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The Pitfalls of FB Marketplace, Buyer Beware!
Are you a thrifter or DIYer who uses online marketplaces to buy and sell items? I mean who doesn't like a good deal or steal from Facebook Marketplace or Offer Up?!
What if you get a *like-new* air purifier from the neighbor down the street… only to find out it doesn't work when you get home? Or what if you sold someone a used microwave and they messaged you after they picked it up saying the turn table doesn’t move correctly and now they want to bring it back for a refund?? TLP is here to explain the legal ins and outs regarding the legal doctrine Buyer Beware!
I am sure you have heard of the phrase ‘Buyer Beware’
…But may not know the legal implications or definition. ‘Buyer Beware’ is a legal concept that comes from the Latin phrase Caveat emptor, quia ignorare non-debuit quod jus alienum emit which translates to “Let a purchaser beware, for he ought not to be ignorant of the nature of the property which he is buying from another party.”
‘Buyer Beware’ in basic terms is the duty of a buyer to inspect, test, and agree to an item before buying it. More specifically if an item does not come brand new from a certified merchant a buyer understands and acknowledges that the item is sold as-is.
What Could Happen?
I once had a friend named Sally who was selling an air conditioner window unit that was about 2 years old that they listed for $75 dollars on Facebook Marketplace.
They had a buyer, let's name her Barb, who was interested in purchasing the unit, came to the house, plugged in the unit, and felt the air coming out of the unit. Sally told Barb that the unit takes a minute to work and that the unit was only big enough to work in a smaller room. Barb understood, paid Sally the $75, and took the air conditioner home.
According to Barb, the air conditioner worked but it was not blowing out as much cold air as they anticipated it would. (It is important to note that it was wintertime in a colder climate when this transaction took place.) Barb contacted Sally asking for a full refund for the unit.
Before this story ends let's discuss what options Sally, as the seller, or Barb, as the buyer, may have in this scenario:
You probably resonate with the Barb in this story at least a little bit. We as buyers hope that our money is not wasted on things that do not work the way we want them to. Here, Barb did the right thing by testing the equipment and asking the right questions, but it did not work out the way Barb wanted. It is very important that you understand that as a buyer any time you buy something on online marketplaces like Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, or Offer Up you accept a risk that the items you buy may not work the way you expected. This is especially true for electronic devices that you likely only plugin for a few seconds at the seller’s place…only to then find out later at your home after being used for 1 hour that it didn’t run the same.
BUT, legally, as soon as money exchanges hands the item becomes the buyer’s which relieves a seller of any liability or duty to a buyer. One of the reasons why this concept exists is that a buyer could have impaired the item during their own transport causing it to stop working, or they could be installing or using it wrong. In this scenario, Barb was trying to use the unit in winter which may have prevented the unit from working correctly. There are so many scenarios outside of the seller's control that may cause items to be defective or stop working in a buyer's care.
Going back to the Sally in this story. The seller likely did not have bad intentions when selling this air conditioner and did not try to deceive the Barb in any way. At the time of the exchange, the unit worked fine.
So, is Sally legally obligated to give a full refund to the buyer if an item ends up not working in a buyer’s care? The answer is NO. A seller does not have to give any refunds after a transaction has been completed. In most scenarios regarding online marketplaces, a seller is in their full right to say no to any refunds requested on used items. (Unlike buying a used car where the seller and buyer sign an official Bill of Sale that states the item is sold ‘as-is’ and the buyer accepts all responsibility after the sale, online marketplace transactions usually don’t involve a contract.)
With that being said, no one wants to fight people online regarding refunds so here are some simple ways to help prevent any unruly discourse when selling used things online. As a seller, be very detailed in your listings. In the listing, you should state the age of the item, the brand name, and any known defects. What is especially important is that you are stating in the listing that the item is sold “as is'' with no refunds. Although not required, it gives notice to the buyer upfront what the expectation is when buying from you.
Let's go back and find out how our story ended. Sally answered all the questions honestly about the unit, and let Barb test the item before completing the sale. So when Barb stated the unit did not work it was a shock to Sally. Sally did not want to try to resell the unit and did not want to fully refund Barb.
However, after much back-and-forth, Sally did offer a partial refund. Although not required a partial refund was worth it in this scenario to help mitigate the situation and calm the other party’s unhappiness. This is especially true if you are selling to your neighbors and/or friends and just want to keep the peace!
Online Marketplaces are a great way to save a bit of money on used goods, but as a buyer make sure you fully inspect any item you buy and understand that once you put it in your car and drive away… that’s it and you own it no matter if it works for another year or not. Buyers should never put money down on the table before seeing and testing the item. This not only helps prevent you from receiving faulty items but also protects you from potential fraud. If you are a buyer purchasing used items you must know you are taking on a risk when you buy used items…so BEWARE of what you buy. As a seller, make sure you are protecting yourself and preventing a headache by disclosing upfront all defects and notifying buyers that all items are sold as is.
As TLP’s motto goes: be legally legit even on an online marketplace!