People like Us


Good neighbours I have had, and I have met with bad; and in trust I have found treason.' Thus spake Elizabeth I, that font of pithy regal eloquence who learnt such worldly wisdom without buying or selling a single car. (If she had, her merry quip -- 'I will make you shorter by the head' -- might have been deployed more frequently. ) It's usually easier to buy cars than sell them, of course, but it's still an anxious process. Most of us like to think we're getting at least what -- if not more than -- we're paying for, and fear we're getting less. Yet we live in a buyer's market and have never had more for our money, new or secondhand, than now. Previously, nearly everyone bought from the local classifieds and dealers, but now car supersites such as Cargiant (www. cargiant. com) offer huge choice and good value. They have also helped drive down prices in the more traditional markets, which is partly why the locals still survive.

It's partly also because many people want to drive a car before they buy it. They hope to spend a lot of time in it and if the seat is uncomfortable, windscreen reflections intrusive, the pedals awkwardly angled or the 'feel' simply wrong, then you want to know that before putting your hand in your pocket. But it's partly, too, because to an extent we judge what we're buying by who is selling. This is particularly the case with things that need maintenance in order to keep going. And if we're selling something that means people calling at the house, we worry about who they are. What this amounts to is that many people prefer to buy and sell to people they judge to be people like themselves. People like us.

It's not infallible, of course. I've bought good cars from honest men in sink council estates and overpriced rubbish from Philip Larkin's 'shit in the shuttered chateau'.

The seams of human vices, like human virtues, run throughout mankind. It's not really a question of wealth or status or class, but of values; most of us want to deal with people who share, however superficially, the values to which we also aspire i. e. , who are reasonably honest, seek a reasonable deal and don't write rubber cheques. And we feel that much safer if we know that those with whom we deal would be shamed if caught out acting in bad faith.

I don't know whether such thoughts played a part in the recent launch of a new website, www. schoolstrader. com, or whether it was simply an inspired realisation of a ready-made market waiting to be born. …

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