An increasing number of consumers are opting to purchase items via private sales sites. Social media platforms and online marketplaces are facilitating and encouraging sales transactions between private buyers and sellers.
When consumers decide to buy the goods they need from individuals, they should keep in mind that private sales are not protected by consumer legislation, as the latter only regulates business-to-consumer transactions.
This means that if consumers buy goods from private sellers which result faulty or are not as agreed in the contract of sale, consumers are not eligible to claim one of the legal remedies stipulated in the Consumer Affairs Act, such as free repair or replacement.
Problems with products purchased from private sellers must be sorted out directly with the seller. When this is not possible, buyers will need to seek independent legal advice for any possible remedies provided by the Civil Code.
When buying from private sellers, consumers should, whenever possible, take a number of precautions. Since second-hand goods are usually bought tale quale, buyers should ensure that any damages or faults that used products may have are pointed out to them. Buyers should also pay attention to an item’s description.
If, for example, a consumer buys furniture from a private seller and this has some scratches, if these marks were mentioned in its description or were clearly visible in the photo advertising the furniture, then the buyer will not have any legal grounds to cancel the sales agreement and request a refund of the money paid.
Ideally, buyers should first ask to see and inspect the item for sale before concluding the purchase. Furthermore, if about to buy any mechanical or electrical goods, buyers should have them checked by a professional. For instance, prior to purchasing a second-hand car, buyers should have the car inspected by a trusted mechanic.
Buyers must also ensure that they are given receipt of payment and that they have the full contact details of the seller just in case they need to contact the seller about problems encountered. An e-mail address is not enough as this may change or disappear in an instant.
If the payment for the product will be done online, it is advisable to use a secure payment service that offers buyer protection, such as Paypal. Direct money transfers should be avoided.
When buying for the first time from a specific private seller, it is wise to check other customers’ reviews on the seller and look out for any negative comments. In addition, if a deal looks too good to be true because similar items are usually sold at a much higher price, then buyers should ask why and gather as much information as possible.
If the second-hand good is still covered by a valid commercial guarantee, buyers should request that they are given the guarantee’s original documents and confirm that the guarantee can be transferred to other owners. When such a transfer is not possible, it must be clearly stipulated in the guarantee’s terms and conditions.
Disputes about private sales should first be addressed to the seller. If these remain unresolved, buyers may seek legal advice to exercise their rights as buyers under the Civil Code.
Odette Vella is director, Information, Education and Research Directorate, Office for Consumer Affairs, Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority.
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