I recently had the opportunity to learn about the true character of two perfect strangers.
The fabulous townhouse I moved into in the summer of 2020 has a built-in surround sound system that I’ve never connected my TV to. I did take a good look at the wall connections and another good look at the connections at the back of my TV, and when nothing obvious jumped out at me in terms of a match, I thought, “OK, you had your chance. I’ll deal with you later.” I had about 100 boxes staring at me that needed unpacking and lots of settling in to do, so a whole year went by before I thought about it again.
Now it’s the summer of 2021. I signed a new lease. Then two more things happened almost simultaneously. The screen on my older TV started to pixelate in horizontal lines all the way across, almost ruining the image. First one appeared, then a few weeks later, two more lower down on the screen. And my older sound bar also started to go belly up—I couldn’t hear voices well from my system anymore. Turning up the volume just made the background noise way too loud. It seemed like one of the channels (maybe the bass) had died. I decided that rather than replace what I had, I should make the investment in whatever it was I needed to hook up to this surround sound system that was just sitting here in my walls, unused. (For those of you making cracks about my age, and other explanations for why I might not be hearing the voices, just SHUT IT, OK?)
I took a photo of my wall connections, a photo of my TV connections, and made a post on the social media site NextDoor®, asking if anyone knew what I needed to buy to connect these two things together. I figured there would be some geeks out there who would jump all over that! Boy was I right—I posted that one night, went to bed, and the next morning there were about 20 replies, with guys arguing over this and that. I learned that I needed a receiver to go between my TV and the wall connections, first and foremost. Aha! The missing component was a receiver! But it was funny reading all the other interactions—“She should buy this!” “No, the cheapest route would be to just replace her sound bar!” “No, that sucks compared to full-blown surround sound, why would you recommend that?” “She should future-proof her system by getting blah-blah…” It so quickly went over my head that I got lost trying to follow the comments and the logic, and trying to make a decision as to whose advice to take. As I was reading the comments, I had another tab open on my second monitor, price-checking the receivers they were recommending—and they were ranging anywhere from $300 to $800. One very nice guy said he had some free speaker wire that he would donate to the cause, and another said “Hey! I’ll bring beer and snacks for the install party!”
A guy named Josh piped in about midway through the comments, offering to sell me his “really nice semi used” Denon® receiver for $175, because he said his wife hated the rat’s nest of wires everywhere and he was replacing his system with a sound bar. Several of the other guys said, “That receiver sells new for around $300; I’d take that deal!” I did my own price checking of his model; it was recently replaced by Denon with a newer model, but the price was accurate. After mulling it over for a day or two, I contacted Josh and we made a deal, and an agreement to meet.
Being relatively new to NextDoor, I didn’t realize at the time that Josh was not supposed to offer something for sale in the general news feed—they have their own “For Sale” section and all goods for sale are supposed to be handled there. That way transactions are easier to track should something go haywire.
That weekend, we met each other in a neutral location—a parking lot outside a bank lobby. Everything went well; we were both on time, he brought the receiver to my car, I handed over the cash, and made sure he counted it so there was no mistaking the amount. We were both satisfied, shook on the deal, and left happy. I also took advantage of the free speaker wire offer from the other gentleman; he had it waiting on his front porch for me. I decided against the install party, however.
The next day I had arranged for the installer to come by. He was a gentleman named Keith, who was also highly recommended on the same comment chain on NextDoor, and used to be an installer for Circuit City. I don’t think I’ve ever chatted with anyone more knowledgeable about electronics! His charge for installation was going to be $150.
Keith got all the speaker wire hooked up in the back, and then asked me, “OK, where’s the remote?”
I gave him a blank look. “Remote? Remote for what?”
He says, “Remote for the receiver.”
I answer, “He didn’t give me a remote.”
He goes, “Aww, you’re kidding me. He didn’t bring you the remote? How could he forget that? I guess I can try to program this without it, but…where does this guy live?”
