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!

Paperwork journey as a wannabe-freelancer in Germany

I’ve been officially Arbeitslos (unemployed) since November 1st.

And I can’t say I miss my old job. 😀

I actually did go to one big year-end meeting in early November, where I reconnected with my colleagues.  Since I wasn’t planning to bill them for it, I decided to only show up for the fun parts. Meaning no day-long strategy/goals/blah blah meetings for me, but I did attend the laid back social bits. I had a blast!

If this is what freelancing is like, I’m game. Except for the not getting paid part. 😕

It looks like my original plan to start freelancing in early December was too ambitious. Because I have barely made a dent in the paperwork. It’s been a lot of running from office to office to ask questions, and trying to organize that info to make it actionable. Plus we moved, so needed to hold back on/transfer paperwork flow to our new city’s office (even though everything is Federal!). So now I’m hoping for a February 2016 start date.

I had a small idea of what the paperwork would be like, but didn’t know it would be this confusing. So I’ve been slowly trudging through it with Martin’s help, and hopefully everything will work out soon.

The first place I went to was the Arbeitsamt (unemployment office), and that was the most confusing place I’ve ever been to! I was trying to get help with freelancing advice, but they were focussed on trying to find me a job and updating my resume. They really didn’t know what to do with me because I wasn’t applying for Arbeitslosengeld 1 (unemployment subsidy). It’s funny because were I to apply for ALG1, it would be so easy. Everyone at the Arbeitsamt was focussed on ALG1 but only 1 person (who was on vacation) knew a smidge about the freelancing process. And when I finally spoke with that person after 2 weeks, she recommended that I apply for ALG1, and to find an accountant and talk to the Finanzamt. GAHHH!!!!

I’ve decided not to apply for ALG1. Actually I’ve applied already, but won’t follow through with the application. It’s too much effort that I could pour into setting up my Umsatzsteuernummer (freelancing tax number & registry) instead. Plus I feel really uncomfortable receiving handouts when I don’t need it.

What would be helpful is if there were a German office like the Arbeitsamt, but to help with setting up freelancing in a centralized way!

Through all of this, I was really tempted to register as a freelancer in Canada and approach my client that way. At least I could do all my paperwork in English! But I think this doesn’t solve much. It just brings Canadian rules and tax issues into the mix, which I don’t need right now.

At the same time, I’m grateful to have this down time. Martin’s job is stable, and we are not stressed with money (only good stress). We’re able to focus on healing and health, which was the point to all of this. So the freelancing is really secondary, even though it takes up a lot of my energy. I just have to keep reminding myself this!

Welcome to our new place – with pics!

I’m posting pictures of the new flat from when it was mostly empty. I don’t dare post pictures of how we’re living in it now, with all of our belongings in disarray and our visitor (my Mom!) sleeping on a mattress on living room floor. :mrgreen:

The specs are:

  • 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom (2 Zimmer)
  • 50 sq m (538 sq ft)
  • balcony
  • basement storage unit
  • ground floor, slightly raised (Hochparterre)

Rent: 500€ (including all utilities)

Pics are below!

Germans don’t appear to favour open concept interior design, so another hallway awaits you as you open the door. 🙂 We like that our hallway is not so narrow, and has bends which makes it visually more interesting compared to a boring long tube.

MAWI7776.resized

Bathroom is on the right. Yay it’s renovated! Plus it has a tub!!MAWI7778.resized

VOILA! Here is the kitchen!! Or the room that will eventually house the kitchen once we install it. (Yes this is normal in Germany.) We have since installed a modular kitchen that I will post later if I remember.

MAWI7780.resized

Our living room with the previous tenants’ accent wall. We don’t love it, but the alternative was to have them rip it out (as per contract) and leaving us with a wall full of glue residue. Wall paper here is not just decorative btw. It’s the actual wall plaster.

MAWI7784.resized

Our view into the courtyard where the doggies play! It’s also the entrance to our balcony.

MAWI7785.resized

Our bedroom is off of the living room and is of a decent size.MAWI7786.resized

A view from the balcony and our car + trailer on moving day. So nice living on the ground floor. It took Martin and a friend to unload the full trailer in 15 minutes, while my Mom and I received everything from the balcony.MAWI7805.resized

So that’s our place!

Some friends and family were a bit shocked that we chose this flat, because they think it’s too small or not nice enough or something.

