Key Topics:  Essential Terms | Oral Versus Written | Statute of Limitations | Breach

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When is a Writing Necessary? 

There are certain instances where a writing is needed, such as the sale of an interest in real property (land or real estate), a contract for the sale of goods over $500 and matters governed by consumer protection law.  There are exceptions, however.  Our lawyers can help you navigate those to enforce a oral  agreement, when possible. 

Some of the most significant and high profile  business people insist upon deals involving only a hand shake  (sometimes called “verbal agreements” or verbal contracts,  when a person means “oral). We have had success enforcing  purely oral agreements.

Certain Challenges.

Although certain oral agreement are enforceable, there are  challenges and defenses in terms of proof. Also, some types of  contracts must always be in writing. (However, as discussed  below, there may be other ways to recover relative to an  unenforceable oral contract.)

Requirement of a Writing.

Pursuant to Pennsylvania’s “statute of frauds,” Contracts for  the sale of good in excess of $500 must be in writing. A writing  is also required for contracts involving the sale of an interest in  real property. This includes not only the sale of land or a  building, but also the sale of an easement, for example.

The same also applies for modifications of a contract if the  original agreement was required to have been in writing. Often,  with email and fax being so pervasive, there is usually some  form of writing and the issue is whether the writing that exists  is sufficient.

Plus, even if the parties endorse a written agreement that  satisfied the statute of frauds, the writing may lack clarity or  allow for oral modification by failing to provide that any  modification be in writing.

Contracts for home improvement entered into on or after July  1, 2009 must be in writing to be enforceable against the home  owner.

Other Options.

 If the oral agreement is not enforceable as “contract,” it may  still be enforceable. There may be claim based on unjust  enrichment or “promissory estoppel.” Hence, the existence of writing (or lack of one) is just the starting point for contract evaluation.

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