New law relieves buyers of brokerage costs

Property for sale

In future, buyers will be relieved of the broker commission.

(Photo: dpa)

Berlin Whoever buys a property will only have to pay a maximum of half of the brokerage costs in the future. Following the Bundestag on Friday, the Federal Council has now also approved this change. So far, the buyer has mostly paid the brokerage commission of up to seven percent of the purchase price. In the future, the buyer will only have to transfer his share once the seller has proven his payment.

Specifically, the law should standardize the handling of brokerage commissions nationwide. So far, each state had handled this differently. Depending on the federal state, brokerage costs – including VAT – were between 3.57 and 7.14 percent of the purchase price.

Real estate buyers should now have to pay a maximum of 50 percent of the brokerage commission. “It is no longer possible to pass on the brokerage costs completely,” says the draft law. The seller must pay first. Only when he has proven his payment will the buyer be asked to checkout.

This is particularly beneficial for buyers in Berlin, Brandenburg, Bremen, Hamburg and Hesse. In these countries, buyers have so far borne the costs for the broker. So far, sellers have also been able to pass on the costs completely in other tense housing markets.

The Federal Association of Consumer Advice Centers (VZBV) welcomes the fact that this is the first nationwide standard for brokerage commissions to be introduced. “The effects and relief of buying real estate remain limited,” says Franz Michel from VZBV. In his opinion, the regulations could apply from autumn. However, Michel does not go far enough with the bill. The association would have preferred the ordering principle.

The real estate association IVD has long resisted this and is accordingly satisfied with the current solution. The division of costs is fair, since buyers and sellers “benefit from the broker’s performance,” says association president Jürgen Michael Schick.

More: Where brokers will cost less in the future


The BGH judgment on the diesel scandal is unsatisfactory

VW logo

The carmaker has injured its buyers immorally, according to the BGH.

(Photo: AFP)

The Federal Court of Justice passed its judgment in the diesel scandal. Volkswagen must pay compensation to the buyer of a used Sharan diesel and reverse the purchase. However, the buyer must pay compensation for the kilometers driven.

That is not immediately apparent. After all, according to the highest German civil court, VW deliberately harmed the buyers in an immoral manner. How can it be that VW still benefits from this damage?

And the Federal Court of Justice said with relentless frankness what it thinks of it. It is “particularly reprehensible and incompatible with the fundamental assessments of the legal and moral regulations” if someone ensures that the legal exhaust gas limit values ​​are only met by means of an impermissible shutdown device and the buyer does not know about it.

This ruling could increase the chances that injured VW customers can claim interest. In the event of deliberate damage, this could mean that VW is obliged to pay up to four percent annually on the purchase price from the purchase date. In the current case, these were not up for discussion, and so far the courts have ruled differently.

The Federal Court of Justice will deal with the topic in July. Depending on the purchase price and purchase date, the tort interest to be paid could add up – and in the best case even compensate for the usage fee to be paid by the customer.

It is not clear whether these judgments can draw a line under the legal review of the diesel scandal. Finally, the European Court of Justice has yet to issue a judgment on the impermissible defeat device.

If Volkswagen’s software update is considered inadmissible, the question of the limitation of claims may arise again. The financial consequences of the scandal are not foreseeable for VW.

More: Read here in detail what the judgment of the Federal Court of Justice means.


Banks and savings banks charge an average of almost ten percent overdraft interest

Berlin For more and more people in the corona crisis it is foreseeable that they will reach the financial limit at the end of the month and have to overdraw their account. Finally, unemployment rises and short-time work rises to unprecedented heights. How expensive it can be for consumers to overdraw their accounts is shown by an investigation by FMH financial advice, which was commissioned by the non-profit association Finanzwende.

Accordingly, despite historically low interest rates, banks and savings banks in Germany still charge overdraft interest, i.e. interest on overdrafting the account, of an average of almost ten percent. For the study, more than 3400 current account models for consumers at 1250 credit institutions were analyzed.

The range is enormous: Institutes such as Deutsche Skatbank, GLS Bank and Sparkasse Nürnberg charge zero percent interest on overdraft facilities. At the Volksbank Raiffeisenbank Oberbayern Südost, on the other hand, these are 13.75 percent, the Raiffeisenbank Anger has 13.25 percent. Around 52 percent of the banks examined have at least one account model that provides for an interest rate of ten percent and more.

