Caveat Emptor Definition

Cite this article as:"Caveat Emptor Definition," in The Business Professor, updated March 11, 2019, last accessed October 28, 2020,


Caveat Emptor Definition

Caveat Emptor translates to ‘Buyer Beware.’ This means that the buyer bears all risks when s/he makes the decision to buy from a seller. While the term is common in real estate products, it also applies to other products.

A Little More on What is Caveat Emptor

This phrase was coined to warn buyers in the sense that sellers have more information in a product than buyers. It informs the buyer that she will bear the risks of any adverse information she may not be aware of.

There is no guarantee that the products on sale are of good quality. It is up to the buyer to gather all information on a product before buying. However, the seller is not allowed to offer false information to the buyer.

This policy has a lot of exclusions; there may be accidental misrepresentation or deliberate fraud by seller. In such a case, the buyer is not accountable for the misrepresentation. In other cases, the sellers empty the terms of this policy by voluntarily offering warranties and guarantees of quality.

In garage sales, for instance, buyers are mandated with testing the quality of the goods they buy and if the goods turn out to be defective, they cannot return them. Outside garage sales, for instance in the sale of a car, sellers are held accountable by law which requires them to offer adequate disclosure.

Today, Caveat Emptor is applied on real estate products. However, there are lots of regulations guiding the real estate industry and Caveat Emptor is losing its significance.

In addition to real estate, the financial services industry is an exception to this principle. Here, regulators require those selling financial products to disclose all the details about a product.

In cases where there is evidence of product misrepresentation or the buyer has offered false information, the Caveat Emptor principle does not apply.

If a person A buys a house from B and A asks whether there are defects, B is supposed to notifying him of any defects. If A does not inspect the defects and there ends up being a leak that destroys the house, B is not held responsible.

Caveat Emptor has been applied in commerce. In securities, for instance, though Congress favors disclosures, the buyer is still responsible for the products they buy. While buyers are responsible for their buying decisions, there are many laws that protect the buyer against the Caveat Emptor principle. For instance, the buyer has the right to obtain clear and standardized product information.

References for Caveat Emptor

Academic Research on Caveat Emptor

  • Caveat emptor: The construction of nonprofit consumer watchdog organizations, Rao, H. (1998). American journal of sociology, 103(4), 912-961. This study looks at how current organizational forms are constituted in cultural forms. It shows that, new organizational forms interfere with existing interests. It shows that nonprofit consumer protection organizations have helped shape organizational forms and their cultural contents as well as expose the relation of these new forms to politics.
  • How buyers cope with uncertainty when acquiring firms in knowledge-intensive industries: Caveat emptor, Coff, R. W. (1999). Organization Science, 10(2), 144-161. This study looks at the challenges that buyers face when buying products in knowledge intensive industries. It shows that to mitigate the dilemmas that they face, buyers offer lower bid premier, use contingent payment and use lengthy negotiations to source for more information.
  • Caveat emptor–let the buyer beware! Environmental labelling and the limitations of ‘green’consumerism, Pedersen, E. R., & Neergaard, P. (2006). Business strategy and the Environment, 15(1), 15-29. This study examines the impact of the green movement of consumer information. It shows that, with so many firms moving towards environmental conservation, most goods are labelled ‘green’ but they may not be green. It concludes that, most sellers oversimplify eco-labelling and they fail to capture the values, attitudes and behavior of customers.
  • Caveat Emptor in Sales of Realty–Recent Assaults upon the Rule, Bearman Jr, L. (1960). Vand. L. Rev., 14, 541. This study looks at how the Caveat Emptor principle has been overlooked by some real estate products sellers and how this has led to extortion of buyers. The paper takes a deeper look at how the principle should protect the buyer and how sellers manipulate it to their advantage.
  • Privatising agricultural extension: caveat emptor, Kidd, A. D., Lamers, J. P. A., Ficarelli, P. P., & Hoffmann, V. (2000). Journal of Rural studies, 16(1), 95-102. This paper looks at the role of Caveat Emptor in agricultural extension and how a lot of information is need when improving agricultural systems. It shows that, while public extension officers may have information, they are not the sellers of most of the agricultural systems. The paper shows what will be needed to privatize agricultural extension.
  • Caveat emptor: cross-country data on education and the labor force, Behrman, J. R., & Rosenzweig, M. R. (1994). Journal of Development Economics, 44(1), 147-171. This paper examines the gaps that exists in cross country data on education and labor size. It shows that, there are serious problems with cross country data which may cause by development and literacy levels and a solution is needed to fill these data gaps.
  • Diminishing marginal utility of income? Caveat emptor, Easterlin, R. A. (2005). Social Indicators Research, 70(3), 243-255. This paper examines how the Caveat policy helps the buyer and in which ways it sides with the seller. It shows that the marginal utility of buyers’ income is diminishing and this can partly be attributed to principles such as Caveat Emptor.
  • Gaining Trust Through Online Privacy Protection: Self-Regulation, Mandatory Standards, or Caveat Emptor, Tang, Z., Hu, Y., & Smith, M. D. (2008). Journal of Management Information Systems, 24(4), 153-173.  This paper looks at the place Caveat Emptor principle occupies in online transactions. It shows that while Caveat Emptor applies online, buyers have to trust that their details will not be shared with third parties online. It shows how online marketplaces have built trust among them and their buyers. To build trust these firms need to send signals to the consumers that they are dedicated to protecting their privacy. The paper also analyzes the function of government agencies in enhancing consumer protection online.
  • Leadership in social work: a case of caveat emptor?, Lawler, J. (2005). British Journal of Social Work, 37(1), 123-141. This paper looks at the interest in leadership in social work. It examines the definition of social work and the skills needed in this kind of work. The paper concludes that expectations in social work leadership will benefit a debate and clarification of the scope of the work.
  • Caveat emptor: rank transform methods and interaction, Seaman Jr, J. W., Walls, S. C., Wise, S. E., & Jaeger, R. G. (1994). Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 9(7), 261-263. This paper examines the shortcomings of rank transformation methods in analysis and tests and where their gross inappropriateness has not been reported outside statistical circles.

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