Be careful when negotiating via text message or e-mail

If you agree to buy or sell a property in a text message, instant message, or tweet, is that a binding contract?

Not in California, which just enacted a law saying these types of “ephemeral” messages can’t amount to a contract for a real estate sale unless the parties sign a written agreement afterward.

But the law isn’t clear in much of the rest of the country, simply because the technology is new. And as more and more people conduct negotiations through informal means, this could become a significant issue.

The law can be especially difficult with e-mail, which has become such a ubiquitous thing in the business world that many people consider e-mail agreements to be binding contracts.

The bottom line is that if you’re negotiating via electronic means, be careful not to fully “sign off” on anything electronically unless you want to risk it being treated as a legal agreement. It’s usually better to say that you like a proposal but want to wait until you see a written contract.

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