But we love it! It’s even fancy to us because it’s in better condition than other flats we’ve lived in, and we mainly chose it for location. We’re a few steps from the downtown strip, which makes it so convenient to get things done and to shop for food.

More importantly, we’ll finally get to enjoy ourselves, instead of being in a hectic in/out everyday. For the past 5 years, our apartment has felt like a locker meant to store our things, that we just happened to sleep in too.

This is the first time that we are both living and working in the same city together. Okay technically Martin works in the next city over, but it’s only a 20 min bike ride and he loves biking.

It hasn’t even been 2 weeks yet, but this simple life feels soooooooooo good.

Optimizing our lives

Last week we moved into our new rental apartment in a town closer to Martin’s work.

Now instead of commuting for hours everyday in opposite directions, Martin is biking 20 minutes to the office and I will be working from home once I clear all this German paperwork!

Our quality of living has instantly improved.

I almost want to cry because this life is sooooo much better already!

We have a lot more time together and more energy to support our cancer-fighting lifestyle.

We will also save at least 300 EUR per month from less driving, less train usage, and lower rent!

All that will go towards our FIRE portfolio, which I’m very excited about. :mrgreen:

But even if moving increased our expenses (like if we had to move to a higher cost of living area to reduce our commutes), it would still be worth it to me. Life is just more peaceful now, and not like the candle is burning at both ends. It’s NICE!

As a side reflection, this recent move marks our 5th move in my 5 years of living in Germany. That right there is a snap shot of what it’s like to live abroad while trying to support our jobs. i.e it’s been stressful (and I didn’t even mention that we need to install and/or remove kitchens for every single move!!).

We just got internet connection at the new place this morning, so I’m planning to get back into the blogging mode soon. Maybe I will post some pictures of the mess that is our new apartment! 🙂

Entering my mid-30’s and still not pregnant

fertility

This week I turned 34!!

Despite the odd title, I’m really thrilled to be in my mid-30’s. But as a woman in my mid-30’s who is trying to get pregnant, fertility is something that I do think about.

Our baby-making journey has been quite rocky, but this is also a neat time. I feel the gravity of it all. Whether we can conceive or not, I think I will always remember this period in our lives fondly.

We started trying last October, after I passed my probation period at work. Like literally right away, on the day my permanent work contract took hold! I know, we are romantic. But seriously, the timing just worked out well. 😉

Us trying was against the advice of Martin’s doctor, who advised us to wait at least another year because Martin was still recovering from chemo. But we had waited 1-year already, and decided that was good enough. Different doctors give different advice, and after reading some studies on our own, waiting 1 year was fine for us risk-wise.

I naively assumed that once we began trying, that I would get pregnant right away. I guess it’s because everything I’ve ever put my effort into, I’ve gotten results. I’m finding it’s not always like that with baby-making though.

We had 2 false alarms during our the last 12 months, which were emotionally trying and stressful. But overall, also fine.

Martin was also recently re-diagnosed with cancer, which had us immediately switch our focus to changing our lifestyle to support a natural cancer healing path.

Now we are in the throes of me switching to a freelancing career (in hopes of supporting both of us financially in the future), and moving to a different city. In between all of this, we have 5 family members visiting from Canada and Asia. It’s going to be a whirlwind of travel for the next 4 weeks, which is bad timing but was planned and paid for earlier this year, and just happens to land now.

I can see that our lives are just too packed, and we need to wind down from the stress of everything that’s going on right now. We need some downtime to relax our minds and bodies first.

We’re also in contact with a fertility clinic and had said that if we tried naturally for a year and didn’t get pregnant, that we’d consider doing IVF or some other type of fertility treatment.

But now that we’re healing cancer naturally, it only seems logical to also try a more natural approach with fertility. I’ve done minor research on it, and no surprise to me, it’s very similar to natural cancer healing. Meaning taking a holistic approach by eating healthy, exercising, and reducing stress. This is to give your body the necessary tools so that it can heal itself, which is what he body is built to do.

I foresee us continuing doing what we’re doing, but getting better at reducing the stress which is our biggest problem now. If we get pregnant, that would be fantastic! If not, that’s also fine. I’m still on the fence about whether I want to have kids or not, but Martin wants kids and I’m up for trying! It’s not that I don’t want kids, it’s just that I’m confused about it. It’s complicated.

This is how I’m living my mid-30’s, and I’m pretty happy about it. 😀

New era, big dreams

dreambig

Today was my last day at work!

I left my laptop and iPhone on the shelf in my office. I’ll be getting the laptop back as a freelancer, but not the iPhone. 😦

So how does it feel?

