Question:

Last week I purchased a sofa set, second-hand, from people who were about to leave the country. They told me that the sofas were leather and we agreed on a price of NIS 1200. I paid an additional NIS 240 to transport the sofas to my home. I just had an expert repairman over to give me an estimate on fixing a tear in the leather. The expert told me that there is not one stitch of leather on the sofas. The sofas are in fact vinyl! I called the sellers, who replied that they had told me the sofas were made of “industrial leather” and thought I understood what that means. Industrial leather is apparently the term used in this country for vinyl. I called back the furniture repairman, who told me that the term is intentionally misleading. It conjures up the image of strong leather, rather than imitation leather. It is like calling zircon “industrial diamonds”. He went on to say that if you advertised with such wording in America you would be sued for fraud or the like. The seller told me she had no intention of misleading me and I believe that to be the case. However, the fact is that I was certainly misled. I wouldn’t have bought the set if I had understood it was made of vinyl. The couple is very honest, so I think they would be open to a teshuva from a rav.

Halachically, how should I proceed? Are the sellers obligated to take the sofa set back? Who should pay for transportation? Should they give us our money back?

Answer:

If the seller indeed trusts your position that you did not understand that the sofas were vinyl, then the two of you never had a meeting of minds as to what the merchandise was. That element is essential in any sale. Thus, there was a mekach taus and the sale was invalid. You get your money back and they get the couches back.

You do not have to pay for the removal of the couches from your apartment; the owner should pick them up.

As for the price you paid to move the couches to your home (NIS 240), I do not think you can claim that from the sellers, since you admit that they used a term that they believe is customary in this country (“industrial leather”) and that they were not trying to mislead you. So they are not negligent and did not willingly cause you to lose money. They may have inadvertently led you to spend money that gave you no benefit whatsoever, but they are not liable for that.

At this point, you can renegotiate and come to agreeable terms. They probably want to get rid of the couches already. You really did like them; you just didn’t know what they were made of, but they must look pretty real.

The money you spent to get the sofas to your house will be a total loss if they take them back. They would have to pay movers to pick them up from you (a total loss for them) and then try to resell them. I suggest you make them a lower offer.

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