It all started with a guy calling about a washer Peter and I had posted for sale. The man had a whirlpool washing machine that “worked perfect except for it wouldn’t go into the spin cycle”. At least that’s what he told me. I figured it needed a lid switch, which cost us less than $5. So I arranged for him to bring it over and we would fix his washer in exchange for a refrigerator “in excellent condition”. The only thing excellent however, was the man’s ability to embellish the condition of his appliances!
About an hour later he showed up with a trailer containing the washing machine and refrigerator. Peter and I quickly unloaded the washer and Peter began testing it out. He quickly discovered that the lid switch was ok. What wasn’t ok was the motor. The power cord was also fried and the agitator dogs needed to be replaced as well. The deal was turning rotten quickly.
At this point, I went out to inspect the refrigerator’s condition as I was having my doubts that it was “in excellent condition” as I was told. The first thing I noticed was that it was a 14 cu ft apartment sized refrigerator which have less demand and are worth slightly less than standard size fridges. The second thing I noticed was that there was a decent sized gap in the corner of the seal. It was big enough for air to escape from the freezer and mold/mildew to build up on the seals where the air was escaping. The swindle was on!
I had asked very specifically about the condition of the refrigerator, knowing that if it needed almost any work done to it would make the deal not worth doing. I had very specifically asked about the condition of the seals to make sure there weren’t any gaps and that they were still in good condition. I was told they were in excellent shape.
So I went back to Peter and told him that the deal was rotten and that it wasn’t even close to being equitable. We were basically going to have to give him a washing machine motor, a new power cord and agitator dogs. That was just the physical goods. It was also going to be about 30-40 minutes of labor to fix. Now, with the seal gapped, we were going to have to switch the hinges on the refrigerator to close the gap up on the one side. That would take another 15-20 minutes of work, plus the time to clean the fridge. In exchange for all this, we were getting a refrigerator that we probably wouldn’t buy at any price.
Peter was on a mission to fix that washer. I was on a mission to fix the deal. He thought he could fix it quickly and knew he had the parts sitting around. I couldn’t quickly convince him to restructure the deal. In the end, I wasn’t going to make the final decision. It was ultimately his time and labor that was more at stake than mine, as he was the one doing the repair. He chose to go through with the work.
When the work on the washer was done, and Peter had another moment to check out the refrigerator, he started to realize the reality of the situation. At this point, it was too late to do anything about it. When the man came back to pick up his washer I explained the extent of the repairs, pointed out the blown seal on the refrigerator and asked him if he could add a little cash to the deal to make it more fair.
To his credit, he came prepared, with exactly zero cash on him. Well done sir, I thought to myself. Holy smokes. We all stared at the ground. It was painfully awkward for a few moments, but in the end I told him we would learn from the situation and wished him well. Sometimes you receive money in a transaction. That day we received an education on bartering. Here are a few of things we learned.
No one ever wants to trade down. The entire bartering world is filled with people trying to turn their junk into more valuable items. Everyone always wants to trade up. You must know this going into any bartering situation.
Promise nothing. People lie, or they misrepresent, or inaccurately describe their items. Until you know the true condition of the items involved, it’s foolish to set the terms of any deal. You can’t rely on the other person to accurately inspect the items.
Isolate the components. We failed to isolate and place a value on each component of the deal beforehand. Had we done that, and declared the value of the fridge, and the value being added to the washing machine we would have restructured the deal or not done business. We learned our lesson.
Usually, a barter is not going to be worth it. If someone is contacting you with a proposed trade, it’s probably not going to be a good one. There are very few products that are worth the same amount of money in the marketplace. I recommend allowing the market to dictate the value of each product or service separately, and then exchange a common currency, which is usually cash.
Have any fun experiences with bartering? Crazy ones? I’d love to hear your stories!