General Etiquette > Life...in general

Honouring the intent to buy - etiquette of a verbal contract

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Knitterly:
This situation was resolved (at least I hope it has been) much earlier today.  But it did leave me with a few thoughts rattling around in my head.  I recognize that there are many countries where a verbal contract is legally binding, here it is NOT, so I am talking specifically about how you see this issue from an etiquette standpoint and not from a legal one.

Does whether you are the buyer or the seller affect your feelings towards a verbal contract or an intent to buy?  Does it affect whether you feel it is rude to sell an item to someone else (or offer it for sale elsewhere) when a first person has expressed an intent to buy that item - including making arrangements to pick up the item?

There is a specific story attached to this query, but I'm afraid it might be long, so I will post it separately and give people a chance to consider the "big picture" question.

Cami:
As a buyer, I've learned  that it's probably wise to assume that whoever shows up with money in hand is going to get the item, regardless of any verbal statements.

As a seller, I've learned that a verbal contract is worth the paper it's printed on.  So I always tell buyers, "He who shows up with money gets the item. No holds."

Jaelle:
Unfortunately, I have to agree with Cami. I'd like to be able to trust "verbal contracts," but I've been burned before. :P

That said, if the verbal contract was with a very good, close, trustworthy friend I would do my best to honor it.

Knitterly:
I had the story all written out with pseudonyms for the item I am in the process of buying, etc.  That made it unnecessarily complicated.  So I've revised the story with the actual item, etc.  Hopefully it's more clear.  Please pardon any unnecessary background - I'm hoping that by including it, you'll get a feel for why there are emotions involved.

I am a spinner.  I spin yarn.  Yes, on a spinning wheel.  ;)  I own one right now, but the one I own is my third one since I started spinning.  mr K doesn't quite "get" the hobby and has (until recently) been adamently opposed to my owning more than one spinning wheel.  However, many serious spinners do.
So I've been casually perusing a particular website similar to craigslist for spinning wheels locally.  I have wanted a smaller wheel that is easier to transport to take to spinning gatherings and meetings.  I found one online that I fell completely in love with.
I contacted the seller.  It comes with only one bobbin where most spinning wheels have 3 or 4 (more is good to make yarns that are plied).  It is a vintage wheel of unknown origin, meaning it won't be possible to buy extra bobbins commercially. I would have to have them specially made.  No big deal - there is someone fairly locally who makes bobbins for vintage and antique wheels where bobbins are no longer readily available.
We negotiated the price in light of this.
She lives 4 hours round trip from me, so getting the wheel would be a bit of an issue.  If she lived closer, I would have had it in my possession by now, I am sure.  We arranged to meet at a particular location on a particular day. The day/location was to be at a convention of sorts halfway between our respective towns.  Convenient for both of us, as we both planned on attending.
As far as I was concerned, this was a done deal.
I requested closeups and measurements of the necessary area so I could get started on getting quotes for replacement bobbins.  I told her why I wanted the pictures (ie, "Can you please send me a closeup of X, Y, Z so that I can look into having extra bobbins made?).  I let her know that she could consider the wheel sold pending pickup.

Her reply was where I got confused and, if I am honest, a wee bit put out.  She told me that she never considered an item sold until cash and product have exchanged hands, and she hoped I wasn't offended by that.  Fair enough.  I suppose I understand if one has been burned before.
But then she went on to tell me that she would be offering the wheel for sale at an event two weeks prior to our arranged pickup day and time.  And that sent my poor brain into near-panic mode.  THAT did offend me.  It felt like she was assuming I was going to flake without giving me a chance.  At this point, 8 emails had been exchanged, including one where I'd inquired about a second ad.  A specific date and location had been arranged to pick up the wheel.  It made me wonder why she agreed to that date and location if she planned on offering the wheel at another event.  I felt put out that she hadn't mentioned it when I asked if that date and location would be convenient for her.  If she'd answered that query (which was in my very first email to her) with "Yes, but I also plan on offering it at X event prior to that, so it may no longer be available," I would have felt extremely differently. 

Now, the story does have a happy ending - I replied immediately to say that I understood that when one is selling something, it is wisest to sell to the first person able to pay and pickup, but that the distance was very difficult for me, which is why I'd asked about the .  I asked if she would consider delivering it and the other item I wanted for a fee.  She offered to have a family member bring it half the distance (the family member lives much, much closer to me), so it looks like I'll have it within a week or so.  I'm hoping she does not change her mind.

Amara:
Because of the high number of flakes on CL and Freecycle, I agree with her position especially as, apparently, the original exchange date was two weeks away. She had no way of knowing that you would honor your verbal agreement. It's awful when you know are reliable and you will keep your word. I have to say I am glad you were able to make alternate arrangements, but, having been burned a number of times, mostly but not exclusively, as a seller, I would have to stand with her. She probably wanted very much to sell it to you but simply felt she could not take the chance of passing up another and important selling opportunity and risk that you might bow out.

Verbal agreements should carry more weight but, alas, the number of people on CL and Freecycle who don't honor their word are numerous. If this specialized selling site has the same number of problems then I can see why she felt she needed to avail herself of more opportunities. I would be equally leery given you wanted to check out bobbin makers for this particular model. Who knows? If you hadn't found any would you still have bought it? Maybe and, from her point of view, maybe not.

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