Found a flute listed in the paper (The Flute Network, or from any other source!) that interests you? Or have you recently posted an instrument for sale, and now wonder what you're going to do if somebody actually calls? Either way, it can be a scary proposition think about dealing with someone you've never met, and perhaps lives hundreds of miles away. (Actually, now that we're on the Internet, people from all over the world may read of your listing! But that's half the fun, and I'll have more to say about that circumstance later.)
You are actually right to be a little nervous. And while we can't take responsibility for the behavior of those who might call you, I can share a bit of advice gleaned from years of experience about some things to do when you do get calls.
There are actually many ways to handle buying and selling of instruments between private people; what's most important is what the "two of you" feel comfortable with! Perhaps you both know someone in common who may help out by being an intermediary. Or perhaps one might travel to the other's location to try it out. What is described below is yet another method that many have found helpful. (Keep in mind - I am not a legal expert! Please view all of the following only as the good-will offering that it is.)
First, and most importantly -- talk with your caller a while. Find out where they play, who their teacher is, whether you might know anyone in common, what they are looking for in an instrument, etc. You are doing this for two reasons. One, you want the information such discussion will give you.
Second, you are trying to get a "gut-level feeling" about the person you are talking to. JUST BECAUSE YOU HAVE ADVERTISED SOMETHING FOR SALE DOES NOT MEAN YOU HAVE TO SEND IT OUT TO ANYBODY WHO CALLS YOU. Likewise, just because somebody advertises something you have been looking for doesn't mean they are necessarily somebody you are going to want to deal with.
Only you can make the judgement as to whether you want to move forward with this interaction or not; if somebody "gives you the creeps" or generally makes you feel uncomfortable about possibly dealing with them, there is no one who is going to make you do so. By and large, the flute playing community is relatively small --people generally know people who know people; and in the twelve years of managing The Flute Network, the stories of "good" interactions by far outweigh the "bad" ones.
While you are talking, reach agreements about at least two things: (1) the price, and (2) a time deadline. It is not unusual for people to want to have access to the instrument for two weeks or so, to try it in their band, or for their teacher, etc.
One of the two of you should then follow up the conversation with a written note - saying again in print what the agreement was and what each of you expects, and send it to the other one. This helps to be sure you both are "on the same wavelength" about your agreement and is a chance to clear up any misunderstandings before they can cause trouble.
The interested "buyer" then sends a check for the full amount agreed to the "seller". Once received, the "seller" holds on to the check (does not cash it!), promptly packs up the instrument and sends it on to the "buyer" to try out for the period of time you agreed to.
BE AWARE that there's no getting around the "trust element" for either side. There is nothing to prohibit you from cashing that check, no matter what date is on it; and there is nothing to prohibit somebody from absconding with your instrument! While there may or may not be sufficient funds in the account to cover the check (it is common for a "buyer" to need to transfer funds from another account to cover large purchases), having that written document gives the you something to legally pursue should you need to. Hopefully, the "buyer" will call you up immediately saying "YES this is the one" and that you can cash the check the next day; or maybe it will be "No, sorry, I'm sending it back". In that case, they do, and once you've received it back you send them back their check.
What happens when the person calling lives in a different country? Hard to say. Given the added complications, you may wish to work with an experienced consignment dealer to handle the transactions. (If anybody reading this has had successful experiences with overseas transactions like this, please let us know and we'll be delighted to share your advice!)
Again, good communication is the key. Be straightforward in communicating your needs and expectations, and double check that you're both understanding the same things. And as is true in all matters, you won't be sorry if you also keep good records!
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