That time we almost got scammed

building

Germany is full of honest, hard working, straight forward people who would never scam you, right?

Mmmhmmm!

We ‘almost’ got scammed here big-time. Like a few hundred thousand euros worth. I say almost because we weren’t actually convinced, and pulled out at the pre-pre-pre stages of anything happening.

Before I begin with my story, this post was inspired by Insider Accountant’s experience with his sister-in-law’s boyfriend getting scammed $3K.

And so it begins…

Preying on our vulnerabilities

A few years ago, my sweet husband (then boyfriend) was going through chemotherapy. If you don’t know what it’s like to go through chemo, it’s truly awful. You have poison running through your veins and are so sick you can die. More people die from chemotherapy and other conventional cancer treatments than from cancer itself.

Needless to say, Martin was very weak and we were both emotionally distraught. We were not thinking at all about finances but Martin was on sick leave and my income dropped 80%. We also had 2 households to support as we each had our own apartments that were 70km apart. So money was tight, but not desperately so.

Suggestion from a doctor

A few months after chemo, Martin is recovering well. His doctor approaches him about switching his insurance from DAK to Knappschaft. Both are public health insurance providers, but the latter has an extra top-up scheme that covers tests that only private insurance covers. Which means the doctor is able to monitor Martin better under the new insurance. He gives us the name of an insurance broker.

I didn’t like that the doctor was pushing for a new insurance. Knowing that the insurance biz is big money, I was certain he’d receive kick backs and therefore his recommendation would be heavily biased. But as I mentioned, we were emotionally distraught and if this doctor thinks it’s important to run extra tests, let’s just do it.

Knappschaft is still a public insurance provider which means it is regulated by the government, so the risk was low. This extra top up would cost a bit more than DAK, but it was reasonable and more importantly, Martin would be getting more coverage.

Meeting the insurance broker

Martin called the insurance broker recommended by the doctor, and he helped him switch over to Knappschaft easily. While we’re not thrilled with Knappshaft’s services, overall it’s fine. The part that wasn’t fine was this shady broker.

Him and Martin got along well. After he sold Martin the insurance policy, he was suddenly like ‘hey, I don’t just do insurance, I also do real estate investing! Why don’t I come over and teach you some good ways to save for retirement using real estate?’.

He said some more convincing things and Martin decided that sure, let’s hear what he has to say. I was also excited because I didn’t know so much about how things worked here in Germany, and had been wanting us to start planning for retirement. I figured that since Martin had such a positive experience with him already, that it couldn’t hurt to learn more from him.

Trying to gain our trust and playing on our (perceived) weaknesses

When he got to my place, he was friendly enough but I got the sense that he felt uncomfortable around me.

He was trying to sell us 2 things:

  1. Units in an empty apartment building in the middle of nowhere
  2. A 0% downpayment mortgage (Fremdkapital)

The building is owned by a real estate company who is selective about who they do business with. They only want investors who have stable, steady incomes – people they can work with long term. They will reject anyone otherwise.

The shady broker also said he himself is picky about who he works with, because it was a long term project and that he isn’t only interested in selling us something and then disappearing. He also kept name dropping the doctors who had referred him – how they’ve invested in his projects too and have made a lot of money as a result. Proof of how well they’re doing financially is their beautiful office (because of course practising medicine couldn’t possibly earn much since oncology is such a poor field!).  He kept stressing how WE could be sitting at the same table with DOCTORS, making business decisions together.

Wow! Is that really a bonus?!?!! My b.s. detector started going off big time at around this point. But I also found it hilarious because both Martin and I work in professional fields and hold advance degrees ourselves, so it’s is not uncommon or thrilling for us to sit with doctors. Plus, we’re talking about investments here, not healthcare!

What I did find helpful was learning about Fremdkapital, which is a 0% down mortgage but only for investment properties. I don’t know much else about it, but while this guy was rambling on, I had already decided that we could approach banks or other brokers directly about Fremdkapital if we were interested. Mr. and Mrs. W have used Fremdkapital to purchase an investment flat in Stuttgart, and are early retirees in Germany! So maybe the shady broker wasn’t that off conceptually – but just not with his product or services.