In an open letter, Finanzwende calls on the three major banking associations to make a recommendation to their members. In the corona crisis and in view of favorable refinancing options at the European Central Bank (ECB), these should not require overdraft rates of more than ten percent.

The association Finanzwende, which is headed by the former Green Finance politician Gerhard Schick, admits that some institutes in the past have started to lower the interest rate for their existing customers. But that is not enough. “In the current phase, we believe that overdraft rates of ten percent and more are clearly excessive,” said consumer protection expert at Finanzwende, Julian Merzbacher.

According to Merzbacher, the banks should not help to increase the mountain of debt among consumers. Especially since the banks are also being helped – for example through relaxed capital rules, full state liability for KfW loans that the banks pass on, or through the multi-billion dollar programs for companies that also help to stabilize the banks.

Interest rates should form on the market

The banking industry does not want to comment on the letter from Finanzwende. Basically, however, they continue to support the approach that interest rates should form on the market. A price target is not only rejected for regulatory reasons. After all, this does not reflect the different offers of the providers and their business models. The bottom line is that intense competition in the banking industry would lead to market-driven conditions.

When the dispute about high overdraft rates reached the parliamentary level in the past, the lineup was clear. While the SPD, the Greens and the Left could imagine a price limit, the Union resisted government intervention.

So far, banks have had to give customers a warning if they use their overdraft facility over a longer period of time. He also had to be advised of alternatives. With longer-term financing, for example, consumer loans are the much cheaper choice.

More: Frankfurter Sparkasse lowers the overdraft rate due to the corona crisis.


What summer vacation could look like this year

Frankfurt Mountains, sun, sea: With the increasing relaxation of the corona restrictions, more and more Germans hope to be able to go on vacation in the summer despite the corona virus pandemic. After public life has more or less come to a standstill since mid-March, there is now hope for a little bit of normalcy.

The federal states can now decide on their own responsibility to what extent they will gradually allow gastronomy and tourism. In many places, restaurants and inns could open in the next few days. Hotels, holiday apartments and guesthouses are more likely to end in May. However, it looks like the Germans will soon have more freedom to travel within Germany.

Even discussions about border openings are in full swing. The Federal Government’s Tourism Commissioner, Thomas Bareiß (CDU), believes that despite Covid-19 summer vacation is also possible in many EU countries. “This mainly affects our neighboring countries, such as Austria, France, Belgium, Poland or the Netherlands,” Bareiß told the “Tagesspiegel”. But he would not yet write off other regions in Europe.

From June onwards, the airlines in the Lufthansa Group plan to add more destinations such as Mallorca, Sylt and Crete to their program. The group announced on Friday. However, customers should consider the current entry and quarantine regulations of the respective destinations when planning their trip.

A long-distance trip is still difficult to imagine this year. The worldwide travel warning from the Federal Foreign Office is valid until June 14th. Numerous holiday countries have continued to impose entry restrictions.

What will be after that is open. Federal Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (SPD) had already declared a few weeks ago that “a return to international travel cannot happen overnight”. It is also not possible – as happened this spring – to bring countless stranded German citizens back from abroad in the summer.

All easing measures are also constantly checked. If the number of infections increases again, tougher restrictions could quickly return to the agenda. The Robert Koch Institute continues to assess the risk situation in Germany as “high”. Crowds of beaches, sights and old town alleys will probably not be there this summer.

But that a summer vacation somewhere between the Wadden Sea in the north and the Alps in the south is becoming more and more likely – at least in compliance with distance and hygiene rules. As a result, the capacity of vacation rentals will be limited in many places.

If you want to book now, you should note a few points – in the event that your holiday does not work out in the end. Many consumers who have already booked also wonder whether they should be able to start their planned trip or rather cancel it. Overall, however, a lot is currently in flux, so that concluding general statements are difficult to make.

Booking of trips

The holiday planning of the German citizens is in full swing: According to the dpa news agency, the German Tourism Association (DTV) is now seeing increasing booking requests, especially for holiday apartments and holiday homes. In view of the signs of easing in travel in Germany, the number should now increase significantly, says DTV Managing Director Norbert Kunz. “We assume that people will want to use this regained piece of freedom after this difficult time.”

