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Hilchos Choshen Mishpat

Volume II : Number 32

Price Shopping With No Intent To Buy


Question:

A. Reuven has listed his home in a certain neighborhood for sale. Shimon also has a similar home in the same neighborhood that he is interested in selling, but is unsure of what price he can reasonably request for his home. He would like to call Reuven and, posing as a potential buyer, ask Reuven how much he is requesting for his home. Is Shimon Halachically permitted to do so?

B. Reuven and Rachel received a wedding present from a relative, Leah. Leah is now getting married, and they would like to purchase a gift for her of equal value to the gift that they received from her. Are they permitted to call the store where their gift was purchased to find out how much their gift cost, if they have no intention to purchase this item from that store? erwise?


Answer:

  1. A. It is prohibited by the Torah to ask someone who is interested in selling or leasing something, how much he or she is charging for that item, if the person asking has no interest in purchasing the item and is only interested in knowing the price for other reasons. Similarly, a person may not ask a worker who is interested in a job, how much his fees are, if the employer has no intent to hire this worker to work for him.

    A person who does ask in the manner stated above, transgresses the prohibition of (Vayikra 25:17) "V'Lo Sono Ish Ess Amiso - And a man may not oppress (by misleading) his friend." By asking the price, he is raising his friend's hopes that he has a potential customer, only to be disappointed when he realizes that his hopes were raised for nothing.

    This is forbidden even though the person asking has no intent to disappoint the merchant or salesman. (1)

    If you were to inform the merchant or salesman at the beginning of the conversation that you are only calling to price an item but have no intention to purchase it, it would be permitted.

  2. B. It is permitted to price shop if your intention is to determine which merchant has the item you wish to purchase for the cheapest price.

  3. C. According to what we stated above, it is forbidden in both situations (Questions A and B) to ask the seller the price of the home or item, unless it has been previously made clear to the seller that there is no interest in actually purchasing the items being asked about.

  4. D. If a person is interested in purchasing a home for a lower price than is being asked, he may not call first or send other "potential customers" to haggle with the owner over the price, and then refuse to buy it because of the "exaggerated price", in the hope that the owner will then accept his lower bid.

    This is forbidden even if the homeowner is actually asking an exaggerated price for his home, and the lower bid that will be offered is the actual market value.


Sources:

(1) The Gemara in Bava Metziah (58b) explains the Possuk of "V'Lo Sono Ish Ess Amiso" to be referring to Ona'as Devarim, verbally causing someone to suffer. The Gemara points out that such Ona'ah is more grave than financial Ona'ah, since there is no way to really compensate the person for physical, mental, or emotional suffering, whereas it is possible to compensate a person for financial suffering. This is also stated in the Shulchan Oruch, Choshen Mishpat (228:1-4).

The situations discussed in Answers A and B are explicitly discussed in the Gemara and Shulchan Oruch there.

However, if the person inquiring about the price is really interested in purchasing the item in question, and each store that he calls has an equal chance of receiving his business if they can quote a price that is right for him, we can not say that he is causing suffering to the merchant or salesman, since he is offering them the opportunity to receive his business if the terms are right. This is what business is all about! A merchant can not argue that he is only willing to provide prices to people if they will buy for him. However, he _can_ argue that he has no interest in providing prices to people just calling to price, since this takes up much of his precious time that could be used for generating actual sales.

Feedback is appreciated! It can be sent toatendler@torah.org.


This week's class is based on a column by Rabbi Tzvi Shpitz, who is an Av Bais Din and Rosh Kollel in the Ramot neighborhood of Jerusalem. His Column originally appears in Hebrew in Toda'ah, a weekly publication in Jerusalem. It has been translated and reprinted here with his permission and approval.

We hope you find this class informative and stimulating! If you do not see a subscription form to the left of the screen, access the Advanced Learning Network to subscribe to Business-Halacha.

For information on subscriptions, archives, and other Project Genesis classes, send mail to learn@torah.org for an automated reply. For subscription assistance, send mail to gabbai@torah.org.

Please Note: The purpose of this column is to make people aware of Choshen Mishpat situations that can arise at any time, and the Halachic concepts that may be used to resolve them. Each individual situation must be resolved by an objective, competent Bais Din (or Rabbinic Arbitrator) in the presence of all parties involved!

 






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