a recent vacation. Of course, as a self-diagnosed mortgage-a-holic, even my vacations are spent thinking of my chosen industry. I have included some embarrassing anecdotes from this particular vacation to keep you entertained. It’s a little light on mortgage perspective, but it’s a vacation week, so enjoy.
This past week, I went on a family reunion cruise to the Bahamas. That may sound exotic to some of you, but where I live in South Florida we refer to it as a neighborhood booze cruise with the addition of the fine accoutrements that make cruising so popular. (The use of the word accoutrements here is intended to give some class to an experience that otherwise could only be described as riding around in a boat with a bunch of sweaty Americans). We went as a big family group, ten adults and nine kids, all related by blood or marriage.
My first observation is that the in-laws were always the ones up late partying while the actual family members were getting to bed early. There is something about my wife’s family that drives them all to marry what can only be described as over-functioners, and the one function required on a cruise ship is to party. In the interest of full disclosure, I should point out that this is my wife’s family I’m talking about, so I am the in-law in this case.
Party on Garth!
Maybe the lesson in the partying in-laws and sleeping spouses is that you sometimes need to combine different personalities to build effective teams. Maybe the top producing sales-oriented loan officer really does need the detail-oriented processors to clean up after them, er...I mean, complete the transaction in a fully compliant manner.
The cruise we chose was one of these less expensive midweek excursions, with a Monday departure and a Friday return. How very convenient for us working family members (Not!). This schedule maximizes both the amount of time you must spend away from your desk and your overall chances of getting sea sick. Of course, I was happy to go and spend time with my loving family. For better or for worse.
Leaving on a Monday can be pretty convenient since getting to a boat at the Port of Miami is no big deal on a Monday in late June. Unless, of course, Biscayne Boulevard is closed, which would never happen on a cruise day. Unless the Miami Heat happens to win a championship and their owner (who owns a cruise line!) decides to have a parade on Monday morning along Biscayne Boulevard, blocking the entrance to the port (I am not kidding about any of this).
It took us three hours to drive 45 miles to Miami and we ended up literally being one of the last cars to cross Biscayne into the port before the bridge was closed for the Heat celebration. I felt like I had escaped a war-torn country and made it to the boat just in time. Or, perhaps it felt like going through a long process of planning for a perfect mortgage closing only to have a final hurdle thrown in that delays the closing documents until the very last moment.
I also enjoyed the irony that nearly every cruiser that day now hates the Miami Heat, a sentiment already shared by almost every non-South Florida native.
The other thing I noticed about the cruise was the power of brand and advertising. This ship was a Norwegian Cruise Line vessel. Naturally, I was expecting everyone on board to be tall, blonde and Nordic. That was not the case, but they certainly lived up to their “fun fun fun” motto, an attitude they backed up with a high bars-to-cruiser ratio. The first example of the power of branding took place in one of these bars when my brother-in-law, a U.S. government economist, performed the “Gangnam Style” dance on stage. This obviously means that foreign countries are not only buying all our government debt, but they are also brainwashing our government economists—something I think we all knew intuitively.
My daughter provided the second example. She was rather confused, as she had only previously been on a Disney cruise. She kept asking, “Where’s Mickey?” Given that my daughter is 17 years old, I’d say the Disney brand really is powerful.
Another comment I have about NCL (the cruise line and I are on a first name basis now) is that their brochure was absolutely accurate. I realized this when I showed up to my room and found that it was literally life size, meaning it was the size of the picture in the brochure (OK, I stole this joke from the onboard comedian, but the rest of the jokes are original). The room also made me wonder why we need such big houses in this country. If three adults can survive for four days in 150 square feet, why do we need that extra bonus room, basements or loft in all our new homes?
My final comment about the cruise is the upsell, which cost me a lot of extra money. First example, the internet. You see, I had to put in a few hours each day to keep up with work. Or perhaps as an excuse to get away from 18 relatives, but for whatever reason I needed my Internet access. The boat was happy to oblige and it actually worked well, and was available in a discount package of $24 per hour. That is not per day and that is not per hour of actual data transmitted. That is per hour your browser is open. So, on a cruise, staying on the Internet is over $500 per day, which is more than you pay to stay on the boat and eat as many meals as you want and get excellent housekeeping where they fold your towel into the shape of a swan or other adorable animals.
I think they sucker you on the boat with the promise of giving you an experience worthy of updating your Facebook page and then charge you for the privilege. That would be like mortgage companies charging a $24 fee for the right to make a last-minute mortgage payment online. That is ridiculous.
And the other obvious money maker on a cruise ship is the alcohol. They offer an all-you-can-drink special, but it requires everyone in your party to subscribe for $50 per day. You can’t have only one spouse go all-you-can-drink; both spouses have to be all in. The cruise line must think I still get drinks for my wife...don’t they know how long we have been married? I haven’t done that since we dated.
So, before you even have a chance to have your first drink you have to run an exercise in this crazy alcohol arbitrage calculation about how much you are planning to drink over the next four days. It’s rather like asking a borrower if they want an ARM or a fixed rate, without asking how long they plan to live in the house. Next time NCL should just ask me how drunk I plan to get and they can do the math for me. Meanwhile, I will be learning the Gangnam Style so I am ready for the next cruise.
Garth Graham is a partner with Stratmor Group, and has over 25 years of mortgage experience, from Fortune 500 companies to startups, including management of two of the most successful mortgage e-commerce platforms. He was formerly with Chase Manhattan Mortgage and ABN Amro, where he was a senior executive during the sale of its mortgage group to Citigroup.