The camping association also expects strong demand, especially for the summer months of July and August. “We recommend that campers, if possible, switch to other times and book travel in advance as early as possible,” says Christian Günther, managing director of the Federal Association of the Camping Industry in Germany.

According to the comparison portal Check24, the most popular travel destinations in Germany include the Baltic and North Sea coasts, the Harz, the Allgäu and the Bavarian Forest, followed by the Mecklenburg Lake District, Black Forest, Lake Constance, Spreewald and Saxon Switzerland. In view of the fact that the vast majority of Germans will travel within their home country, it is also worth taking a look at less-visited regions.

Since the federal states operate differently when it comes to the opening of gastronomy and tourism, holidaymakers who want to travel promptly should take a close look at the respective provisions. For example, the hotels in Bavaria will be able to accept guests again from May 30, and the restaurants will open a little earlier. Schleswig-Holstein lifted the entry ban for tourists with effect from May 18.

From May 25th, hotel guests from other federal states can stay in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania again. However, there is a capacity limit of 60 percent. Hotels, guesthouses and youth hostels in Lower Saxony may also be used again if the number of guests is reduced.

When making a booking, consumers should also carefully consider the conditions for a possible cancellation. Because if the number of infections rises again due to the current easing, the restrictions could be tightened again – or it could be that one or the other would rather not travel.

“When making new bookings, hosts and guests should make separate arrangements before booking in the event that official prohibitions are extended or newly issued,” advises the DTV on its website.

The consumer portal “Finanztip” has looked around for holiday apartments on the Internet and has found the usual cancellation rules in many places. According to them, consumers can cancel free of charge up to about 30 days before arrival. After that it will usually be expensive.

In some cases, the online portal has also contacted the owners of the holiday apartments directly. The result: Given the circumstances, it was entirely possible to agree with the landlord on a shorter period.

Anyone who regularly books with hotel chains, for example via booking portals such as, Expedia or HRS, is used to the fact that rooms can be canceled free of charge up to one day before arrival or even on the day of arrival.

New bookings should also be as flexible as possible for package tours, so that changes in situations can be reacted to at low cost. “And it is particularly important right now to check the security certificate, which partially protects against bankruptcies in package tours,” emphasizes Peter Lassek, lawyer from the Hessen Consumer Center.

In general, it can also make sense to take out travel cancellation insurance for expensive trips. However, consumers should be aware that the insurance only pays if the insured cannot travel for an important and unpredictable reason. This can be an accident or an unexpected illness of the insured, a relative or a fellow traveler.

A look at the small print can also be worthwhile: the Federation of Insureds (BdV) points out that some policies exclude benefits in the wake of pandemics. Anyone who wants to withdraw from the trip because they are only afraid of being infected will not get anything from the insurance anyway.

Cancellation of booked trips

Basically, guests can cancel a trip free of charge if a region is closed due to the corona crisis or rental to tourists is prohibited – at least if they have booked according to German law. Payments made must then be refunded.

However, if consumers want to cancel booked vacation rentals that are only to be used in a few months, they are not yet entitled to a free cancellation. To do this, they first have to wait for the further development of the corona pandemic and possible travel restrictions.

The uncertainty about their travel plans apparently is a problem for the citizens of Germany. In a recent survey by the McKinsey management consultancy among German consumers, 42 percent of the participants stated that they were concerned about their planned vacation. At the end of March, the value was only 30 percent.

If new bans should come into force during the stay at the holiday destination and the holidaymakers have to leave, everyone bears their own costs, according to the DTV: hosts generally remain on their lost income from the rental if no agreement is reached on a rebooking can.

Passengers must bear any additional costs for early departure. “However, hosts are not obliged to reimburse damage – for example, costs for unsuccessful travel or early return travel costs – because they are not at fault,” explains the DTV.

In the past few weeks, the discussions about possible compulsory vouchers, which the federal government had brought into play for canceled package tours and flights, had caused a stir. Such a regulation now seems to be off the table, as the EU Commission also rejects it. As things stand, consumers can request their money back.

Voluntary vouchers are possible. Above all, when it comes to individual travel, consumers should be aware that they could lose money if the provider goes bankrupt. For package tours, payments are protected by compulsory insurance, for which the travel insurance certificate serves as proof.

