Can You Enforce An Oral Contract For The Sale Of Real Estate?

By Bob Miles

The simple answer is ‘No, you can’t, because every state has enacted a Statute of Frauds requiring contracts for an interest in the sale of an interest in land.’ But hey, it’s never that simple with the law, which is why we’ve got so many lawyers running around. So if you’ve concluded an oral contract for the sale of real estate and the other party is pretending that the contract never existed because it wasn’t written down, don’t despair (at least until you’ve read this article), because there are certain exceptions to this rule.

Most states still recognize two different justice systems – ‘law’ and ‘equity’. Both are administered largely by the courts. If you are aggrieved under an oral contract for the sale of real estate, then sue in equity, not law (although legal remedies are sometimes available). You can avoid the Statute of Frauds if you have actually performed a portion of the contract ‘that is ‘sufficient’ to justify awarding you an equitable remedy – in other words, a court order demanding the completion of the transaction. The devil is in the details as they say, and exactly how much performance is ‘sufficient’ is where the lawyers will duke it out. If you are a buyer, you have already paid the full purchase price, and the seller refuses to hand over the deed, then your payment of the full purchase is surely ‘sufficient’ to merit a court order demanding that the seller leave the property and hand over the deed to you (defiance of which will constitute ‘contempt of court’, rendering the seller liable for daily fines and perhaps even jail time). If you have paid only $100 of the purchase price under an oral land contract, you might have to resort to small claims court to get you money back – it is unlikely that the court will force the seller to proceed with the transaction even if you are willing to pay the remainder of the purchase price.


DISCLAIMER: The foregoing is intended for reference purposes only and not as legal advice.

About the Author: Real Estate Law in Plain English explains real estate law without the legalese.


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