Transitioning from school to summertime, with Shavuos in between, can make June a difficult month for any homemaker, but for Mrs. Rosen and her sister-in-law, Mrs. Baum, this June had posed an even greater challenge. During the previous summer the Rosens and the Baums had contracted with Catskill Estates Developers to build two four-bedroom bungalows on adjacent lots, to be ready by the beginning of the next summer. Halfway through June, with summer fast approaching, neither Mrs. Rosen nor Mrs. Baum were anywhere near being finished with all they had to do and buy in order to furnish their new summer homes.
“I just don’t know what I’m going to do about bedroom furniture. I don’t want to buy junk, but well-made furniture is so expensive,” Mrs. Baum told Mrs. Rosen on the phone one afternoon.
“Well, I’ll tell you what I’m doing,” Mrs. Rosen replied. “I’ve been going through all the different classifieds. Everyone tells me you can get the nicest stuff for next to nothing that way. In fact, Sruly is taking me to Long Island this evening to look at some children’s bedroom furniture. I just hope it’s as beautiful as the lady said it is, because I simply can’t see myself buying something ho-hum.”
“But it’s only for a bungalow. Personally, I wouldn’t care what the stuff looks like as long as it’s solid and in good shape,” Mrs. Baum commented.
“I know it’s just a bungalow,” Mr. Rosen admitted, “but what can I do? If I buy drab furniture I’m going to feel badly every time I look at it.”
“Nebach. You know what your problem is? You suffer from having good taste. If only you’d lack an aesthetic sense, like me, you’d be much happier,” Mrs. Baum said, laughing comfortably at her own self-deprecating remark. “Hey, I have an idea. If the furniture isn’t nice enough for you, but I’d be okay with it, could you buy it for me? I’ll get Shimon to go down with one of the boys to pick it up. You know what? Before you leave for Long Island this evening, I can drop off some money for you to give for a deposit, just in case you do buy it for me.”
“Of course I’d do that for you,” Mrs. Rosen answered graciously.
“Well, here it is!” the lady announced to her prospective buyers as she swung open the door to the children’s bedroom and flipped on the light switch. “Isn’t it gorgeous? And all I’m asking is $800 for all five pieces.”
When Mrs. Rosen laid her eyes on the furniture she gave an instinctive, ever-so-subtle twitch of her nose. “It’s lovely. Really, such nice furniture,” Mrs. Rosen said in a sincere effort to be polite, “but, um, can my husband and I have a couple of minutes to talk it over?”
“Of course. Take your time. I’ll be in the kitchen if you need me,” the lady replied and walked out of the room.
“I saw that,” Mr. Rosen said mischievously to his wife after the lady had left.
“Saw what?” Mrs. Rosen asked innocently.
“You twitched your nose. Don’t deny it,” Mr. Rosen said with a grin. “You don’t like the furniture, right?”
Mrs. Rosen smiled. “No, I don’t like it,” she admitted. “It’s got ‘drab’ written all over it. But it’s the kind of stuff your sister told me she’d be happy with. Let me call her and ask if she wants us to buy it for her.”
Mrs. Rosen took out her cell phone and dialed her sister-in-law's number. After a few minutes on the phone, Mrs. Rosen hung up and told her husband, “She says she wants it. She told me we should try and bargain, but even if we can’t get her to go down from eight hundred we should still buy it.”
“So, what’ll it be?” the lady asked when Mr. and Mrs. Rosen walked into the kitchen.
“We’re interested,” Mr. Rosen announced, “but I don’t think we can do eight.”
“So what are you offering?” the lady retorted.
“I think we can do six,” Mr. Rosen said matter-of-factly.
“Oh, no. That won’t do,” the lady declared. “I won’t go a penny below seven-fifty, but you know what? I’d love to give you two nice people a really darling, unique gift along with the furniture. Here, come with me.”
With the Rosens following, the lady walked down a flight of stairs leading from the kitchen to the basement. There, sitting in a corner of the basement was the cutest little children’s rocking chair Mrs. Rosen had ever seen.
