Ally Mortgage Review

As I captured on deciding which company to use for a mortgage, I elected to go with Ally. They don’t offer mortgages directly, but instead partner with better.com to drive the process. They provide an incentive to existing customers to select their option. In my case, it ended up with no lender fees as well as a $500 credit towards closing costs. Win!

They use a three phase process to handle all of the tasks. As you move through the various phases, you get handed off to specialists who collect the information they need to get the phase wrapped up.

Pre-approval

Going through the pre-approval process was as easy as could be. After doing the normal customer identity/KYC stuff, it took me a couple of minutes to provide some details and get the pre-approval. The numbers were laughably high for what they’ll pre-approve versus what I would feel comfortable actually purchasing. One perk is that you can customize the pre-approval letter to your situation for inclusion with offers. For if you’re pre-approved for $700,000, but only plan to bid on a property priced at $375,000, you can adjust the letter to say you’re only eligible for up to $400,000. In the current environment that is the housing market in 2021, I’m not sure how useful that really is… but it’s nice to know it’s an option.

The other thing I really liked about the better.com user interface (UI) was the ability to update the terms and points to see your update rates. Want to go from a 30-year to a 15-year? No problem, just change the values and you’ll see the rates get updated. Plus, you’ll can see the various choices you have for rates based on whichever discount points you want to pay. These rates update regularly based on the market pricing. I created a spreadsheet to track the ups and downs in order to get the situation I wanted.

Discount points, or mortgage points, are fees that you pay directly to your lender when you close in order to receive a modified rate.

If you opt to purchase discount points costs, you bring more money to closing (on top of whatever your down payment is) but then get a reduced interest rate. With Ally/better.com, you could also opt for a higher interest rate and get additional money credited towards closing. It was cool to see the options, and I used them to build another spreadsheet to make my choice. My goal was to minimize the cost of financing where possible, but there’s a cost to paying points as well as there is a breakeven point. Although I intend to be here for a while, it didn’t make too much sense for me to purchase discount points (even if the idea of having a mortgage at 1.875% is cool).

Everything in this point is part of the first phase of the loan. It was all done online and I didn’t have to speak with anybody, although the option is there. My experience is that most everything you need is documented right there, and there’s always an Internet search option if you’re missing something.

Processing

Getting started with the mortgage is straightforward. In order to lock a rate, you need to use a credit card to fund an appraisal. This seems scary, but it isn’t really. My thought is that it’s used to clear out the riff raff and lookie loos because you’re putting actual cash down. After that, you use the UI to indicate you’ve made an offer and then upload a copy of it for review. Everything is task based, so as they need more information they ask you for it. My circumstance was fairly easy I think, so this was painless.

One thing I found to be a little confusing was the initial rate lock process. The information on the site almost made it seem like you were locking the whole array of rates and could adjust your final rate up and down by changing the points paid. But nope, once you locked it, your terms were completely set. Not a big deal, and I made the assumption it probably would lock.

The other item that was confusing to me was the title service options. Seems they partnered with a company called Spruce to do online title services. I had planned to go with a local option, but would have considered the online one if it was more obvious. But it was presented as Spruce out of New York, and I didn’t feel like going to New York.

For account validation, they provide the option to use Plaid to connect to your accounts and validate your details. For income validation, they pull information from the IRS as well as my employer. Compared to the documentation I had to gather the last time I purchased a home, this was a piece of cake.

One unexpected plus for me was that they ended up not requiring an appraisal. That fee ended up getting refunded to my credit card about 10 days before closing.

There were a few phone calls during this process, but they were short and honestly just reinforced the information I was already seeing on the site.

Closing / Funding

I got to the closing phase almost three weeks before closing. This was probably the bumpiest part for me, because the UI wasn’t nearly as up front as during the previous phases. I ended up having to speak to the closing expert once or twice to make sure everything was on track. One of the assigned tasks was to determine when the appointment for closing should be, but it wasn’t clear if the closing expert would schedule or if I needed to. Turns out the closing expert took care of it, but it was just weird. I suspect that using the Spruce service might have smoothed this out as well.

When it came to the closing appointment, I was in and out in under 30 minutes. I did wet ink signatures on a bunch of paperwork, and off I went.

Final Thoughts

This financing option worked great for me. My situation was pretty standard, so I think that helped to make it easy. I’m an employee who can document my income, my down payment was easily documented. There were a few minor paperwork items needed for the sale document and my personal situation, but those were easy to manage. I’ve read some accounts of other who weren’t happy using these folks, but based on my experience I suspect they had some mitigating circumstances that didn’t easily fit into the model that Ally/better.com expects.

