As the old adage goes, it’s always safest to get an agreement in writing. In Louisiana, when an agreement is about the sale of real estate, the adage is law. A contract for sale must be in writing as provided in Louisiana Civil Code articles 1839 and 2440.
This long-standing rule was at issue in the recent case of Holmes v. Paul, 19-130 (La. App. 5 Cir. 10/2/19), 279 So. 3d 1068. In Holmes, the plaintiff/seller and defendants/purchasers entered into a purchase agreement for a Metairie home which required a closing by no later than April 29, 2016. The contract was a standard form Louisiana purchase agreement which required that any change in the closing deadline be written and signed by both parties. The parties later entered a written extension of the closing deadline to May 6, 2016.
Three days before the closing, the home appraised for $14,000 below the purchase price, leading the seller’s agent to encourage the purchasers’ agent to pursue an appraisal review. However, the parties did not sign a written extension of the May 6, 2016 closing deadline. Thereafter, the seller agreed to decrease the purchase price to the appraised value, but on the same day the purchasers sent a signed cancellation. The seller sued the purchasers for breach of contract, arguing that the parties verbally agreed to extend the closing deadline and intended to execute a written extension as soon as they determined a feasible closing date.
The purchasers moved for summary judgment on the ground that the purchase agreement had expired and was unenforceable. The Court agreed. The purchase agreement expressly required that extensions be made in writing signed by both parties. Upon the expiration of the May 6, 2016 closing deadline, the contract was unenforceable.
The seller also asserted a detrimental reliance claim, arguing she was lulled into not insisting on a written extension because the purchasers’ agent agreed to it orally. However, the seller conceded her awareness that an extension had to be in writing. As such, her reliance was not reasonable. The court further noted the absence of evidence that the purchasers themselves agreed to orally extend the contract or to waive the writing requirement.
Unfortunately, business deals in the modern world cannot be finalized by a handshake. Remember that when you buy and sell property in Louisiana — get it in writing.
Marty Golden has been practicing law based in Baton Rouge, Louisiana for over thirty years, concentrating in civil litigation primarily involving injuries, property damage, insurance coverage, and contract disputes. Much of his practice is defending and advising real estate agents in suits by property buyers and sellers, but Marty also defends other professionals, insurance companies, manufacturers, and business owners. Marty has a special interest in all things procedural, because they are the rules of the road for litigators and knowing them better than his opponent gives him a leg up in court.