“We bought it for our only child when she turned five. Now she’s in her late thirties and she’s a very successful Wall Street investment banker. She says she’s too busy to get married,” the lady explained in a sad and bitter voice. “I was hoping I would give this to my granddaughter when she turned five … silly hopes. Isn’t it sweet?”
“It’s adorable,” Mrs. Rosen gushed.
“So what do you say? Seven hundred fifty dollars for the five pieces, and you get to take the chair home as my little present to you. Deal?” the lady asked almost perfunctorily, knowing that her little “gift” had sealed the deal.
“Yes, of course. It’s a deal,” Mrs. Rosen responded without hesitation.
Mr. Rosen looked at his wife, his mouth open as if he was about to say something, but he kept silent. “If it’s okay with you,” Mrs. Rosen continued, “we’ll give you a couple hundred dollars now as a deposit, and in a day or two a friend of ours will come to pick up the furniture, and he’ll pay you the rest.”
“That’s fine with me,” the lady said.
“But the rocking chair – we’ll take home tonight,” Mrs. Rosen informed the lady. “I can’t wait till my little ones see what I brought home for them!”
All the boxes had been unpacked and everything was put in its place at the Rosens’ bungalow. Proud of her homemaking accomplishment, Mrs. Rosen invited her sister-in-law for a grand tour.
“Where did you get that absolutely adorable little rocking chair?” Mrs. Baum asked when Mrs. Rosen showed her the girls’ bedroom.
“Oh, the lady who sold us your furniture gave it to me for free. Such a sad lady. She was saving this rocking chair for her grandchildren, but she’s given up hope of ever having any, since her only child is almost forty and has no intention of getting married,” Mrs. Rosen explained.
“Really?” Mrs. Baum said. She hesitated for a moment, thoughts spinning in her head. After looking at the rocking chair for a long time she finally said, “I guess it’s a good thing I bought all that furniture from her, because I’m sure she wouldn’t have given you the rocking chair if she hadn’t gotten the $750 for my furniture.”
“What are you getting at?” Mrs. Rosen asked defensively.
“Oh, nothing,” Mrs. Baum said. There was an awkward moment of silence as the previously warm atmosphere dissolved into an icy mist. “I think I’ll be going back to my bungalow. I still have some boxes to unpack,” Mrs. Baum said as she turned to leave.
The next week was awkward and painful for both Mrs. Rosen and Mrs. Baum, with both women making efforts to avoid each other – not an easy thing to do when living in adjacent bungalows. When they did interact, it was with a stiffness that was almost palpable.
“Why don’t you go with her and ask a she’eilah,” Mr. Rosen suggested to his wife. “There’s no reason for this thing to have become personal. I’m sure neither of you wants to have the rocking chair if the halachah says it belongs to the other. Just find out what the halachah is and do it. And then get on with life.”
Mrs. Rosen knew her husband was right. She walked over to the Baum’s bungalow and knocked on the door. When Mrs. Baum answered, Mrs. Rosen immediately said, “We should ask a she’eilah.”
“I was thinking the same thing,” Mrs. Baum responded. Smiles of relief spread across both their faces.
From the words of the Mechaber in Choshen Mishpat, 183:6, the following rule can be formulated regarding a seller who offers a gift in addition to the sale item, when the buyer is being represented by an agent: If the gift is offered before the sale price has been agreed upon, then we look at the gift as being nothing more than the seller’s attempt to offer something that will make the deal more desirable to the buyer, giving it more overall appeal and a better sale price. The present is not really a present at all. Rather, the seller’s true intention was for the gift to be included in the actual sale; so it belongs to the buyer. The buyer’s agent can make no claim that the seller was giving the agent a side gift that was not part of the actual sale. Therefore, Mrs. Rosen can make no claim on the rocking chair, since it was offered as a gift before the price of the bedroom furniture was finalized. The lady used the rocking chair as a means for making her asking price for the furniture more attractive. The rocking chair belongs to Mrs. Baum.