Q: My partner just purchased her first home with money from a surprise inheritance. To our delight, the seller left a nice set of patio furniture. But when we met our new neighbor, rather than introduce herself, she told us that the seller had promised the furniture to her. This was the first we’d heard of the agreement. We don’t want to burn bridges before we even unpack, but the patio furniture is technically ours, and given our budget, we wouldn’t be able to replace it for some time. Are we being selfish by keeping it?
A: Some people welcome new neighbors with a basket of cookies or a potted plant. Yours welcomed you with a demand to take your stuff. The person burning the bridge here is your neighbor, not you.
Even if her account of the furniture agreement is correct, the seller should have given it to her before the sale closed, assuming the set wasn’t included in the sales contract. Regardless, whatever agreement the seller had with her neighbor has nothing to do with you. You own the house and all its contents, and are under no obligation to give any of it away.
“It says something about this neighbor who’s come over not carrying a pie, but a dolly and a moving van,” said Diane Gottsman, an etiquette expert.
There is no shame in using money from an unexpected inheritance to buy a home, and neither you nor your partner are indebted to your neighbor because you received a gift. You mentioned that you do not have the resources to replace the furniture now. So, you would be making a fiscally irresponsible decision if you gave away a set you already owned and had to replace it.
Now is the time to set clear boundaries. Next time you see your neighbor, politely tell her that it is unfortunate that there was confusion over the furniture, but you were not party to any prior agreement, so cannot honor it. “I wouldn’t give any excuses. I would give no apology,” Ms. Gottsman said. “I would set the tone now because what you set now is going to set the tone for the rest of the relationship.”