As for future cancellations of package tours, lawyer Lassek advises consumers to be patient and to wait for the cancellation of the provider. However, if consumers already know that they do not want to start a trip even if it takes place, an early cancellation might make sense: Then only part of the travel price is due. “And if it later turns out that the trip must also be officially canceled, we believe that you can reclaim all the cancellation fees paid,” says the lawyer.

The Federal Association of Consumer Centers (VZBV) is of the opinion that all booked vacation packages abroad that are to take place by the end of August can be canceled free of charge. This applies regardless of the fact that the global travel warning from the Federal Foreign Office is only effective until June 14, the consumer advocates believe.

Consumers could also withhold the remaining payment for such trips, if it can be seen that the organizer’s trip is at risk, it said. Consumer advocates rely on an expert opinion from travel law expert Klaus Tonner and statements from politicians about the lack of opportunities for vacation abroad this summer.

For consumers who want to cancel, it is always advisable to contact the tour operator or the airline directly. Nonetheless, in many cases it is apparently difficult for consumers to get prepayments made back. The consumer advice centers have reported numerous complaints about travel providers.

In a special on the corona crisis, “Stiftung Warentest” points out that consumers who have paid by Visa or Mastercard can also use the so-called chargeback process and that their money could be reimbursed by the card-issuing bank. If you paid by direct debit, you could instruct your bank to book the money back. However, it is better if an agreement with the travel provider works.

More: Tour operators defend questionable cancellation behavior.


Consumer advocates and the banking industry are promoting uniform supervision


In the future, the financial supervision should monitor the approximately 38,000 financial asset brokers.

(Photo: Reuters)

Berlin Bank associations and consumer advocates tend to have different opinions on regulatory issues. Now they have decided to take an unusual step: In a joint letter to parliamentarians from the government factions, the central association of the German banking industry and the consumer association Bundesverband (vzbv) are calling for a certain legislative process to be pushed ahead.

It is about the planned transfer of supervision of the 38,000 financial asset brokers to the financial supervision Bafin. The cabinet passed the legislative proposal on March 11. The associations are obviously concerned that the transfer of supervision of financial intermediaries to Bafin could be watered down in parliament in the further legislative process. Depending on the federal state, financial intermediaries are currently supervised by trade offices or chambers of industry and commerce (IHK).

Shortly before the parliamentary deliberations on the proposed law began, they wrote: “The concern pursued by the government bill with regard to uniform financial supervision in the sale of financial instruments is of particular importance, particularly in times of crisis.” applicable supervisory law.

In the opinion of the banking associations and consumer protection groups, the previous dual role of the Chamber of Industry and Commerce as a supervisory body and as a representative of the interests of commercial professions questions independent supervision and creates space for conflicts of interest. The level of investor protection should not depend on who the customer is contacting, the associations write.

Vzbv board member Klaus Müller confirmed at the request of the Handelsblatt: “Bundling supervision of financial sales at Bafin has been overdue for years. It is important that compliance with the obligation to behave will in future be checked directly by the Bafin. ”The Corona state of emergency should not lead to important and overdue legislative proposals now being stopped.

Industry resists expensive proposal

The intermediary industry itself has always vehemently opposed the cabinet proposal, which will also entail higher costs. She pointed out that no financial scandals had happened under the previous supervision. So far, the supervision of financial investment brokers and fee brokers in nine federal states has been with the IHK, in the other federal states the trade offices are responsible. Over 80 percent of brokers have a license to broker insurance, the supervision of which is nationwide with the Chamber of Industry and Commerce.

After the Federal Cabinet’s draft was passed, the Union has already indicated that it takes the criticism of the legislative proposal “very seriously”. For the CDU financial expert Carsten Brodesser, the draft goes beyond the coalition agreement. “We now have to prevent the worst in parliamentary proceedings.”

Brodesser outlines possible compromises as follows: If the goal is to have more uniform control, “we could imagine, in coordination with the federal states, to standardize responsibility for, for example, expertise and the supervision of financial investment brokers at the Chamber of Industry and Commerce”. The Bafin’s powers could be strengthened in such a way that it sets uniform standards for supervision by the IHK and monitors them. But the SPD would have to play for that. At least the vzbv and the banking associations have clearly positioned themselves with the letter.

