Legal Q&A: Protecting yourself from errant furniture dealers

Fong Wei Li offers legal advice on how homeowners can protect themselves against unsavoury sales practices and missing furniture dealers, when shopping for the home. 

Fitting out a new home with the furniture
 of your choice is often an exciting part of a homeowner’s journey. But a handful of unfortunate homeowners have recently been left in the lurch, after a spate of shop closures by furniture vendors, leaving orders unfulfilled and deposits unrefunded. Elsewhere, consumers are complaining of late deliveries and shoddy product quality from errant furniture retailers. Because furniture purchases can amount to quite a hefty financial outlay, homeowners should take steps to ensure that they get what they pay for.

Before making a purchase, do a quick online search on the retailer to see if its past
or existing customers have left unfavourable reviews. The Consumer Association of Singapore (Case) maintains an active “blacklist” of errant retailers; it might be worth it to pay Case’s website a visit to ascertain if the retailer is on the list.

When transacting, refrain from making advance payment in the whole sum of the purchase price. While it is fair for vendors to require a deposit, the deposit such never be in full. Insist that you pay at most half of the purchase price upfront, with the remaining to be paid upon delivery of the furniture. This reduces your financial risk, should the vendor suddenly wind up without delivering on its obligations.

While paperwork may appear cumbersome to most, having the transaction recorded in writing is a must. This
 does mean signing a formal agreement. At the very least, the retailer must issue you an invoice or sales confirmation on its official letterhead
 that contains the following information: a description
 of the items purchased, the quantity, price, payment 
terms, and the dates on which the items will be delivered.

If the retailer promises
a warranty on the products, ask for a written confirmation of the warranty’s terms and duration. Finally, all payments you make to the vendor (including deposit payments) should be confirmed with a receipt issued by the retailer.

Most established furniture vendors will have the above paperwork in place. If not, it’s well within your right to ask for these. If a retailer refuses your request, you can almost be sure something shy is going on (because it will need the same paperwork for legitimate accounting
 anyway). These 
documents will come in
handy, if you ever have 
to make a claim against 
a retailer for a refund, replacement, or a late
 or unfulfilled order.

If you discover defects in the furniture items after they are delivered, make sure
you inform the retailer in writing (which
 can be in the form of e-mail, SMS, or even Whatsapp message). Keep records of all
 your correspondence with the retailer, including replies from the retailer. Similarly, 
if your order does not come on time or remains undelivered, inform the retailer in writing and keep a record of the communication.

It is perfectly 
acceptable and common
 for customers to speak to the vendors over the phone 
or in person on such matters, but be sure to follow up
 with a short e-mail or text message confirming what was discussed verbally.

Where big-ticket items such as furniture are concerned, it
is better to be safe than sorry. Making sure that the purchase process is proper, fair, and well-documented will go a
long way in saving you from despair and acrimony, if a retailer ever goes rogue.