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Legal Matters: Buyers beware, generally no 'cooling-off period' in Maryland

An out-of-state caller who did not leave his name asks about cooling-off periods for buyers who sign contracts, but later decide they made a mistake, and they want out.

First issue: the problem with anonymous calls is that the recipient does not know whether the question relates to a Maryland transaction, whether the buyer has a connection to the state that would make Maryland law applicable or whether the caller may have a not-so-legitimate reason for trying to hide his identity.

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Quick general answer: Maryland law generally does not provide a cooling-off period for buyers to change their minds, according to the state attorney general’s website, www.marylandattorneygeneral.gov.

State law sets out a few exceptions.

The state Door-to-Door Sales Act provides that a seller must furnish a copy of a Notice of Cancellation to the buyer. The notice must state that the buyer may cancel the transaction within five business days — seven business days if the buyer is over 65 years of age — without penalty.

If the buyer cancels, he must return any goods the door-to-door seller delivered to him under the contract in good condition. He can make the items available for pickup or have them shipped back at the seller’s expense. The seller must return payments made by the buyer within 10 business days.

The state law covers only door-to-door sales.

In some other purchasing situations where a buyer wants to cancel, he may be able to do so under the Federal Trade Commission’s cooling-off rule. The rule gives buyers until midnight of the third business day after a contract was signed to cancel, if the sale was a door-to-door or other transaction outside the seller’s usual place of business, such as a trade show or computer show.

For transactions covered by the FTC rule, buyers may cancel for any reason within the three-day period.

The FTC warns that certain sales are not included in its cooling-off period rules, www.consumer.ftc.gov. These include contracts for less than $25 for sales made at your home; contracts under $130 for sales made at temporary locations; contracts for goods or services not primarily intended for personal, family or household purposes; sales made entirely online, or by mail or telephone; sales resulting from prior negotiations at the seller's permanent place of business where the goods are sold regularly, needed for an emergency, or made as part of your request for the seller to do repairs or maintenance on your personal property, although purchases made beyond the maintenance or repair request are covered.

And what about the anonymous caller?

The area code on his call indicated he was calling from South Carolina. One possible option for him to obtain the information he seeks would be to consult an attorney licensed to practice in his state, who can tell him whether statutes in his state provide for cooling-off periods and what types of transactions are covered.

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