A young British family has been forced to rent out their home and borrow money from friends after being charged over €80,000 in early mortgage termination fees on their Berlin property investment.
Justin and Annabelle Parfitt, entrepreneurs and former reality TV stars turned property developers, bought an undeveloped loft in Berlin three years ago with the intention of fixing it up and selling it on.
But the couple, founders of FastLife, a speed-dating company now owned by Plenty of Fish and which featured in a 13-episode Canadian reality TV series called Love Incorporated, now face a nightmare situation.
Former reality TV stars Justin and Annabelle Parfitt bought a loft in Berlin three years ago
To buy the Berlin property the couple secured a mortgage and a development loan from German lender Commerzbank, totalling around €550,000.
The Parfitts planned to sell the property once the renovations had finished and use the proceeds to fund another development in Bali.
But they soon ran into a dispute with their contractors – which eventually went to court – and the property was left unfinished.
In need of liquidity the couple decided to cut their losses and sell the property undeveloped.
But when the time came for Justin and Annabelle to pay back their loans, they were shocked to find Commerzbank quoting an early repayment fee of €41,000 – far higher than they had been expecting.
Justin said: ‘I thought that Commerzbank must be mistaken as the figure seemed so high, but they assured me that this was the correct figure to terminate both loans. I didn’t like it, but I accepted the situation.’
The couple had expected the sale to release around €140,000, which would have been enough to finish their other project in Bali. The figures still stacked up with Commerzbank’s early repayment fees, but only just.
But the situation soon got worse – six months later, once the property had been sold on, the couple was shocked to find that the bank was actually charging them €83,000, more than double what had originally been quoted.
‘I couldn’t believe it,’ said Justin. ‘Had I known the fees would actually be so high, I absolutely would not have proceeded with the sale. This was a devastating blow for us, delivered shortly after the birth of my daughter and just before the lockdown started.’
When he approached the bank for an explanation, Justin was told that the initial quote had been a mistake, calculated for just one of the loans rather than both.
‘My wife and I experienced incredible anxiety. We simply couldn’t believe that a bank could acknowledge that they had made a mistake of this magnitude and then refuse to put it right.’
An email from Commerzbank to Justin seen by This is Money the bank states: ‘A letter was sent to you in July 2019 with an indicative and non-binding amount and no binding statement [sic]. Obviously only one loan was calculated in the letter and unfortunately not both.
‘I’m very sorry for the situation for you as a family and that, unfortunately, the bottom line is that the investment does not lead to the requested goal.’
Having such a high fee meant that the Parfitts cannot afford to develop their two other properties in Bali. With no income, Justin says they were forced to rent out their family home and stay with friends and family to make ends meet.
The family eventually had to sell the property undeveloped after a dispute with the contractors
‘It’s become quite hard,’ he said. ‘Our young daughter is missing her friends. But the only way to pay our mortgage is to rent the house out.’
Getting nowhere with Commerzbank, Justin decided to take his case to the German ombudsman.
He says that once he did however the bank decided to withhold the proceeds from the sale of the property until the ombudsman had made a ruling.
He said: ‘I assumed that a judgment would happen within one month, as per the website.
‘But then Commerzbank told us that they planned on withholding the undisputed proceeds from the sale of our property until the ombudsman had ruled, right after they had requested a one month extension to the arbitration process.
‘This was our money – there was no disagreement on that – how could the bank refuse to send our own money? It was clearly a ploy to try to force us to drop the case with the ombudsman because the bank knew we were desperate to get the money quickly.
‘In order to live, and to keep our business afloat while we waited for our money, we were in the humiliating position of having to ask friends and family to lend us money.
The family planned to sell the renovated property to fund a development in Bali
‘Frankly, we were very lucky to have friends and family who we could borrow from. What would we have done otherwise?’
The Parfitts had originally expected to get the sale proceeds in February, but were kept waiting until June.
He said ‘Commerzbank did offer me €12,000 as a goodwill gesture, providing that I signed a non-disclosure agreement. But that wouldn’t even begin to compensate me.
‘At this point, the bank’s manipulative behaviour became even clearer, as €10,000 is the maximum award the ombudsman can impose.
‘Clearly the bank believed that the ombudsman would rule in our favour, and they thought that an extra €2,000 would buy our silence.
‘It’s been an exhausting, depressing process, but I am determined to see this through – we have to repay the loans to our friends and family.’
The Parfitts are still waiting for the German ombudsman to make a ruling.
When asked for comment a spokesman for Commerzbank said: ‘The issue is currently being clarified with the ombudsman of the Association of German Banks. So we can’t comment on that.’
Best mortgage rates and how to find them with This is Money’s help
This is Money has partnered with L&C Mortgages, a firm of independent mortgage brokers who specialise in finding the best mortgage rates and the right deal for you.
To check for the best mortgage deal and speak to an adviser, click here.
Or you can fill in your details online to find out the best mortgage rates for you.