I was being very grumpy about CarMax on Twitter this past Thursday. A lot of people wondered what was going on. As we were finally able to resolve the issue yesterday, I’ll lay it out now.
Lisa Costello and I are back in Maryland helping settle her parents’ affairs. Her 83-year-old father had a stroke about three weeks ago, and her 80-year-old mother has advanced dementia, with him as her primary caregiver. The two of them have relocated to Missouri to live with extended family. (That’s what we were doing here on our last trip a week ago, helping them get sorted out and moved.)
Lisa’s dad executed a durable power-of-attorney here in Maryland with her as his personal representative. This legally allows Lisa to work with the real estate agent, the attorneys, sell the car, and so forth. I’ve actually been handling the majority of the real estate and attorney matters on her behalf, but she is the client of record in her father’s name. Obviously, those are the most critical issues remaining to us.
Disposing of his car was another one that needed to happen in the two business days we were here this past week. It’s a 2005 Ford Crown Victoria LX with low mileage, in excellent condition. I had the vehicle detailed Thursday morning, then at Lisa’s direction, took it to the CarMax location in Brandywine, MD. I explained right up front that this was a power-of-attorney transaction, giving them the basic background outlined above. The CarMax folks assured us that they handled those routinely and there would be no difficulty. They then went through the appraisal process and provided us with what I believed to be a rather generous offer to purchase the car. (The amount offered was above the high end of the Kelly Blue Book value range for the vehicle as best as I could calculate.) All of this took longer than we might have hoped, but that’s what happens when you’re buying or selling an automobile.
We had gotten far enough into the transaction that Lisa had signed the title over, and the CarMax representative had countersigned, when we reached a deeply annoying snag.
CarMax required us to surrender the original copy of the power-of-attorney.
This had never been mentioned to us up front. The power-of-attorney document itself states quite clearly that copies of the document have the same validity as the original. I believe this is normal in Maryland law. In other words, the requirement for the original was a CarMax business rule, not a legal requirement. When we pointed out that we were not about to surrender the original copy of that document, the dealer reluctantly agreed to accept a certified copy.
CarMax’s own notary refused to certify the copy. She felt it was a conflict-of-interest, and that we would have to leave the dealership and go find a notary at a bank, or elsewhere, to make a certified copy. (I’m not sure that’s a term of art in Maryland law, but it’s what the dealership wanted.)
We visited a bank, an insurance agent, and a AAA office in the area. In all three cases, they declined to certify copies. The basic issue seemed to be whether a copy of a document which had previously been notarized could be notarized again to certify the copy. My suggestion of the notary writing a brief cover letter stating that the attached was a true and accurate copy, and notarize that, was not acceptable.
The only acceptable way to get a certified copy would be to return to the issuing attorney’s office and have a new original created. Which was now impossible as Lisa’s father had moved out of state.
We wound up taking the car back from CarMax, having spent about five hours of the day — one of our only two in Maryland to handle this business — with no success. Irritating enough. Vastly more irritating was that the title had been signed over to CarMax, so it was marred, and we couldn’t simply walk into another auto dealer with less stringent business requirements for the power-of-attorney and sell the car. And we didn’t have time to go seek a replacement title, given our return to Oregon on Sunday.
At that point, I figured we were in for a third trip from Oregon to Maryland to deal with this, or would have to pay the attorney to handle the details of the transaction. Either option would be annoyingly expensive, running at least into the low $1,000s. CarMax had wasted our day, and set us up for a very expensive failure.
So I did what I do when that sort of thing happens, which was bitch about it on the Internet, referencing @carmax.
Their social media team responded quickly, asking me to please call an 800 number. I did so, still in a state of pretty extreme irritation. (I am, however, always polite even those situations. Especially in those situations. Just perhaps a bit stronger voiced and worded than usual.) The woman who took our call was both surprised and sympathetic, and asked if she could call me back after talking to her legal department, and to a senior manager elsewhere in Maryland’s CarMax network.
Eventually, I spoke to another manager here in Maryland, who directed me to take the vehicle to their Laurel store and meet with the business manager there.
Lisa and I drove to Laurel yesterday morning to be there when the CarMax store opened for the day. The gentleman we dealt with there explained that the issue was that CarMax required the original executed copy of the power-of-attorney because as a nationwide dealer network, they often transferred inventory to other states, and not all states would accept a copy of a power-of-attorney as valid. As most vehicles sold under a power-of-attorney are sold via a limited power-of-attorney, essentially a single-use document specific to that transaction, surrendering the original isn’t usually a big issue for the seller.
As I pointed out to him, that was entirely CarMax’s affair, and I was not about to tell them how to run their business. However, they had a sales communication problem in not explaining that requirement up front to us before committing us to an hours-long transaction and having us sign over the damned title, thus rendering it difficult to sell anywhere else. We would have just left the Brandywine CarMax location and gone to another dealer rather then engage in the whole process. (In the end, there is a form in Maryland for mis-signed titles, called I believe an “Affidavit of Correction”, but we didn’t have time for that, either.)
The manager at the Laurel store made copies of the power-of-attorney and certified them, stating clearly he was making an exception to the usual CarMax business rules as make-good for our troubles of the day before. He had another CarMax employee handle our transaction paperwork so that his certification of the power-of-attorney didn’t represent a conflict of interest. In about an hour, we were in and out of the Laurel store with the car sold, and the check in our hands, payable to Lisa’s father. (We promptly FedEx’ed the check to him in Missouri.)
In the end, CarMax made it right for us. For this, I thank them, especially the staff at the Laurel, Maryland store.
The core issue was a business rule on CarMax’s part which placed an extra burden beyond what Maryland law required, plus a training problem at the Brandywine store in that when they stated they would accept the power-of-attorney as evidence’s of Lisa’s standing to sell the car, they did not explain this business rule right up front.
There’s also a sidebar issue specific to me personally about having to handle customer service problems through Internet escalation. I went down this road somewhat famously with PayPal last January, and have also tangled with UnitedHealthcare in public, and am on the verge of possibly doing so with United Airlines. As it happens, my social media footprint is sized such that I can make myself sufficiently radioactive to generate a focused response. Would I get the swift responses I do in these situations if I wasn’t me? Or does everyone who complains via Twitter or Facebook get this response?
Mostly, I want things done right in the first place, with no need to complain. I have no quarrel with the CarMax business requirement for the original power-of-attorney. I do have a quarrel with their failure to properly explain their internal requirements openly right up front. And if we weren’t in our last days ever in this state, I could have gone home and worked through the process patiently. Instead I escalated. And yes, I had plans B, C and D if the escalation did not work, because that’s how I roll.
So that was the CarMax misadventure. Another way to burn a few spoons and fritter one of the ever fewer remaining days of my foreshortened life.