“Oh man, way the heck up in Humble.” [this was at least an hour north of Houston]
I immediately got on my phone to text Josh: “Hi Josh. Keith is here connecting your receiver. He says (and so does the manual) that this receiver should have a remote. Do you still have that? If so, can you send it to me?”
Josh responds: “There is a remote for it. We are still unpacking in the new place and I haven’t found what box it was put in yet. But I will get it to you.”
Me: “OK great. I will definitely need it as right now I have to operate the receiver from the front panel. My address is XXXX …. Houston, TX XXXXX. Thank you!”
These texts were exchanged on June 5, 2021.
So Keith did his best to program the receiver via the front panel and get everything running through my TV properly. He walks through the operation with me, as I’ve never owned a surround sound system before.
The difference in sound is remarkable! I can hear voices again! (And not just the ones in my head!) The very next day, I took some pictures of my old sound bar and subwoofer, made a post on NextDoor describing some of the issues it was starting to have, and said anyone who wanted it could come pick it up for free. I didn’t want to take the chance of selling it, knowing that things were starting to go wrong with it. Man, when you are giving things away on NextDoor people are like sharks—I received about 25 immediate responses and had to shut down the post within the hour. That thing disappeared within about 20 minutes of me posting.
Five days later, on June 10, the receiver started emitting a loud buzzing sound every time I turned it on. So loud it startled the cats. So loud I couldn’t use it to run the TV sound through it.
I texted Keith and told him what was happening, and asked him what he thought was the reason. He texted back, “It’s likely the power supply has gone bad on the receiver…I’d be willing to bet that’s one of the reasons the seller got rid of it. It was probably starting to go bad.”
Me: “What?! I’ve been taken?”
Keith: “There’s a slim possibility that it just happened, but I doubt it. That’s why I’m usually not a fan of buying used electronics unless it’s from a friend.”
Back and forth we went, discussing my options. Yes, I could replace the power supply, which could cost up to half the price of a new receiver again once you include labor, and then something else could go wrong. He recommended I just cut my losses and buy a new one. And ask the seller for some or all of my money back.
I said, “OK, let me stew on this for a while. I’ll let you know what I decide to do.” Dang it I was mad! To have some of my discretionary funds just go out the window like that really chapped me.
Then Keith texted: “On my end, if you need to service it or replace it, I won’t charge you anything more to get you connected and on your way. Please keep me posted.”
It floored me when I read that. He had no reason whatsoever to make that offer. He was self-employed just like I was, and his time and expertise were his livelihood.
I replied: “Wow, Keith, that’s over and above. Thank you very much.”
He texted: “I’d only wish the same for myself, and it is the right thing to do. Good luck, and I look forward to hearing from you.”
Next, I texted Josh again. I noticed that it had been 5 days and I hadn’t heard a word about my remote. I decided I was just going to present the situation to him and not ask him for anything right away, and just see what he would offer, if anything. I would put the ball in his court.
“Well Josh I have some bad news. After 5 days of use, the receiver has died on me. It emits a loud buzzing noise every time I turn it on. Keith tells me the power source has gone bad and I would be better off buying a new one than trying to get this fixed. So needless to say, I’m pretty upset. Between what I paid you and what I paid him to install it, I’ve invested $325 in a dead system.”
Josh replies shortly: “I am so sorry to hear that. It amazes me that it died like that, as it was working perfectly. I was going to bring the remote to you this weekend when I came back into town. I guess you don’t need that now.”
To say I was stunned to read his reply is an understatement, especially after Keith’s over-the-top note of generosity just a few minutes before. I thought to myself, “Well, I just learned everything I would ever want to know about you.”
But I decided to give it some time; he may come around. This was a Thursday, 5 days after the initial purchase. I waited until Saturday, a full week after I bought the receiver from him, and then I contacted him again. This time I moved to the messaging system on NextDoor, because I knew if I ever decided to file a complaint against this guy, as with eBay, the communications had to be on their system.