More: Financial investment brokers defend themselves against Bafin supervision.


Thousands of consumers apply for credit deferrals


The savings banks alone have applied for more than 80,000 customers to defer their payments.

(Photo: dpa)

Frankfurt Thousands of consumers have applied for credit to be deferred in the Corona crisis. According to the Sparkassen- und Giroverband (DSGV), the savings banks alone have so far suspended interest and principal payments from 80,000 borrowers. Since April 1, banks who have been in need because of the crisis have had to pay interest, redemption or repayment of consumer and real estate loans for three months. The savings banks had introduced a goodwill arrangement a few days beforehand.

At Commerzbank, 1.5 percent of the total consumer credit portfolio had been deferred until April 6. The institute approves all applications for deferrals if they are made due to the corona crisis. Overall, the money house expects 10 to 20 percent of applications based on the total amount of consumer loans. According to their association BVR, the Volks- und Raiffeisenbank should also have received their first applications.

However, consumer defenders believe that deferral alone will not be enough. “Consumers also need a financial aid package that actually compensates for the losses they suffered as a result of the corona pandemic,” the Federal Association of Consumer Centers (vzbv) demands in a statement. Otherwise, the financial problems would resume after the deferral.

The bank customer must demonstrate that he has lost revenue due to the crisis and is therefore in an emergency, for example his maintenance is at risk. The deferral applies from April 1 to the end of June for consumer loans that were concluded before March 15.

According to consumer protection experts, the period until the end of June will still suffice. “It is foreseeable that consumers will continue to suffer from the pandemic and its consequences for a long time. They should therefore be protected longer than previously decided, ”warned the vzbv.

More: After the corona crisis, there will be tough distribution struggles. If it is not fair, the market economy loses the trust of its citizens, says Handelsblatt correspondent Martin Greive.


“Corona is an unprecedented stress test”

Berlin The head of the Federation of German Consumer Organizations (VZBV), Klaus Müller, fears an increase in old-age poverty as a result of the corona crisis. “Late consequences of the crisis for private pensions are to be expected,” said Müller to the Handelsblatt.

The effects of the health crisis are not yet fully foreseeable for all areas of society. “But as a result of private bankruptcies, loss of income, financial losses due to compulsory vouchers and much more, it will also hit many economically hard.”

Müller is convinced that “new solutions are needed for many things”. “This requires a broad common understanding: who pays? Who will receive support in the end? How much solidarity do we want and can we live? ”Said the VZBV boss. “I clearly advocate not only looking at markets and companies here, but first at people – that is, consumers.”

“Significant financial losses” due to travel or concert tickets, courses or an annual subscription to the gym that have already been booked are also “painful for millions of people,” Müller continued. The VZBV boss sharply criticized the voucher solutions decided by the federal government in these areas. “The protective shield is used more for companies than for consumers.”

Of course, solidarity is required in these difficult times. “But making solidarity compulsory and undermining proven consumer law – namely the right to reimbursement – is the wrong way,” emphasized Müller. The state cannot prescribe what people spend their money on. “Vouchers are not a suitable crisis aid.”

Read the full interview with Klaus Müller here:

Mr. Müller, the corona crisis is subject to drastic restrictions – for companies as well as for the population. How do you perceive this: do you have the impression that politics is currently doing everything right?
The corona pandemic is an unprecedented stress test for our everyday life. We recognize that politicians have had to make serious decisions within a very short space of time in the past few weeks – and that when it comes to invoices with many unknowns. The Federal Government has undoubtedly done a lot right, as shown primarily by the health data. But doing everything right, is that really the yardstick? Of course, as a consumer advocate, I criticize some laws and measures that have now been passed very quickly and that will hit everyday consumer life hard because we have better suggestions.

According to the ARD Germany trend, a large majority of Germans think that the federal government is doing a good job in corona crisis management. Does this also run the risk that consumer rights suffer excessively?
We know from our own survey that number one concern is people’s own health. That the lack of protective clothing is a very big problem for many consumers, but especially for nurses and doctors. The corona crisis hits many consumers hard. A third of people are concerned about private pensions.

Do you fear an increase in old-age poverty in Germany as a result of the corona crisis?
At present, the consequences of the health crisis for all areas of society are certainly not yet fully foreseeable. But due to private bankruptcies, loss of income, financial losses due to compulsory vouchers and much more, it will also hit many people economically hard. Long-term consequences of the crisis for private pensions can be expected. We will need new approaches for many things.