It hasn’t really sunken in yet.

I have to unwind from the stress of the past few weeks, which were hectic both at work and in my personal life.

But I feel good. This feels like the right decision.

All of my fellow co-worker employees are sad to see me go, but all the consultants I work with are really excited for me.

I’ve now left the employee-of-a-big-company club, and am now part of the freelancer-entrepreneur club.

It’s a good club! Very supportive and resourceful.

I have some big dreams for my upcoming freelancing career.

I’m not going to put any numbers on it now, but my goal is to earn enough to support us both.

Then, I would like it if Martin would consider quitting his job so that we could be location independent.

We could keep a Germany-base, but I also want to be able to live wherever we want. For months.

Let’s try Toronto and Paris for starters. Berlin and Hamburg too. Then – Thailand. I’ve never been to Thailand, but it seems like my dream place.

I also like the idea of house sitting and have been drooling over researching that. There are location independent people without a fixed address, who float around the world house sitting whenever they can. What an awesome way to live!

I’m starting to feel nervous now, because when I was an employee, this type of lifestyle was just a pipe dream that I would read about. But as a location independent freelancer, I know slow travel is very much within reach – and that’s jarring. Sometimes it’s scary to know you’re close to fulfilling your dreams.

Out of all the lifestyles I consider, being a traveller is what I’d most like to do. Or at least try. And freelancing will be able to lend us that.

Still have to see how it goes, but I’m excited for the possibilities!

2 years and the gift of cotton

futon

Today is our 2nd anniversary!!

We like to follow the anniversary gift themes, where year 1 is paper, year 2 is cotton, etc…

We won’t stick too closely to these themes, because we also don’t exchange gifts for any occassion. Not because we’re trying to be frugal, but because we just don’t care about gifts and like to keep things simple (no stressing about ‘the perfect gift’ here).

Last year Martin did give me a very nice paper gift. He made me a calendar with our couple-selfies from the same month in the previous year.  🙂

This year, gifting cotton was appropriate because our goal is to live a healthy life. We are slowly detoxifying our home, alongside detoxifying our diets. One of the things we wanted to switch out was our foam mattress with a non-toxic cotton futon. We spend a lot of time on our bed (ha!) and don’t want to breathe in the harsh chemicals that get sprayed onto mattresses. Perfect timing for a second year cotton gift, ja?

We actually bought the futon weeks ago, and have been sleeping soundly on it since. It’s a lot harder than our foam mattress, but I prefer it. Martin is still getting used to it but says it’s fine. 🙂

Even though cotton futons don’t cost much (starting at 200 EUR for a double), we ended up thrifting it even further by buying it used! I know that sounds gross, but the seller said the mattress was the guest mattress and hardly used. Okay so everyone who sells their mattress says this, but we decided it couldn’t hurt to investigate since ordering a new futon would take 6+ weeks to receive, and we wanted the mattress right away. When we got to the seller’s house, it really was the guest futon! The mattress was pristine, no dents or stains, and also didn’t smell. I actually leaned down to smell it! So for 65 EUR, we hauled it away and have a story to tell. :mrgreen:

It’s been a hard year for us, but marriage is suiting us well. We are used to referring to each other as husband and wife now, which took some adjusting to. We’ve been together for almost 8 years, but only married for 2. So the boyfriend/girlfriend titles were more automatic at first.

Most new people who meet me at work don’t know I’m married, because I don’t wear a ring and rarely talk about ‘my husband’. At first I was nervous to mention a partner at all, because I’m hyper aware that everyone assumes newlyweds are trying to conceive (which we are, sort of – more of this later!), and I didn’t think it was good for my career.

But I noticed that Germans don’t have this hang up with whether women will have a baby or not, and that it’s okay to have a partner. I even had a senior director drop by my office to convince me to get pregnant! He would say “f#$*% [company name]” – and go on a tirade about how I should do what I want, and that having a family is important. I seriously felt like I was in the twilight zone, but quickly fell in-trust with him and shared that we were trying. This is the same man who mentored me on negotiating my freelancing contracts. Sounds creepy, but he’s a swell guy!

Marrying Martin was also me agreeing to live in Germany. So one big positive to add to my Germany-list is that as a woman of child-bearing age, speaking about wanting to have kids is not taboo in a corporate setting. Or at least not having to go out of my way to avoid the topic like the plague.

Anyway, happy anniversary dear!! ❤