Our rights when buying from an individual by Odette Vella

More people are opting to buy the products they need second hand from private sellers.  Private sales sites are gaining in popularity as they have made private selling and buying easy to carry out.   Should we decide to purchase something from an individual who is not a professional seller, we should be aware that the protection provided to consumers through consumer legislation does not apply to private sales. This means that if the goods bought turn out to be faulty or we end up with goods that are not as described by the seller, we cannot claim any of the remedies stipulated in consumer legislation, such as free repair or replacement.   Consumer regulations only apply to purchases made from professional sellers. Hence, if we have a problem with the products bought we either sort it out directly with the seller or seek independent legal advice to see what rights we have at law and how to exercise them.   Since our legal rights are more restricted when buying from private sellers, it is in our best interest to take a number of precautions before proceeding with the sale. First of all, if we are interested in buying a second-hand product, we should be aware that such goods are usually bought ‘tale quale’.   Hence, before concluding such purchases, as buyers, we should ensure that any damages or faults are clearly outlined to us. If we are buying from a local seller, before committing to the purchase we should make it clear to the seller that we first need to physically check the product.   In case we are interested in buying any mechanical or electrical goods, we should have them checked by a professional before concluding the sale. For instance, if we are about to buy a second-hand vehicle from a private seller, we should have a trusted mechanic inspect the car and advise us if we should proceed with the sale or not.   As buyers we should also make sure that we are given receipt of payment and the full contact details of the seller, just in case we need to contact the seller about problems encountered. It is also important to have tangible proof of any specific agreements made and to keep a copy of all the documentation related to the purchase just in case there is a dispute.   If the second-hand good is still protected by a valid commercial guarantee, we should ask to be provided with the guarantee’s documents. It is also important to take the time and read the terms and conditions of the commercial guarantee, especially the part concerning whether the guarantee can be transferred to other owners or not. If the commercial guarantee does not specifically prohibit such a transfer, then any subsequent owners of the product may use the guarantee as long as it remains valid.   Should we decided to purchase goods from individuals online, we must remember that since these type of purchases are not covered by consumer legislation the right to cancel the sale provided by the Consumer Rights Regulations does not apply.   Therefore, we cannot simply change our mind and cancel the sale. When buying online, particular attention should be given to the payment method. It is advisable to use a secure payment service that offers buyer protection, such as PayPal. Direct money transfers should be avoided. It is also worth reading the reviews on the seller from previous customers.   Odette Vella is director, Information, Education and Research Directorate, Office for Consumer Affairs, Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority. odette.vella@mccaa.org.mt