Buyer Beware

 

For those of us using the internet to source items in auction house catalogues, increasingly it appears one is getting strongly worded disclaimers in email communications from the auction houses to the effect that the auction house bears no responsibility for any inaccuracies of lot descriptions or indeed any condition reports provided.

 

Typically, communications will include;

 

 

DISCLAIMER

Whilst we seek to describe lots accurately, it may be impractical for us to carry out exhaustive due diligence on each lot. Prospective buyers are given ample opportunities to view and inspect before any sale and they must satisfy themselves as to the accuracy of any description applied to a lot.

 

Similarly in response to a request for a condition report on a Lot item, you might, as part of the report, receive the following statement


��In response to your request we are pleased to provide the following information for guidance only, without legal obligation or prejudice to our standard terms and conditions of sale. We cannot be held responsible for damage or faults that may be missed during our inspection of the item/s in question. The statements contained in this report are expressions of our opinion only and not statements of fact, nor do they
imply any basis of fact upon which the opinion is founded. You should not rely upon this report when deciding whether or not to make a bid. Please note that any attached illustrations are intended as a guide only. Colours and general appearance may differ from the original item/s.
We strongly recommend that you inspect the lot yourself and consult an independent professional conservator or restorer.�

 

On a commission Bid Form you might find the following disclaimer;

 

� I understand that if successful, I undertake to pay for the Lot and I am happy to accept the Lot unviewed and with all faults. I accept that the Auctioneers have described the lot to me to the best of their ability and will not hold the Auctioneers responsible for any misinterpretation by me to raise grounds to annul this sale��

 

To the ordinary layman, these type of disclaimers would appear to state clearly that auction houses can make as many mistakes as they like and if you are on the end of such a mistake, well tough luck because you will have no comeback with the auction house.

 

In the past I tended to take the view that such disclaimers were a bottom line protection for auction houses to help them in rebutting doubtful or spurious claims. Indeed I must say that from my own few experiences where auction houses made description errors, they took full responsibility for those errors and did not attempt to hide behind small print.

 

However a recent experience where an auction house initially used the small print disclaimer to cover their own errors and reject a case made (eventually with a little help from SOFAA they reversed their position), shook my confidence. For me it raised the question of what exactly are the obligations of an auction house in these matters and to what extent are such disclaimers valid and can they override a buyers legal protection under national law.

I don�t have the answers to these questions but it seems to me that use of such disclaimers do nothing to instil confidence in the potential customer about the professionalism of an auction house and its preparedness to take ownership of its actions (for which it receives a high commission).

 

Even small sellers on Ebay,

 

        do not use such disclaimers,

        provide comprehensive item description plus numerous images

        give a very detailed account of flaws/damage to the item and

can state specifically that if the goods are not as described they will accept a return and refund monies � here is one sellers policy which even goes further as it states ;

Returns policy

We offer a full refund on return of the item within seven days (and we will pay return postal cost), if you are at all unhappy with the goods. No arguments. We are committed to the highest levels of customer service and satisfaction.

 

Furthermore, Ebay itself provides:

 

        a dispute resolution service to enable disagreements between buyer and seller to be resolved � something which few or any auction house offer to customers with a grievance.

        a degree of insurance protection to cover loss to users.

        an opportunity for buyers to publicly rate the quality of the service received � imagine auction houses submitting themselves to such public scrutiny.

 

So like any business, auction houses are not immune to competitive pressures and it seems to me that unless they can at least match these new standards that available on Ebay, they may lose the confidence of their customers, who will, in increasing numbers, opt for alternative channels as a means of sourcing or selling their antiques. To my mind this would be an unhealthy development, as a wide range of professionally run and competitive auction channels or outlets are necessary for both sellers and buyers, as this can help ensure that customer service standards are constantly improving while costs are being kept to a minimum.

 

So lets hope the auction houses can address these issues and ensure that the perception (even if its only that) that they may wish to avoid taking any responsibility for what they sell, can be removed.

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