Q: Is an email a binding contract or commitment to purchase in terms of real estate?
We wanted to purchase a small portion of an empty lot next to our house. The contractor agreed on a price with us and then nothing happened for two years. The contractor did a survey recently - not based on the portion of land we wanted to purchase. We resurrected the idea of purchasing again but have since decided to back out. Contractor now stating we committed to purchasing because of the email correspondence. Can we legally back out? No money has exchanged hands and the land has not been re-surveyed. Thank you!
A: Agreements to purchase real property in Wisconsin must conform to the requirements of Section 706.02 of the Wisconsin Statutes. That section sets forth the formal requisites for a sales contract or conveyance. Section 706.02(d) requires that the agreement be signed by all parties so email messages would rarely meet this requirement. A full copy of the text of the statute follows:
706.02 Formal requisites.
(1) Transactions under s. 706.001 (1) shall not be valid unless evidenced by a conveyance that satisfies all of the following:
(a) Identifies the parties; and
(b) Identifies the land; and
(c) Identifies the interest conveyed, and any material term, condition, reservation, exception or contingency upon which the interest is to arise, continue or be extinguished, limited or encumbered; and
(d) Is signed by or on behalf of each of the grantors; and
(e) Is signed by or on behalf of all parties, if a lease or contract to convey; and
(f) Is signed, or joined in by separate conveyance, by or on behalf of each spouse, if the conveyance alienates any interest of a married person in a homestead under s. 706.01 (7) except conveyances between spouses, but on a purchase money mortgage pledging that property as security only the purchaser need sign the mortgage; and
(g) Is delivered. Except under s. 706.09, a conveyance delivered upon a parol limitation or condition shall be subject thereto only if the issue arises in an action or proceeding commenced within 5 years following the date of such conditional delivery; however, when death or survival of a grantor is made such a limiting or conditioning circumstance, the conveyance shall be subject thereto only if the issue arises in an action or proceeding commenced within such 5-year period and commenced prior to such death.
(2) A conveyance may satisfy any of the foregoing requirements of this section:
(a) By specific reference, in a writing signed as required, to extrinsic writings in existence when the conveyance is executed; or
(b) By physical annexation of several writings to one another, with the mutual consent of the parties; or
(c) By several writings which show expressly on their faces that they refer to the same transaction, and which the parties have mutually acknowledged by conduct or agreement as evidences of the transaction.
Thomas B. Burton agrees with this answer
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