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I'm still willing to wait for help. In the meantime I'm also waiting to hear back from the Violin Dealer in Chicago.
I am an expert here at Just Answer and I have reviewed your situation and can answer a few questions if you would like. However, as fran said, we do not represent customers in an offline capacity -- we are simply a legal question and answer service where we can tell you whether or not we believe you have a claim and some suggestions on how to proceed.
Unfortunately, with your situation, I do believe that you will have a difficult time with any claim against the consignment seller because you did not sign the contract before sending the bows and permitting him to repair and sell the one bow. While many people are adverse to contracts and do not want to sign them, when you do not sign the contract you leave yourself open for whatever verbal arrangement that the dealer will claim happened here (it is a he said / she said situation at this point). The contract would have protected you as far as the repair went -- if the dealer failed to notify you of the repair you could have held him -- legally and firmly -- to the flat $400 listed in the written contract. But because you did not sign the contract and return it, you basically gave him the leeway to do what he felt was reasonable under the circumstances -- and that was to repair the bow and sell it. For the sake of getting the other bows returned to you , you might agree to pay it under protest and then take the dealer to small claims court to try to recover some of the money for the repair if you can show the court that the charges were unreasonable for that specific repair and you might win some of the money back (again, though, you may end up with a judge that tells you that you should have signed the contract to protect yourself on the repairs). Regarding commissions -- sellers are generally charged with the price of the commissions in auction and consignment sales (buyers are never asked to pay the commission in addition to the purchase price) -- and because that is the standard in the industry I can tell you that it will be legally futile to argue with the commission (20-30% is also standard for the amount of commission).
I truly wish I could tell you something different here -- and if you had signed the contract and he never contacted you about the repairs before going over the 400 I could tell you that your case against him for the excess amount is slam dunk ! Even if the repairs were a reasonable amount, his obligation would have been to contact you before going over the 400 and if he did not do that, then he would lose. But you did not sign the contract and left yourself open for these types of things to happen.
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