The numbers changed a bunch through the process, to the point where the amount of cash I had to bring was way under what I had personally estimated. I might have considered buying the rate down a bit had I realized it was going to come down, but I’m not sure how that estimate could have been made better based on the framework they have to operate in.

My loan was sold pretty quickly, as expected. There was a tiny bit of confusion on the communication as two different letters arrived on the same day, but I sorted it out. No major complaints!

Mortgage Decision Path

History

There so many potential options now for getting a mortgage. Plenty of guides are out there that can help break down the choices, but I thought I’d capture my thoughts on what I experienced and how it shaped my thinking.

I worked through two different mortgage brokers previously, and there are definitely pros and cons. Their whole job is basically to get you a mortgage however they can in order to get paid. There’s nothing wrong with at a high level, at least at first glance. History has shown that they aren’t always working in your best interest and will happily put an unwary customer into a product that they shouldn’t be in. That hadn’t been my experience, but knowing it happens does kind of leave a bad taste in your mouth.

Choices

It had been a while since I had gone through the steps of getting a mortgage, but I had a pretty good idea where the technology had progressed. My approach was to test out a few different paths simultaneously to determine which one I wanted to proceed with. I took notes from my experience with each one.

Option 1: Local Credit Union

I thought I should check a few out. I selected one I had previously had a bit of a relationship with. Did the online inquiry, just to end up on the phone with a very nice lady who then asked me to repeat all of the information I had provided in the online app. I don’t like having to repeat myself, so this was already an annoyance. Since I was on the phone already, I thought I’d confirm the rate options. I quickly learned that the lowest rate they offered would immediately result in a sale of the loan, and it was still pretty high. No option for paying points to reduce the rate. Plus in usual credit union fashion, they wanted all of my business. Blah. These two things combined got them crossed off my list.

Option 2: Costco

I have a Costco membership, so I figured I’d check into this one. Didn’t take me long to decide I didn’t want to go down the full on broker path. Using a throwaway email addy and a secondary Google Voice number ended up being quite prescient when it came to ignoring these pushy folks.

Option 3: LendingTree

A different version of the mortgage broker path I found through Costco, so I noped out pretty quickly.

Option 4: Rocket Mortgage

Started checking them out based on the fact that they helped to usher forward the era of online mortgages, but

Option 5: Chase

They got added in to the mix because they kept coming up with some of the best rates. I have some credit accounts with them, and also had a relationship with them for my former business. Did the online application with no issues. Got assigned to an advisor who I spoke to who, shock of shocks, actually had my information available. But that didn’t help me get the details I really wanted. Each time I wanted an updated rate quote or closing costs worksheet, I had to reach out (and sometimes multiple times to get an answer). This got annoying fast, so they got crossed off of my list relatively quickly as well.

Pro: you’re just another anonymous customer. Con: you’re just another anonymous customer.

Option 6: better.com via Ally Financial

Ally used to be GMAC before the rebranding shuffle that came out of the Great Recession. I have an existing relationship with them and have been relatively happy so far. They don’t actually do mortgages; instead, they partner with better.com and offer some nice incentives if you’re an established customer. I started using their online app and was pretty impressed. There is an ability to pay points to change the rate, and that UI was awfully pretty.

Final Selection

I ended up going the Ally path. Just like most of the other options, it seemed they sell off the mortgage pretty fast. But almost everybody else was going to do that too. My financial situation was pretty straightforward, and lucky for me the sale was going to be easier that the normal craziness that is going on right now. So, I figured I’d go with this option.

Next up, a post with details on the process of using Ally / better.com.

Groundhog Day in Present Day

Toliver had me watch a YouTube video today that demonstrated how carburetors work through the construction of a transparent one. It was really good, but then another video of a deleted scene from the movie Groundhog Day was recommended that got me thinking.

If you haven’t seen the movie, you absolutely should. It holds up, although I admit that it’s been a little while since I last saw it. Bill Murray does an excellent job of playing a weatherman who ends up reliving the same day over and over again. (I bet the day is an easy guess). After enjoying the concept at first, he runs out of things to do fairly quickly. The deleted scene video plays it out fairly well, showing that he’s basically memorized all the things he could.

But, the movie was came out in 1993. The Internet wasn’t all that ubiquitous at the time, although I was on it because of course I was. I’m a big nerd. How we live has changed quite a lot in the past almost 30 years.

I started thinking about what it would be like to reboot the movie, as seems so popular lately. Imagine the premise of the movie set in present day. It didn’t take me all that long to conclude that the presence of the Internet would completely change everything, and could almost invalidate most of the premise of the movie itself.

