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A harsh reminder that the seller is never your friend

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Photo credit: Porsche

 

I haven’t bought many cars in my lifetime — only one, to be exact — but I just tried to buy my second car, and it went about as well as it could go until things went in the absolute opposite direction. My experience here serves as a lesson to simply not trust anybody when you’re buying a car from a private owner. Some sellers can and will burn you if they get the chance. It doesn’t matter how nice or friendly they may seem — the seller is 100% not your friend, and I got mildly burned thinking that one might be.

The car in question was a 2001 Porsche Boxster S in a relatively rare color. It had just over 50,000 miles on the clock, was in tip-top shape and ticked every box I was looking for. Months of crawling every website you could think of led me to zeroing in on this particular Boxster S. 

I call the owner up, have a lengthy discussion to learn everything there was to know about the car. Transparent, upfront and friendly would be the three terms I’d use to describe him after talking on the phone for over a half-hour. He’s a Porsche person, through and through, and takes great pride in his other cars. To my relief, the long phone call with him returns zero red flags or reasons to not buy the car. The only problem in this immediate situation was distance. The seller lives in a suburb of Los Angeles, and I’m here in Michigan. 

I’m the sort of person who wants to personally inspect, drive and try out a car, but in this case, I have arguably an even better solution. A friend of mine — I still owe him tacos and beer for the favor — who knows first-gen Boxsters in and out (and lived near the seller) is nice enough to go inspect the car/test drive it for me. His feedback is positive; I call the seller up and tell him I’ll take it.

In this phone call, I say I’ll pay the full asking price and put down whatever deposit necessary for him to take it off the market while I arrange shipment. He agrees, happy that I’m paying full price, and tells me he’ll take it off the market and won’t show it to anybody if I send a $1,000 deposit. I Venmo him the deposit as soon as we get off the call, then crack open some celebratory beers. Hurrah! It’s mine!

This all goes down on Saturday. Over the course of Saturday and Sunday, I call various shipping companies to get quotes, ultimately landing on a covered container solution that would cost me $2,277 to go from L.A. to Michigan. Additionally, I sort out the full payment with the seller, agreeing to a wire transfer that will go through when the shipper arrives for the car. He provides an odometer reading, and tells me he’s preparing a bill of sale.

However, there is one snag. The seller informs me over the weekend that he’s leaving town for a week on business starting Monday. He asks if we could delay the shipper so that it will arrive when he’s back. He brings up the possibility of having his significant other handle the transaction while he’s away, but prefers being there to see the car off and ensure all the paperwork, documents, accessories, keys and everything else meant to go with the car, does indeed go with the car. Since the seller has been such an awesome dude to work with so far (we’re both enthusiasts and got along quite well), I agree to the delay and arrange the shippers to arrive at his house the day after his flight gets back.

Massive mistake. After agreeing to this, I send him screenshots of the shipping confirmation, providing him the date, time range that the truck will arrive and all of the pertinent details from the shipping company. Great, I think to myself. This is a done deal. With everything worked out, it’s just a waiting game. 

About four days go by where neither of us communicate with each other. The next communication I receive from the seller is the following text:

“Dear, Zac. I’m sorry to report but returning your deposit for the Boxster. A close friend of mind learned I was selling it and he wanted it and was willing to pay top dollar. I realize this may be frustrating but please be sure I’ve returned your money.”

WHAT!? After everything we’d gone through, this seemingly standup individual had just sold the car out from under me while on a work trip halfway across the globe. Not only that, but he’d done so right before the shippers (to whom I had already paid $2,277) were scheduled to pick up the car, leaving me just a day and some change to call them off and beg for my money back. Needless to say, I’m irate. I immediately try to call him to salvage a deal. No answer. I hit him with texts, but still, nothing. Finally, one day later, he texts me to say that his friend had agreed to pay a price “much higher” than his asking price. I try to call and text him, but to this day I am still ghosted.

On the bright side, the shipping company returned all my money without even levying their late cancellation fee, and the seller did in fact Venmo me my deposit back right when he said he would.

I had no interest in getting in a bidding war with his friend, but it still hurt to know that even when I agreed to pay his full asking price (a fair and solid price for both parties), it wasn’t good enough. There’s no way he got more than a couple grand beyond what I was paying, which is probably equal to a payment or two on a brand-new Porsche he also has in the driveway. Really? Was it worth it? Plus, can anyone believe the sheer audacity of this man to call off the deal after everything I’d already arranged with him and spent money on? I had his bank account and routing number, home address, was in the process to arrange the money transfer with the bank … the list goes on. Meanwhile, I still got burned at the last possible second.

The big takeaway here is that no matter how friendly the seller may seem, they are absolutely not your friend. Instead of trying to make his life easier by waiting for him to return from his work trip, I should’ve sent a shipper to his house the second I put the deposit down on the car. Yes, it would’ve been inconvenient, but he also wouldn’t have had time for anything else to transpire. A seller in this situation could even use my guaranteed sale as bait to get more money out of someone else.

Is he a scumbag for what happened? You guys tell me in the comments. 

Some of this is on me, and that’s the part that pangs the most. I knew better, and I know my advice to somebody in a similar situation would’ve been to get that car on a truck now. Buying and selling a car (or any big-dollar transaction like a house etc.) is pure business, and if you approach it in any other fashion, you might learn it the hard way.

That’s where the story ends. Don’t ever try to be friends with someone you’re buying a car from. And if you happen to be selling a 986 Boxster S with a manual transmission in a unique color, hit me up. I’m unfortunately back in the market.

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