Sunday, March 26, 2006

You don't count

The title of this post may be a bit misleading. Actually it is my income that does not count.

The German and I would like to build a house. We are getting tired of paying rent. We are also thinking that if we ever decide to have kids that making the child sleep in mommy's office with all of her books might be considered child abuse.

My in-laws (and a lot of other people) think that we should buy a house. However, I would like to "Americanize" my house. That is, I hate wall paper and want flat, smooth, painted walls. And I want closets. German houses do not have closets. Everyone puts up these huge wardrobes in their bedrooms. Nope. Don't like it. Want a closet. I figure that buying a house and renovating it a la Claire would be just as expensive as buying a house.

We sent several building companies requests for information. We have looked at a lot of interesting plans and seen some pretty cool houses. This is my favorite (it is the musterhaus, OK 185). It has a walk-in closet in the master bedroom and enough space for kids and all of our books! Unfortunately, the house costs about 150,000 Euro.

We have also picked a town that we would like to move to: Wildeshausen. It is a very cute town and it has all the things we are looking for. Schools for kids. Check. Near the highway. Check. Doesn't smell like manure. CHECK!

I am quickly learning that building a house in Germany is a lot different than in the States. First, we have to go to the city and find out if there any lots available. In Wildeshausen there is not much left. Most of the lots are going for about 50,000 Euro. Unfortunately, because we are dragging are feet, it looks like they may put us on a wait list for a lot. Great. Once you get a lot, you find a contractor and architect to build your house. Many Germans do as much as they can. I more of the "please just get it done in 6 months and let me know when you are finished" type.

Once we realized that a house was going to be about 200,000 Euro, we decided to go to the bank to see if we can get some money. Well, the German can get money . . . but I cannot. It seems that because I am a free-lance teacher and a small business owner, my income does not count because it is not stable. Let's review my working situation:

I teach one class a semester at University.
I currently have a contract to edit and revise a book in English for one of my professors.
I teach about 15 hours of English per week for a language school.
I teach about 10 hours of private English lessons, and am trying to build my own business.

Hmm. So I will not tell you the exact figure that I make a month, but let's just say that it is far less than I thought it would be given that I am 28, have about 5 years of work experience and a PhD. However, the figure is not miniscule and adds a comfort zone to our household budget.

The woman at the bank said that it does not matter. They can only give us a loan based on what the German makes. Because we already have two loans (one for a car and one for my student loans), we can only get a loan for about 75,000 Euro. The woman at the bank said that they would only consider giving us more if my in-laws would put their house up for collateral.

Then to add insult to injury, she looked at us (more me than the German) and asked, "Well, do you plan on having children soon?" I starred at her.

"You just told me that I cannot afford a house. I certainly don't feel like I can afford children."

"Well, I only ask because during your maternity leave you may face a more difficult monthly budget."

"What does it matter?? You said that my income does not count anyway!"

"I did not mean it that way. I just want you to be aware of the situation."

Yeah, lady, I am very aware. I am so aware that it keeps me up at night wondering what the hell I am doing wrong in my life. As you can tell, the entire discussion was discouraging. I think I am going to be stuck in this apartment next to the cow field for ever.

Anyway, I have to go back to work now. I have lesson plans to finish. I also have several meetings and exams to give at University and I have to turn in my syllabus on Tuesday . . . It is sad to think that all of this does not count.


The German said...

I don´t know if you don´t count. I think this is the "bank problem" that this type of bank would not count your money, because it´s one of their special rules!
Seriusly you count......mostly for me!
But don´t worry, there will be a way and there is a way!
Hope we will find it!
The German!

Lisa said...

Oh Claire-dude, I'm so sorry. I've been in your shoes, I know how disappointing this is. :(

I'm a housewife and don't work outside the home, but when I first came here I thought about it and asked around. I was told I had three options (and I'm college educated also): 1.) cleaning woman 2.) sell stuff (bakery, gas station, grocery store cashier etc. - for this privilege I would have to claw up the backs of the locals and get mighty lucky) or 3.) teach English. Seems like all Americans are good for is teaching English. Goodness knows, that's all anyone does at home, right? Industry, entertainment, and business, etc. all just run themselves.

Then I was told even if I could find work, which was doubtful, my income wouldn't count as we would have to choose which one would get the higher tax rate, and mine would definitely be lower. (well, duh - all anyone around here thinks I'm good for is to sell bread and sweep the floor!) We bought some software and figured it up, and after the government taxed the life out of my income I would've been working for nothing, plus paying daycare.

I hate to be discouraging, but because you're a woman in this country I'm afraid you're going to run into that "you don't count" attitude in a lot of other ways too. People will *still* speak to me through my husband when we're out together, even if the conversation is about me. I dunno. It just boggles, but that's the way it's done.

Women in America may be a little more liberated than our sisters in Germany, but here they make no pretense of where they think a woman's place should be. It's not only the architecture and decorating that are retro, many of the attitudes are also.

Anonymous said...

