Monday, February 16, 2009

Let The Buyer Beware

Caveat Emptor “Let the buyer beware”
By Howard Buchin

The term Caveat Emptor is Latin for “Let the buyer beware.” This maxim applies to just about every item that a consumer buys, and dictates that it is up to the consumer to be cautious prior to making their purchase. He must examine and investigate the merchandise being bought. If defects are found after the sale, it may be extremely difficult to hold the vendor responsible for any such defects or missing parts. Caveat Emptor began as part of Roman law, and was eventually adopted by British common law and tradition. In Canada, there have since been laws established (Consumer Protection Act, Sale of Goods Act) to counter this buyer beware mentality that exists

The bottom line is that consumers get that for which they bargain. Today the average consumer is faced with many considerations prior to the purchase of items small and large. But this is especially true for big-ticket items that you might be contemplating.

In the matter of a home sale, failure on the part of the buyer to have the home inspected prior to purchase can result in long-term costs and aggravation. To be safe, have a fully accredited home inspector carry out a full home inspection prior to such a large scale purchase.

Years ago, we shopped at a popular furniture and appliance outlet in order to purchase a new refrigerator. After spending twenty minutes wandering around the showroom floor we decided to take the low-priced clearance (close-out – end-of-the-line) model that was being promoted. We paid using our visa card and signed a purchase agreement without spending too much time reading the fine print. After having second thoughts I returned to the store. I wanted to have another look at what we purchased. It seemed that the fridge was too small for us and I asked about changing for a different model. I was told that we couldn’t switch models since we had already signed a purchase agreement for the one we had chosen. They were not going to allow us to cancel the deal. After the salesperson directed me to look at my receipt, I found that at the bottom it said ALL SALES FINAL. NO CANCELLATION ON DISCONTINUED ITEMS. NOT SUBJECT TO EXCHANGE OR REFUND.

Also we hadn’t thought about the how hard it could be in the future to find parts and or any technical support, since we were buying an end-of-the-line model. On closer inspection of the crisper drawers, it didn’t appear that they were built quite as well as other fridges.

In spite of the fact that I returned to the store just 8 hours after we made the deal, the manager there wasn’t willing to give in to what we wanted. I had to fax several letters using references from applicable Consumer Protection Act 2002 sections and eventually, that same manager relented, and allowed us to change for another model.

Under the law, a vendor is supposed to disclose to you anything that might affect any decisions whether to purchase. Unfortunately this is not what happens in many instances.
There are very few consumers with the time or resources to take these matters before a small claims judge. We hadn’t noticed that the fridge on display had not been plugged in. We were not able to view it running.

If you’re buying a high-tech gadget such as a removable memory stick, or external hard-drive, you need to know if the model being sold is up-to-date, and compatible with your PC or MAC. Sometimes it’s a good idea to do an on-line check to see if there are any known issues with a particular model, before you even attend the store. A good website is, which has lots of feedback from consumers regarding products and experiences they had dealing with the companies they purchased from.

When we purchased our digital camera I spent many days on-line investigating what was out there and what was the best camera for the money we wanted to spend. This can be a very time consuming action, but one in the end you’ll be glad that you completed prior to your purchase.

Once you have settled on a particular brand and model then it’s time to start considering what kind of warranty do you wish to have. The original manufacturer’s warranty or store bought extended warranty. I’ve found that in almost every case when buying a computer it’s a good idea to have some form of extended warranty. Although, one particular extended warranty that I paid close to $100, did not give me much more than a phone number to call a service shop that was located a hundred miles away. A good question to ask is where do you need to go in case you need service. Do you need to pay for shipping and handling? I always ask to read over the terms and conditions of any warranty that I will be purchasing. It makes sense to know what your coverage is all about.

Now whenever I am facing the purchase of a big-ticket item:
Research to find out which models are of interest prior to shopping,
take time to read the fine print before completing the transaction,
find out if and how protection is provided under the law,
just in case you wish to change your mind,
fully inspect and investigate the item(s) you’re purchasing,
& ensure everything is there and that it is working properly prior to buying it.

Have you a consumer related issue that you need help with? Please email me at