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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Mass exodus to Germany

refugees

I feel really sad. 😦

With all the Syrian refugees fleeing here to Europe, all the tragedy and chaos in their lives, and reading about it but feeling helpless. Not going out of my way to try to help either.

Nobody around me is talking about the war. I only hear people mention refugees in reference to themselves. Namely how it causes them inconvenience.

One colleague’s flight from London to Paris was severely delayed because of ‘migrants’ – but it’s okay because they received a voucher to fly again and will likely choose Brussels as their next destination; or how a refugee station was set up near another colleague’s old flat which now acts as their rental property – it doesn’t matter that the refugee station makes it a ‘bad area’ now, since they don’t live there anymore.

A colleague today mentioned to me and Martin that we should be aware that there may be delays in our upcoming travels, because refugees are trying to get around and causing traffic to be stopped in major tunnels/bridges around Europe.

To be honest, I don’t care if that happens. We will probably get delayed, and yes we will face inconveniences and some stress. But damnit, there are people moving about and trying to save themselves and their families. All we’re doing is going on vacation.

I’m not admonishing people for being so far removed. It’s a luxury to not know what it’s like to drop everything and run for our lives – only to get treated like criminals wherever we end up. I wish people like me – privileged people – would care more and choose their words better.

But really, what good are words when there are no actions? I’m speaking about myself now, because I know that I’m not doing anything to help. I am close enough that I could try to help. Instead I’m going on vacation.

I also feel guilty that after being here in Germany for 5 years, that I can’t really say much about it. Or I can, but I deleted all the drafts because they were sliding into negative territory. Germany is a hard place to live as an immigrant, and I don’t really click with it here. Of course it’s not that bad, it’s wonderful even. I live a life I didn’t think I would ever live. Yet I can still be so ungrateful.

So I’m going to turn this around now, and find a way to help these people. If not by me directly, then I’m going to donate to an organization that does. Because I don’t want to sit by idly, immersed in my own petty worries, when there is such tragedy surrounding me. I don’t want to be willfully blind. I want to help.

Celebrating my 5 years in Germany

Just passed my 5 year anniversary for living in Germany!

*throws confetti*

Germany has given me so much.

Firstly, Martin is German! We met in Toronto but I followed him here. 🙂

I also went to grad school in Germany (essentially for free tuition-wise), and then went on to land good jobs in Germany. Soon I’ll launch into a (hopefully) lucrative freelancing career.

I am so grateful. I know I live a very privileged life.

It’s been very up and down for me in Germany. But instead of reflecting on my bumpy ride, I’m going to just appreciate how good I have it here.

There are so many people Europe/Germany bound right now, who don’t have it as easy as I do. After reading some truly heart breaking stories, I’m going to shut up. I have nothing to complain about anymore.

Thank you Germany, for accepting me in and for giving me all this opportunity. Thank you for giving me my husband!

To another fruitful 5 years, when we plan to FIRE! :mrgreen:

Using the good weather to speak German

deutsch

The weather here in central Europe is hotttt. It’s 30+ degrees Celsius (no air conditioning), and I feel like I’m in a tropical country!

I love it. :mrgreen:

This feeling of *love* is something I’m totally reveling in, because it’s not often that I love it here in Germany.

I try my best to, but I find that I am happier when I acknowledge to myself that I just don’t like it here all that much.

The solution is to learn German.  Speaking German is essential to living happily in Germany. But living happily in Germany is essential to being able to learn German!

My expat friends who love it here have picked up the language so well. Whereas me and my expat friends who don’t like it here are still struggling to *want to* have a conversation in German.

I’ve been living in Germany for almost 5 years now, so I can speak some German. But I don’t like to. 😕 If I mentally prepare for a situation beforehand, like going to the bank or the doctor or talking to a realtor, I can have okay-conversations. But don’t socialize with me in German, or call me on the phone with German, because I can’t do it unless I’m drunk.

And I don’t like to drink, so…!

Anyway, the point of this blog is to get me to harness this positive-energy from the good weather, to get myself to speak more German.

My goal is to speak German everyday. Even if it’s for 15 minutes.

This means speaking to not just my husband, but also my friends and coworkers. Who are all very willing, I just always put a stop to it. 😕