Character Counts

By DAVID MOON, Moon Capital Management
August 6, 2006

When I was in high school, I spent a weekend in Birmingham helping my uncle move. He sold his house and was moving across town.

As we moved the emptied the house, we would discover (or cause) minor scratches and other blemishes along the baseboards and walls. My uncle was patching and repainting these normal wear-and-tear items. The flaws were the type one would expect to find in any pre-owned house. My uncle had already closed on the sale and had his check in hand. Why were we going to all of the trouble to fix things that we really didn't have to fix?

My wise old uncle (he was probably all of 35 years old at the time) explained that he didn't want anyone thinking that he had tried to hide anything or take advantage of them. He also said something about not wanting to feel one of his mother's dress shoes stuffed into a private bodily orifice ' something he was sure would happen if he took advantage of anyone and she found out about it.

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I recently bought a small used boat after seeing it advertised in this paper's classifieds. The boat was more than ten years old; I expected it to have at least ten years' worth of wear and tear. The seller's son's company installed the heat and air system in my house. My heat and air always works; I had no reason to think the boat wouldn't either.

After taking the twin-engine boat out for a test ride, the seller told me that he had just replaced one of the motors and that the new motor came with a warranty. He wasn't sure if the warranty was transferable or not, but if I had any problems I could just call him and we would present the boat for repair as if he still owned it.

That should have been my first clue. If he was willing to mislead the motor people, why wouldn't he be willing to do the same to me? But I wanted the boat. So I ignored the signal.

The predictable thing happened. After two days, the motor would only intermittently start. After three weeks, it wouldn't start at all.

I called the seller, asking for the name of the folks who supposedly installed the new motor. I didn't want to try and collect on a non-transferable warranty; I just needed to talk to someone who knew a little about that boat. The seller didn't have the guy's name handy; he would have to call me back.

I'm still waiting. After several additional calls, he still hasn't called me with the name.

Email me if you'd like to buy a twin-engine boat that will only drive in circles.

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To paraphrase Warren Buffett, it's about as hard to make a bad deal with a good person as it is to make a good deal with a bad person.

David Moon is president of Moon Capital Management, a Knoxville-based investment management firm. This article originally appeared in the News Sentinel (Knoxville, TN).

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