Caveat Emptor is Latin for “Let the buyer beware.” The phrase and its use as a disclaimer of warranties arises from the fact that buyers typically have less information about the good or service they are purchasing, while the seller has more information. The quality of this situation is known as “information asymmetry.” Defects in the goods or service may be hidden from the buyer, and only know to the seller. (Wikipedia)

When I ask my teenage daughter if I sound like a broken record and she gazes at me with a blank stare, I realize I have dated myself because she doesn’t know what a record is or how you break them. I’m about to date myself right now when I say that I first learned about Caveat Emptor while watching the Brady Bunch. The internet tells me it was Episode 3, Season 4. The internet even has the script from that episode so for those of you too young or senile to remember the Brady Bunch, this is what happened.

 

Greg: Boy, did I ever get stuck with a lemon. “A little elbow grease.”

Mike: Yeah, well I don’t think a little elbow grease is going to cure rigor mortis. [Mike leans against the car]

Greg: Careful, Dad. You’re liable to crush the door. Some friend that Eddie.

Mike: Ah, come on Greg. Forget about Eddie. You made a business deal – he got the best of you. That’s all.

Greg: Business deal. That’s the last time I’m going to do business with a friend.

Mike: I think maybe you learned something about the business world.

Greg: What d’ya mean?

Mike: Well, look. You take sellers. They’ve got something to sell, right?

Greg: Right.

Mike: Naturally they’re going to make it sound as attractive as possible even if they have to exaggerate to do it.

Greg: You mean lie.

Mike: Yes. Quite often they do. Though they might call it “gilding the lily.” But the important thing is that you’re the

buyer. You have to keep your guard up, see? It’s the old principle of caveat emptor.

Greg: Caveat emptor?

Mike: It’s Latin for “let the buyer beware.” Or to put it in the vernacular, “them who don’t look, sometimes gets took.”

Greg: Well, that Eddie really took me.

Mike: Yeah, he did. He had you hog-tied and happy before you knew it. But you let it happen. Okay. The important thing is that you learned something.

Greg: Don’t worry Dad. Have I ever.

Mike: Good boy.

[Peter and Bobby are in the boys’ bedroom. Greg enters]

Peter: What were you talking to Dad about?

Greg: Oh, a few of the facts of life. Like “caveat emptor.”

Bobby: What’s that?

Greg: It means “let the buyer beware,” in Latin.

Peter: Yeah. Don’t you know anything?

Bobby: Oh, I know Latin. Obby-bay Ady-bray. That’s “Bobby Brady” in Latin.

Peter: That’s Pig-Latin, loser!

Greg: Boy, I sure learned my lesson. When I get rid of that old clunker, this time I’m the seller, and it’s the other guy who has to do the caveat emptoring.

Peter: How ya going to get rid of it?

Greg: Just find somebody who’s dumber than I am.

Bobby: Isn’t going to be easy.

[Marcia and Jan jumping rope outside. Mike and Carol enter from the car]

Carol: Hello, girls.

Marcia: Hi.

Jan: Hi.

Carol: Well it looks like Greg must have got his car running.

Mike: Well he must have used artificial respiration. Hey girls, you know where Greg went?

Marcia: He was showing the car to some boy and then they drove off somewhere. He was trying to get us to say how great that old wreck was.

Jan: He kept winking at us, you know like that? [Jan winks] And he even gave Cindy a candy bar.

[Marcia and Jan exit]

Carol: Well I wonder what that’s all about.

Mike: Hmm, so do I.

[Peter and Bobby enter from the house]

Mike: Boys, Greg sell his car?

Bobby: Yeah. He called the guy a pigeon.

Peter: He said he was gonna really cavet the guy’s eruptor.

[Peter and Bobby exit]

Carol: Cavet his eruptor? What?

Mike: I think he means caveat his emptor.

Carol: Caveat emptor? Now where’d they pick that up?

Mike: Well, I had a long talk with Greg about buying and selling, but I’m afraid he learned the wrong lesson.

 

Aaah the 70’s!

It’s a fact. In nearly every sales transaction, the buyer has less information about the product or service than the seller. This puts the buyer at a distinct disadvantage. If you are buying a fruit smoothie that’s supposed to contain 50% fruit juice but only has 10%, that’s one thing. If you are buying building materials that you believe have been tested and proven safe, that’s entirely different. Here are 5 reasons you should not buy building materials made in “emerging markets.”

Poor Quality

China remains the world’s leading manufacturer and makes everything from steel to plush toys. While some products manufactured in China are of high quality, other products are known for their poor quality. The reality is that products imported from China account for more than 60% of product safety recalls. Between 2001 – 2007, hundreds of millions of sheets of Chinese drywall entered the North American market. The product emitted toxic hydrogen sulfide, sulfur dioxide, and other gases. When mixed with normal home humidity, the gasses produced a rotten egg smell that created serious health issues for humans and their pets such as breathing problems, eye irritation, fatigue, dizziness, bloody noses, and headaches. As few as 3 sheets of Chinese drywall could contaminate the indoor air quality of a home. The only fix was to have the family move out for several months, gut the house and rebuild the interior. This was a high price to pay for an inexpensive product.

Long Lead Times

Plan on long lead times. The average travel time for a container vessel from Asia to North America is between 15 to 30 days. Documentation, customs clearance, handling, and inland shipping can add an additional 17 to 33 days. Add 6 more days from the dock to your business. These are just freight times. We haven’t included the time to make the product or the time required to get the product from the manufacturing facility to the port. With all manufacturing and freight times added together, a shipment from Asia could take 4 to 5 months to arrive between order and receipt of goods.

No Warranty

Unlike products that are purchased locally and manufactured on the continent, products from emerging markets might not have a warranty from the manufacturer. North American courts have little to no leverage when dealing with Chinese manufacturers if they don’t have a North American presence. This typically means the warranty defaults to the company doing the importing. Should you have a warrantable claim, hopefully, the importer will take full responsibility and have deep enough pockets and a strong sense of corporate responsibility and remedy situation. Hopefully.

Don’t Meet North American Testing Standards

North American produced building products are required to pass certain testing criteria to assure the industry and the purchaser that the products are safe and that they do what they claim they will do. ASTM alone has over 13,000 standards “…instrumental in specifying, evaluating and testing the dimensional, mechanical, rheological and other performance requirements of the materials used in the manufacture of main and auxiliary building parts and components…These building standards are helpful in guiding manufacturers, construction companies, architectural firms and other users of such parts and components in their proper fabrication and installation procedures, as well as the possible hazards involved during these processes” (ASTM website). Chinese manufacturers might produce official-looking documentation suggesting they have surpassed ASTM and other testing requirements, but it might not be true. The testing results might not apply to the product you are purchasing because it’s out of date, or the results might not have been produced by a certified neutral third party. You simply might never know if your product meets today’s North American testing standards.

Lawsuits

Poor Quality + No Warranty + No Testing = Lawsuits! Should someone get injured or sick because of the product you imported or installed, you could find yourself in court. Should a product you imported or installed fail to perform as claimed, you could find yourself in court. The shadow of poor quality, untested building materials is long and the associated risk lasts years. While the price might be right, emerging market building products have the potential to harm others, you and your business.

Buyer Beware Indeed!