Buy it while it’s HOT!

The guy wanted our financial information right away, so he could start processing us for a mortgage pre-approval. He also wanted us to buy not one but TWO flats. We said thanks but that we still had to think about it, and he made an appointment for Martin to meet him at his office at 4pm on that Monday (we met him on a Saturday).

The next day we drove 50km to the address of the building to check it out ourselves. It was completely empty with no signs of any renos going on. The guy said it’s about to be renovated and the previous tenants were moved out to a temporary apartment, but would be moved back in after the renovations are completed. He said all the previous tenants want to move back in because it’s such a great deal for them to have a newly renovated space.

Having a look around the town, we weren’t really impressed. The neighbourhood was fine but there was hardly any infrastructure and for the price he was quoting (200+K for 2 units), it definitely wasn’t worth it. (Later our RE-investor friend said he would buy at least 20 flats for 200K, not only 2 flats)

Something doesn’t sit right – a sore loser

Martin emailed him on Monday morning to cancel the mortgage pre-approval appointment, but that if he had any future projects in big cities like Düsseldorf or Cologne, to let us know. He wrote back hours later and was a complete @sshole about it. He berated Martin and asked why the sudden change of mind, but then also said he would never deal with us again. He was MAD and pretty nasty about i too.

We found the whole situation to be distressing and upsetting. Because Martin was still recovering from chemo and this guy was connected to Martin’s doctor (we think they are related), it made Martin really uncomfortable to continue with his doctor. There were other reasons too, but Martin eventually switched to another doctor, only to stop seeing doctors completely.

A year later

Out of curiousity, we decided to drive by the building to see how the renovation was progressing. It had been a year and nothing had happened. It still sat vacant. Which means had we bought in, we would have been paying mortgage on a derelict building while collecting no rent, not able to sell, and possibly dealing with a bankruptcy from the RE company that owned the rest (or maybe our own).

In conclusion

We feel like we’ve dodged a huge bullet, even though we weren’t close to buying anything anyway. And we’ve reflected on the situation enough to walk away having learnt some valuable lessons. Some people just suck, and we’re lucky we didn’t fall for it. Real estate investing is probably not for us either, as we find it too finicky for our tastes. But maybe we will look into in the future – or maybe not!

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3 thoughts on “That time we almost got scammed

  1. yeah, we did borrow 100% of the money (including taxes and expenses) to buy our first rental real estate. We actually wanted (and had the money) to put down about 20% but the financial advisor advised us to just take all the money from the bank and invest our money somewhere else. The guy worked for the bank and for his commision. He was interrested in telling us to take a larger mortgage. I am not 100% whether that was an ideal decision for us or not. It has it’s advantages as well. For example we had the money to instantly buy a nother flat with 20% down if we wanted (which we did).
    If you want to decide whether to put down 20% or just borrow 100%, it is a very complicated calculation and I think everybody should discuss it with it’s own Accountant. Tax advantages, deductible stuff, long term plans play a huge role here.
    We did however decide to put down at least 20% on all other real estate we bought.

    Like

  2. Hey, thanks for the link in this one. Sorry it’s taken me so long to get to this – I was out of the loop for a while before Christmas with dramas at work.

    It certainly seems like you dodged a bullet with this mortgage broker guy. Mortgage broking is actually such a shonky industry – it has hardly any regulation in Australia (you can just about get the title of “Mortgage Broker” from the back of a Wheeties box) and there are so many people in the field that put themselves out there as “financial advisers” and “real estate experts” as well.

    I actually don’t see any point in using mortgage brokers anyway – it’s easy to get a loan through a bank directly, and comparing rates is actually quite simple if you have a basic idea of what you’re doing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Actually I’ve had good experiences with most mortgage brokers (the independent ones). They usually get better rates for me than the banks, and provide much better service. I’ve never gotten a mortgage though, just pre-approved. Then got nervous or something happened (like moving to Germany). I think RE just isn’t for me!

      Liked by 1 person

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