Mainebiz Real Estate Insider: “But I Didn’t Sign Anything” – How Electronic Communication Can Lead to Unexpected Contracts


In a recent Maine case, McClare v. Rocha,  the state’s highest court taught us how dangerous email exchanges can be. This case brought to light an issue: whether an exchange of emails between lawyers can create a contract for the sale of real estate that binds the buyer and the seller without either the buyer’s or seller’s signature. The short answer is: yes, it can happen. The result might be the same if the correct email exchange took place between brokers or bankers.

For more than 10 years, the real estate and business communities have worked with the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act . The law allows anyone to create a binding obligation by email, voice mail, fax or other electronic methods of communication that do not involve original signatures on paper.

For the real estate world, this has been a very handy tool, requiring only that each side agree (either explicitly or by implication from their actions) that they intend to be bound by electronic communications. In the McClare case, more facts will need to be proved in a trial before the buyer knows if he will be required to buy the seller’s property.

Everyone in real estate must now be much more circumspect when choosing their email language. In particular, the words “offer” and “acceptance” appearing in an email exchange that includes a price and an identifiable property might create a binding contract, despite the absence of other details and the absence of a signature. Owners and prospective buyers of property must now be alert to the possibility that their broker, lawyer or banker might inadvertently bind them to a contract.

To avoid unexpected contractual obligations, seek experienced legal counsel to clarify electronic communications or provide instructions to the real estate industry professionals representing you in a listing, loan or negotiation.       

Written by:

Published In:

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Bernstein Shur | Attorney Advertising

Don't miss a thing! Build a custom news brief:

Read fresh new writing on compliance, cybersecurity, Dodd-Frank, whistleblowers, social media, hiring & firing, patent reform, the NLRB, Obamacare, the SEC…

…or whatever matters the most to you. Follow authors, firms, and topics on JD Supra.

Create your news brief now - it's free and easy »

All the intelligence you need, in one easy email:

Great! Your first step to building an email digest of JD Supra authors and topics. Log in with LinkedIn so we can start sending your digest...

Sign up for your custom alerts now, using LinkedIn ›

* With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name.