When I texted you on Thursday regarding the fact that the receiver had died within 5 days of using it, I didn’t ask for anything from you at that time. There was a reason for that. I was giving you a chance to do the right thing: offer to give me my money back of your own accord, for selling me a system that was obviously on its last legs (not “really nice semi used”). Boy did you fail the integrity test.
If this transaction had been on eBay, you would have had no choice but to refund my money, because it was within their 30-day money-back guarantee window. Unfortunately for me, it was on NextDoor, which has no such built-in buyer protections. So I have to rely on asking you to be reasonable, and how would you feel if this had happened to you? You would feel cheated, as I do. I am asking that you refund most or all of my money for a system that didn’t even make it a full week. Not only did I not receive the full setup (no remote in the delivery), but your reply was quite uncaring and made no attempt to make things right.
If I don’t receive some sort of satisfaction from this transaction, unfortunately I’ll have to report this to the NextDoor customer service team and ask that they bar you from further activity on the site. I know that’s probably not a big threat to you, but it’s the only arrow in my quiver at the moment. I can also post what has happened so the larger community is aware. I look forward to hearing from you. I can accept reimbursement via Zelle.
Josh replies the same day:
“I am truly sorry that you feel this way. As a man of integrity and a Christian, I do not try to hurt people or “screw people over”. It was working perfectly when I disconnected it. Being an older used Item there are always risk. I have personally had this happen to me as well and did not ask for the money back from the seller. I was planning on bringing the remote till you told me it was no longer working.
I truly do not know how to respond. Best case scenario is waiting for my next paycheck, and shuffling money around from paying bills. I however don’t have a bank that does Zelle. Worst case scenario is being reported for doing something that was outside of what I committed to doing, which was selling you what was a perfectly good system.
I understand you feel cheated right now. I’m sorry you feel that way. But I also feel cheated being asked to refund money on a sale that was carried through in good standing and all intentions in good order.
Even though I contacted Josh three more times after this, this was the last time I heard from him. I told him if he was so convinced it was a solid system he could refund my money, take the receiver back and repair it himself, then sell it to someone else, thus recouping his money that way. I asked him to send me the remote via US mail like I asked him to in the first place; that way, if I chose to sell the dead unit via eBay, at least I had a complete system to offer to someone. And because I was hugely annoyed that he played his “Christian” card on me, I also let him know that my installer, Christian or not, has offered to do a new installation at no charge, and “that, my friend, is a man of integrity.” Nothing. Radio silence.
Because of his complete refusal to communicate further or in any way meet me halfway, I did report him to NextDoor customer service. However, as of this writing their consumer protections are completely toothless for transactions that go awry; all they could tell me was that they “may” shut down a member’s account for repeated violations of their Code of Ethics. They gave no follow-up to my complaint.
In the end, I did cough up for a new receiver, and because my installer was so incredibly kind to offer his time, I also ordered a new flat-screen TV through him. (And I paid him for the second installation of the new receiver.)
It was a bit of an expensive lesson for me, because I normally won’t buy used electronics from anyone. I bent my own rule on this because I’m renting this townhouse, so I thought, “Well, it will probably last for as long as I’m here.” Lesson learned. Second lesson learned: no more purchasing anything worthwhile through NextDoor.
But the bigger surprise in all this was to meet two complete strangers with two completely different philosophies of life. One who feels no guilt or shame at having wronged someone, and makes no attempt to make things right. And another who bends over backward to do the right thing, even when he hasn’t personally harmed anyone. Luckily for me, I met these two people back to back. Often when something happens that makes me feel taken advantage of, it seems a long time passes and the wound has a chance to fester. In this case, someone came along to almost completely erase the bitter pill and make me remember that there are good people in this world who consistently choose the higher road, the better path.
[“Head” illustrations on this story from Adobe® Stock. This site is an Adobe Stock affiliate, meaning I will earn a small commission if you make a purchase from a link on this site.]