Think about how much content you could consume now compared to before. Streaming movies and shows, eBooks. Online learning platforms. You could learn all there is to know about so many subjects. Sure, you might get bored, especially since you wouldn’t be able to travel all that far (because of the reset once you fell asleep), but you get to retain your knowledge. That’s a big plot point for the original movie, our hero gets wiser over time.

The biggest downside I can see is that you’d always be stuck in that same point of time. Just like in the movie, how the same games played themselves out to the same scores, the current events would always be the same. This would greatly influence the algorithms that suggested content to you. You could find new stuff, sure… but you’d have to go actively seek it. Since you don’t lose your memories, this might not be all of that big of a deal.

Luckily, I think this movie is quite safe from getting rebooted. There wouldn’t be much point based on how things have changed in the world, and the original concept was so completely unique that it can stand on its own.

Also, RIP Harold Ramis.

Ford Maverick

Ford released the details on their new Maverick compact pickup truck today. Honestly, I barely remembered they were even working on it, honestly. I basically dismissed it after being a little disappointed with the way the reintroduced Ranger came about.

This was a huge mistake on my part.

40 mpg with the hybrid engine, under $20,000 starting price. Using the Ford vehicle builder, I spec’d out a fairly well outfitted Lariat trim and only hit about $33,000. Truck utility, sedan comfort and features. Having the ability to haul things every once in a while, but still having most of the properties of a sedan or crossover is going to make a huge dent. Ford has done a pretty good job of hitting the greatest common denominator of the options most would need.

Built on the C2 platform and using tried and true hybrid and EcoBoost options. They’ve most likely killed the Hyundai Santa Cruz before the pricing even got announced. Ford has been trying to make their platforms reusable since the days of the World Car, but seems they’ve finally landed on the right combination.

Sure, it’s not a full-sized truck, and many of the folks who have one of those probably don’t see the need for this. They’re hauling stuff regularly, or towing big trailers. But there’s a reason people liked Subaru Bajas and Chevy El Caminos. There’s a reason a lot of folks were excited about the Pontiac G8 Sport Truck rumors based on the Holden Commodore, up until GM killed Pontiac.

I hope to see an option added to select AWD with the hybrid engine. Not sure why this wasn’t an option out of the gate considering AWD is all the hotness. There’s a reason why more and more manufacturers are going this direction, especially for areas that get

But more importantly, if they add a plug-in hybrid option in the future to allow you to do a few miles all electric? Crazypants. And sure, the PHEV option could add cost, but if you couple that to electric vehicle incentives? Most folks who could use this vehicle are only hauling stuff every once in a while. Zipping around town for basic errands like it’s a Prius Prime? Sounds pretty compelling to me.

For almost the last 20 years, I’ve preferred sedans. I was worried when Ford accounced they were moving to only trucks and SUVs, but looks like there was method to their madness. Between the Maverick, their recently introduced F-150 Lightning electric truck, and even the new Bronco, they’re making some impressive moves.

Using MoCA to Extend Ethernet Networks

I’ve made some pretty significant upgrades to my home network in the past few years. As the homelab bug started to bite again, I’ve begun transitioning back to using hard-wired connections where possible. I swapped out my older wireless equipment with UniFi equipment for better control, and started running cabling where I could.

My current living situation prevents me from making major modifications. I either had to configure the UniFi system to use wireless mesh and backhaul the traffic, or run cables all over the place somehow. Yuck.

I started looking at alternatives I remembered from a while ago, including Ethernet over Powerline and Ethernet over Coax. Each of these progressed a lot farther than I had expected. Luckily for me, there were already Coax cable drops exactly where I wanted to run my equipment, so going that route seemed the best.

I ended up selecting a solution from goCoax. For under $200, I was able to acquire three of the adapters (WF-803M), which was exactly what I needed. I ended up spending more time tracing and labeling the existing cables than I did getting the adapters up and running. Because I had access to all of the Coax drops, I was able to reconnect everything to suit my needs. Below is a diagram I worked up in Mermaid; any unlabeled connections are Ethernet.

The marketing site for goCoax boasts a data rate of up to 2.5 Gbps. I haven’t tested extensively tested this, nor will I. I have no need. I don’t see any blatant latency, and since I’m limited to gigabit for wired and obviously less for wireless, it doesn’t really matter.

The biggest downside I can think of for this solution is that you can’t use Power over Ethernet (PoE), for the fairly obvious reason that it’s not really Ethernet when you’re sending the bits over Coax. That’s fine, I have the needed PoE injectors and battery backup units, so it doesn’t affect my use case.

The only thing I haven’t extensively researched would be the security of the goCoax devices themselves. Specifically, if I’m using these things and the onboard bonding firmware/software is out of date, is there an attack vector there? Although it’s a concern, it hasn’t been enough for me to dig deeply enough or disconnect them.