Holy Statute of Frauds

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Can text messages create binding real estate contracts?

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South Carolina real estate practitioners, do you remember that old case from law school where a contract was created on a napkin?  That case made me imagine drunken parties in a bar passing a napkin back and forth as drinks came quicker and caution evaporated.

That simple case is seen in a new light, however, as courts across the country struggle to apply the ancient statute of frauds to the evolving world of electronic communications. Telegrams, faxes and emails have all been found to satisfy the statute of frauds in some situations.

We haven’t seen a South Carolina case on the topic of text messages and binding contracts, but The Southern District of New York and a Massachusetts Land Court recently found that text messages may be sufficient to serve as evidence of the existence of binding agreements between negotiating parties.

In the New York case, the plaintiff real estate broker relied on a series of text messages to show the existence of a binding fee agreement. The court held that the text messages satisfied the writing requirement of the statute of frauds but failed to satisfy the signature requirement.

The Massachusetts court, on the other hand, found that a series of text messages did satisfy the signature requirement of the statute of frauds because a signature of a sort was included within multiple text messages between the parties. Some of the texts contained typed names of the parties beneath the substantive messages.

Real estate practitioners should caution their clients in the use of texts and other non-traditional means of communicating. Advise clients to refrain from typing their names under text messages. Better yet, advise clients to include disclaimers to the effect that no agreement involving the subject matter is final until wet signatures are applied to a physical document.

And even better than that, caution clients that texting and negotiating real estate contracts may be almost as dangerous as texting and driving.

While text messaging can’t be surpassed, at least in 2019, when it comes to speed and efficiency, a new and different level of caution may be needed when engaging in negotiations through such seemingly informal means of communicating.

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Five things lenders need to know before August

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Dirt lawyers: Educate your lender contacts!

Our company has developed resources to equip dirt lawyers to educate lenders about how the CFPB will impact them beginning August 1.  I’m sharing a few tips with the letstalkdirtsc.com audience because everyone will benefit if lenders are prepared.

As we have traveled the Palmetto state talking to lawyers, real estate agents and lenders, we have learned that many of the local folks are not familiar with the new rules, even the significant players in the market. We understand the corporate offices of national lenders may not have pushed this information down to the local level at this point. Any lawyer who will provide valuable information to local contacts now will be perceived as an important partner!

This is a primer, a very basic beginning point. As the software companies complete their updates, everyone involved will be trained on the details of the new rule and forms.  For now, let’s give our lender partners the following information:

1 flapWho will be responsible for preparing the Closing Disclosure? The lender will be ultimately responsible for preparing the CD (the document that replaces the HUD-1 and final TIL Disclosure). Four national lenders, Bank of America, CitiBank, Wells Fargo and Chase, have announced that they will prepare the CD. We anticipate that smaller banks may continue to rely on closing attorneys to prepare this important document. Closing attorneys will be responsible for preparing the seller’s side of the CD in all cases.

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Who will be responsible for delivering the Closing Disclosure? The rule requires that the borrower must receive the CD three days prior to closing. This actually translates to delivery six days prior to closing to accommodate transit time. The rule allows the closing attorney, at the lender’s discretion, to deliver the CD. The four banks who have announced that they will prepare the CD will also deliver it.

Closing Disclosure Delivery Timeline Chart

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How will closing attorneys and lenders communicate information contained in their respective systems? The big banks will most likely use some form of electronic communication. Some have already announced that they will use Real EC’s Closing Insight™ Most closing attorneys will work with settlement software companies (such as SoftPro) to connect with these systems. Regardless, information will have to be exchanged earlier to accommodate the delivery requirements of the CD.  Some experts have predicted that the numbers will have to be exchanged between lawyers and lenders no later than ten days prior to closing.

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Who will make changes to the CD? Changes to the CD may occur prior to closing, necessitating adjustments, re-printing, and delivery of the corrected CD at closing. Lenders and lawyers will have to discuss who will make the pre-closing changes. Changes to the settlement numbers on the CD may also occur after closing, requiring preparation and delivery of a revised CD. For example, if recording fees change, the CD will have to be revised. Previously, lawyers had the responsibility for these post-closing changes. Under the new rule, the lenders have primary responsibility, but they may delegate this responsibility to closing attorneys.

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How will closing attorneys communicate title and settlement fees for use in the new forms? Lenders will continue to need accurate estimates of title and settlement fees for the preparation of the Loan Estimate and the Closing Disclosure. In addition, for transactions in which an owner’s policy will be issued, the rule prescribes special mathematical calculations for the disclosure of the owner’s and lender’s title insurance premiums, which may require receipt of rates for both a stand-alone and simultaneously issued lender’s policy, as well as the owner’s policy rate.

Good luck educating your referral sources!