You know what is really irritating? The fact that it was one woman talking down to another woman. Seriously, I think you handled yourself well. I think I would have gone ghetto :-)

Is there any other banking agency you can apply to like here? I ask because when I first went to get my mortgage the banker looked at me like I was on crack because of my very substantial student loan debt (damn that law school!) So after being told by him the best I could ever hope for was a van down by the river, I appealed to another bank that was more than happy to give me the money at a very reasonable rate. So don't give up. C'mon you're an American gal after all which means pulling up by the boot straps and all that :-)

And just for the record, everything you do DOES count. The amount of time and energy that it takes to start a business on top of everything else you do can't be measured in dollars and cents....or, err, deutsche marks

jen said...

Oh claire, you think the lady at the bank was tough, try construction workers. I ran around screaming "Ich Bin Chef! Ich Bin Chef!" because none of the men would listen to me. Markus worked 15hrs a day and i had to be the on-site person. It was terrible.

Our loft is very american, from the fridge to the light switches inside the the bathroom to alcoves we had closets built into, however, it was wretched at best and devastating at the worst.

An independent woman, American women, can find germany to be uncomfortable? Is that the word I'm looking for?

and that whole maternity prejudice is country wide, from bank tso employers. and it hits all women. under menopause: "they" are all waiting for you to pop one out. Over menopause: you're just too old.

At least you count with The German. I'm sure you'll find another bank. Germans are big into owning homes, it will happen.

Haddock said...

We had a house built over 3 years ago. All I can say is that it is very different how its done in Germany. We approached our bank and they tried offering us a really bad deal. We went to a finance broker who found us a good deal, sorted out all the insurances that you need to get the house built.
Hope you find an offer from another bank or finance institution that works for you.

Just another American Expat said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Just another American Expat said...

ooops....too many typos. ;-)

I understand your situation and the frustration, but it’s not entirely a gender related issue.

A German bank would not give a male in your situation anymore consideration than you have gotten. You are obviously highly educated and of great value, and what you do for work carries just as much importance—if not more—than that of the guy works a solid 35 hour job building sparkplugs or something similar. But that’s the difference isn’t it? The guy working the 35 hour week is locked in. He’s not “freelance”. The guy working the 35 hours is basically an indentured servant…guaranteed income as far as the bank is concerned.

But look, here's the bright side. I am that 35 hour work week guy and I’m not getting any breaks either. At 47 I’ve never owned a home. We were thinking about buying the little farm house we live in now until we realized that the 20 Grand we had saved to put down on a place as well as my solid employment and one mature Bausparvertrag, would still mean making mortgage payments until I was 71 (I was 40 at the time). On top of all this, and contrary to my wife’s family and friends saying otherwise, our monthly mortgage would eventually become much higher than our monthly rent.

We decided that purchasing a home was probably a dumb idea. And in Germany, it probably is unless you are married to a German who’s family has taken out 3 Bausparvertrags for him as well as a chunk of land. Most Germans that I know fit that description, the rest are tied to their homes and Urlaub for them means working on some part of the house. I like spending my Urlaubs in Italy, France, and the good ole US of A.

That’s just my opinion, and certainly just one of many.

Good luck though...hope things work out.

Claire said...

Thanks so much for the comments! It is good to know that I am not the only one who has gone through this mess. Lisa's comments are thought provoking for me. Germans' views of women. Hmm. I think that might be an entire post. Jen, I laughed thinking of the picture of you walking around going, "Ich bin Chef!" I actually kind of dread the whole actual building process. I think I agree with Haddock and Expat that it is not necessarily because I am a woman. However, I am sure that the "expanding family" comments were squarely aimed at me.

To own or not to own? It's a good question Expat. The thought of it makes me feel grown up for the first time in my life.

Crystal said...

Claire, I found your blog while reading J's post and discovering that you are a fellow Chicagoan, and this post just blew me away because I've always believed Germany to be such a facist sexist country and the treatment you received at the bank now confirms that! I am such an independent woman and a feminist, so it would be real tough for me to live under those conditions. Pretty pretty home btw, hope it works out for you!

Clarity said...

Hi, I found your journal and I've been enjoying reading it. I'm also living in Germany at the moment. I can relate to what you said about the closets! I was surprised when we moved into our flat and discovered didn't HAVE one. We had to buy this big bulky wardrobe that doesn't quite fit everything we need into it. Lugging it up FOUR FLIGHTS OF STAIRS was a huge pain too. Now we're in the process of moving, I dread lugging that thing back down again. I hope things work out for you and your situation. I really felt for you when I read this. I read it outloud to my German husband, Eric. This was his response:

"If you wanted to have a loan happy bank you really picked the wrong country. I have a story with the sparkasse bank, where they wouldn't even give me the time of the day until they found out I had a huge account with them and suddenly I received coffee and compliments. I think banks is where Germany stops being liberal and sweet. Sometimes it feels like German bank officials think they have to act like your parents and tell you what to do. It can be very frustrating."

Take care

EuroTrippen said...

The closet thing still floors me. We just got done assembling 6 of those little $*%$(...

I'll never take a walk-in closet for granted again. sniff.