Monday, June 25, 2007

Huge Home Inventory does not stop New Building

I just read this article about how the Inventory of US homes for sale hit a 15-year high, with nearly 4.5 million homes on the market for sale. If this isn't disturbing enough, especially when put in the context of how this represents a nearly 9-month inventory of homes, consider how this biggest inventory overhang since 1992 seems to be occurring when the economy is supposedly rather good overall. And, the median home price has slid another couple percent - for 10th straight month of declines.

What I just don't get is why, if there is such a glut of homes on the market, is so much new building going on? Everywhere I turn here in Northeast Ohio, I see yet another new development to be filled with $250K+ homes (which, by the way put them above the current median nationwide price of $223K). The people filling these homes are moving from homes that they can not sell, thus further increasing an already ballooning inventory situation.

I guess people just are not happy with their "old" homes, and being typical US consumers, they feel the need to constantly move into larger and more luxurious accommodations. If that isn't it, someone please let me know what this trend (of massive continued development during massive existing-home inventories) is all about. Personally, I think it signals an impending crisis. Time will tell.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Warranties are nothing more than marketing hype!

It seems that many a product or service "warranty" these days is nothing but a misleading sales phrase - something that sounds good, but doesn't really offer any advantage over having no warranty at all. I am completely and profoundly aggravated by the way companies think it is perfectly acceptable to offer a warranty or guarantee they have no intention of honoring, or one whose fulfillment conditions are so convoluted, complex, idiotic, and/or time-consuming that you basically give up before realizing any true benefit from this supposed perk.

My most recent encounter with an utterly lame warranty is with LG Electronics, in regards to a dehumidifier I purchased 2 years ago with a "5 year parts and labor warranty" that even included "in home service". Yeah, right! What sounded so good at time of purchase (and, helped me decide which product to purchase) is now nothing more than a reminder that many companies have little intention to make due on such a warranty without at least trying to drive you insane first.

The plight begins innocently enough with calling an 800# for customer service, and of course waiting 15 minutes for a human to actually answer the phone. They collect the various information about the model number, serial number, and your contact information, and then proceed to tell you how, even though you live in a major metropolitan area and have in-home service covered under your "warranty", that the in-home part is subject to them finding a service-provider near you that is willing to actually come to your house.

This is a common trend these days -- outsource the responsibility for providing any type of service (be it warranty or otherwise) and then blame any shortcomings on the third-party. So, you have a warranty from LG, but the service comes from whomever is willing to even do it. Lovely. LG then provides me with a phone number to a place 20 miles away -- I refuse! I tell them to look harder for a closer service point, and finally get one only 5 miles away. Now, things are in my court, since LG Electronics is not responsible for their recommended firm's actions.

So, I call the local service company - they are closed on Friday it seems. I wait, and try Monday, and get a scheduled service call (to my house amazingly) for a week later. The week passes, the technician arrives, and confirms what I know (the dehumidifier is shot and needs replaced), and then tells me how that is not up to him, and that they will contact LG and let them know the status, and I should hear something soon.

A week passes - nothing. I call the local place... they have no information, and have never called LG, since they can do nothing for me, and suggest I call LG Electronics Warranty Service again. (are you seeing the circle form?) I call LG. They now tell me I need to Email or Fax them all the same information they already have, and that the appliance local service company needs to call LG "technical support" and have LG's engineers concur that the unit needs replaced. Of course, I ask, what is the incentive for the appliance repair people to call you? Can't you (LG) call them and make sure something happens?!!! Oh, of course not! That is not how it works. And, what can I, the consumer do to make sure anything gets done -- NOTHING! (as planned I am sure).

So, unless I can influence people and events outside of my control, there is little I can do but have (false) hope in people doing their job and honoring their warranty. I can not make the local appliance firm follow-through and call LG. I can't make LG call the local firm, because "that isn't the flow" or whatever. The LG customer service rep I speak with doesn't even have a company Email address (they use a instead - surely because there is to be little record of any warranty requests), and they can't do anything about me getting a new replacement dehumidifier without tech-support approving it.

So, basically, don't count on any warranty unless you personally know ahead of time how the firm operates their warranty-returns process and such. This is ridiculous. A few weeks have passed, I want my dehumidifier replaced. I have gotten nowhere on this matter, aside from hours of wasted calls. Unless LG replaces this thing soon, and actually honors this "5 year parts and labor warranty", I'll never buy an LG Electronics product EVER again, whether it is a dehumidifier, appliance, television, or anything else!

Companies really need to learn that such insane "customer (dis)service" policies do nothing but piss off consumers and turn them to their competitors instead. But, sadly, I suspect all major companies of not caring, since many are quite similar in their lack of caring, knowing that you have no choice in most things, and that they will gain as many new consumers that are leaving their competitors for the same customer dis-service reasons as they lose in customers experienced with their own terrible service. I have had many of these types of experiences over the years, and usually the bigger the company the worse the experience, since they just don't seem to care in the least what they put the customer through.

My main concern now is: what brand of dehumidifier do I purchase next? My gut says simply buy the cheapest damn thing there is, since you might as well pitch it if it goes bad (after the 30-day in-store return or whatever), because in the end, warranty or not, it's all the same when companies have no intention of making the warranty something you can collect on (at least not without wasting more time than it is worth).

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

.CSV File Editor Software

If you work with delimited text files, like CSV files (Comma Separated Values) or tab-delimited values, or any other row and column type data files where the column values are separated by delimiters of some sort, there is nice product on the market to make your life easier. It is a .csv file editor that is quite handy and powerful.

A common way to manipulate delimited data files is to use Excel (which can open CSV files), but that implies owning Microsoft Office (or at least Microsoft Excel), which can be a costly investment if all you want to do is open, view, print, export, or convert delimiter types or such. What you really need to look into is White Peak Software's product entitled Killink CSV (which despite having CSV in the name, really parses basically any delimited text / data file and allows you to edit such files directly). This product allows you to edit comma and tab delimited files easily, and much more.

The software has a nice clean, streamlined interface that is quite intuitive to use. It is also responsive and speedy, which is a definite plus when opening files containing tens of thousands of rows. Here's a sample of what the GUI (Graphical User Interface) looks like presenting the contents of a delimited file - it looks rather similar to Excel, without all the bloat.

This software comes in very handy if you get download files from you online banking in comma or tab delimited form, or from a brokerage (stock transactions perhaps), exports from SQL Databases, you name it. You quickly have a way to view, print, edit, and otherwise manipulate this data in an easy and efficient manner using White Peak's delimited data editor now.

Check it out! They offer a free trial download, and the price is extraordinarily reasonable ($27 USD for a single-user license, and if you need a site-wide license for your enterprise applications and programmers, it's only $497.00). At prices like this, you will save that much instantly by avoiding the frustration of trying to view delimited data in something like Windows Notepad or Wordpad, and with the company-wide license, you will cover your organization's needs for much less than what you could ever hire a consultant to build such a product for.

Bottom line: it's a no-brainer to purchase this product if you work with text-based data files even once per year on average. If you are buying this for a company, it's certainly a write-off and the price is less than a single dinner meeting - making the expense nothing more than a petty-cash transaction (which, from experience, makes it super simple to get management approval to order such software to help in your day-to-day job). I'm no accountant, but I would think that if you were using this product personally to process banking records, stock/investment transaction files, and such, it too could be a valid deduction - at least worth a look if you care to save even more. So, now is a good time to go download the .CSV Editor trial and enjoy saving time and increasing your productivity.