Do I Need a Written Sales Contract to Buy or Sell a Florida Home?
Buying or selling a home in the St. Petersburg area is a major undertaking. You should never treat a real estate transaction casually. That is to say, you should never rely on a “handshake agreement” as a substitute for a written sales contract specifying all relevant terms and conditions of the parties’ agreement.
What Is the Florida Statute of Frauds?
Having a written sales contract is not just a matter of common sense. Under Florida law, a sales contract involving real estate of any kind must be in writing to be enforceable in court. This is known as the Statute of Frauds.
Under the Statute of Frauds, “any contract for the sale of lands…shall be in writing.” The writing itself can be a single page or a series of documents. What matters is that the writing or writings include “all of the essential terms of the sale.”
What Are the “Essential Terms” of a Florida Real Estate Sales Contract?
Here are the bare minimum requirements for a written sales contract:
- The identity of the parties to the contract, i.e. all of the buyers and sellers.
- A legal description of the property. Merely stating a street address is insufficient. The sales contract should use the same legal description as the deed or county tax records.
- The sales price.
- The closing date for the sale.
Obviously, most sales contracts will contain more terms than these. For instance, many sales contracts include a financing contingency that allows the buyer to back out of the deal if he or she is unable to obtain financing (i.e., a mortgage) to pay the purchase price. Any such contingencies or special terms must be included in the final written sales contract. A court will not enforce an oral promise made separate and apart from what is written in the contract itself.
Should I Sign a “Standard” Contract?
Let’s say you are buying your first house. You make an offer on a property and the seller’s attorney sends you a “standard” sales contract to sign. The first thing that you should do is consult with a St. Petersburg real estate attorney. You should never sign a real estate sales contract unless you are represented by your own counsel. Even if you trust the seller, you need to look out for your best interests.
Remember, a contract represents a “meeting of the minds.” If there’s any item in a proposed contract that you dispute or disagree with, you have the right—before signing on the dotted line—to object and negotiate more favorable terms. It is also important to make sure a proposed sales contract complies with all applicable Florida law.
While you may initially balk at the legal formalities, buying a home is often a person’s biggest investment of time and money. You should never be rushed into an agreement that you are not 100 percent comfortable with. If you need legal assistance with buying or selling any property in the St. Petersburg area, contact the attorneys at Carnal & Mansfield, P.A., today.