This requires a broad common understanding: who pays? Who will receive support in the end? How much solidarity do we want and can we live? I clearly advocate not only taking a look at markets and companies here, but first people – that is, consumers.

In what way?
Significant financial losses due to travel, concert tickets, courses or an annual subscription to the gym are of course painful for millions of people.

How can this be cushioned?
The Federation of German Consumer Organizations clearly demanded: no compulsory vouchers and if only with insolvency protection and hardship regulations for those who are particularly hard hit. Unfortunately, the federal government is taking a different course here – the protective shield is being used more for companies than for consumers.

“Vouchers are not a suitable crisis aid”

What are you most concerned about in terms of consumer protection?
We are seeing that previous collateral, many applicable rules and certainties have been called into question with the outbreak of the pandemic. For me, however, fundamental rights, essential consumer rights and applicable rules are of great value. The simple rule applies: I pay for what I have chosen – for example for a trip and not for a compulsory voucher, which is primarily intended to ensure the liquidity of companies. Prepayment is problematic at normal times, especially in times of crisis, and retroactive changes are particularly serious.

Where do you see consumers’ rights being cut the most?
Both corporations and consumers have a hard time bearing the consequences of the corona crisis. As already mentioned, the introduction of compulsory vouchers for booked trips or tickets is, in my view, a one-sided, even unfair burden for consumers. The plans threaten to overwhelm many people who need their money themselves.

However, companies must not be overwhelmed either.
Solidarity is of course required in these difficult times. Many people already show solidarity with providers and voluntarily opt for a voucher. But making solidarity compulsory and undermining proven consumer law – namely the right to reimbursement – is the wrong way. The state cannot prescribe what people spend their money on. Vouchers are not a suitable crisis aid.

The federal government has responded to the criticism and now wants to secure the value of the vouchers from the state. Is that a good compromise?
No, the bankruptcy protection should only apply to package tours. The time limit for the vouchers until the end of 2021 was really the least that consumers can expect. We are concerned about whether vouchers will really be paid out.

Keyword health protection: there is a lack of disinfectants and respiratory masks, tests for the coronavirus are sluggish. Is Germany overwhelmed by the situation?
That is a big topic and of course we are experiencing worldwide demand for medical equipment. But it is not the time of “should, could, could”. Yes, we will have to learn our lessons from this crisis. We are currently doing what we can: we look at the market. We warn fraudsters and providers who simply advertise with unfair promises. Here is an incredibly immoral business. Anyone who offers a handful of breathing masks for 999 euros should be more than ashamed.

“Business with fear knows no borders”

Do you see politicians here as duty to act against dubious traders?
As consumer advocates, we use our room for maneuver. We reacted very quickly and take a close look at the online trade in products with which the big business is currently supposed to be done: Of course, these are disinfectants, protective masks but also vitamin preparations that are supposed to work against corona.

Can you give examples?
For example, a pack of toilet paper is available for 20 euros or 0.5 liters of hand disinfection for 199 euros. That is reprehensible. The fear business knows no bounds. The lack here obviously promotes the greed for profit from criminal providers. Here the platforms are asked to filter out black sheep – which some probably do.

Is that enough?
Fraud is and remains a case for the judiciary. The state is challenged. Because the problem for us is: fake shops or offers from individual criminal providers come and go very quickly. Some warnings cannot be delivered in the first place.

Where do you still see burdens for consumers?
Take data protection: we need a debate, what can, what can health protection do, which goods are still important to us? Here, however, the Federal Government very quickly signaled that it is capable of learning. The tracking using non-anonymized data was quickly off the table again.

However, the federal government continues to strive to curb the spread of corona using a tracking app.
The corona crisis must not serve as a gateway to give companies new access to private data. Communication data contain sensitive and personal information and enjoy fundamental rights protection. This protection must not be given up lightly. Fast, pragmatic solutions to protect health and life are necessary. An anti-corona app can help here if it fulfills the following five conditions: It must be voluntary, suitable, necessary, proportionate and limited in time.

Thank you for the interview, Mr. Müller.

More: Read here how the data donation app of the Robert Koch Institute works.