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Handshakes In A Paper World
Handshake worthless without signed contract?
Question: Several weeks ago, we found our dream home and had a handshake deal with the seller, agreeing on price and closing date. Now time has passed, and the seller still has not signed the written contract with the terms we shook on. We really want the house. What can we do? – Sue
Answer: Unfortunately, your legal options are limited due to the "Statute of Frauds." Basically, this rule of law states that certain types of agreements must be in writing and signed in order to be enforceable, and agreements for the sale of real estate are chief among these.
Until such time that the seller is willing to put pen to paper, you have nothing. That doesn't mean that words mean nothing when buying real estate because they often are used by the courts to help interpret what the buyer and seller intended when a written contract goes bad. It just means that there is no deal until the core elements of the transaction are written down and signed.
However, your deal isn't necessarily dead. Reach out and have a heart-to-heart talk with the property owner and try to find out where the reluctance is coming from. I'm constantly amazed at the number of controversies that would have been avoided if people just communicated honestly with each other.
For example, in your situation, the written contract that you are sending over to be signed may not be showing your seller's understanding of your handshake agreement, and the seller is now wondering if you are trying to pull a fast one. Or there may simply be a delay in your seller's new house, and he or she is just trying to buy some extra time. The point is that you will not know if you don't communicate.
Finally, there's always that possibility that your seller is just a flake. While I often counsel my clients that they are "not buying the seller, just the house," some people are impossible to deal with or have no compunction about breaking their word. If your efforts to communicate fail, then you should walk away and try to find another dream home. Some deals are just not meant to be.
About the writer: Gary M. Singer is a Florida attorney and board-certified as an expert in real estate law
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