Does a Real Estate Contract Have to Be in Writing?


The importance of writing things down is something that is readily apparent to anybody who maintains a routine of creating “to-do” lists. At the very least a couple of times each day, you check the list to make sure that you are not missing anything important. To achieve the same goal, state laws require that some items, including certain sorts of agreements, be written down in order to reduce the risk of both misunderstandings and fraudulent activity. One of the types of contracts that must be in written form in order to be enforceable is one for the purchase or sale of real estate.


In most cases, a written agreement is required for the purchase or sale of real estate. If a property is rented out for a period of one year or more in a number of states, the lease agreement must also be put in writing.

Written Real Estate Contracts

When someone mentions real estate contracts, they are almost always talking to a real estate sales agreement, which is also known as a buy contract or a sales contract. It is the piece of paper that specifies the details of a specific transaction involving the sale of the property, such as the names of the parties involved, the price, and any other relevant stipulations. Despite the fact that they include real estate, rental agreements and lease agreements are referred to as lease agreements and rental agreements rather than real estate contracts.

Although the rules of individual states may vary, the general rule that real estate sales contracts must be in writing applies everywhere in the United States. This aspect of the “Statute of Frauds” is also included here. The common law of England was the basis for the Statute of Frauds, which was later codified into state legislation. It includes a list of several kinds of agreements that are more prone to fraud if they are formed verbally and specifies that they should be written down in order for them to be enforceable. Every state’s version of the Statute of Frauds varies somewhat depending on local circumstances.

The Statute of Frauds mandates that any transaction involving the purchase or sale of land or other types of real estate be written down. The need that the contract be in writing does not necessarily indicate that all aspects of the arrangement need to be spelt out in full in writing; rather, the requirement only mandates that there be some written documentation of the deal. Even though the regulations in each state are different, all of them need some kind of written documentation for the sale or transfer of property or real estate.

California Law for Sales and Leases

If you reside in San Francisco, the law of the state will control any transactions you enter into. Section 1624 of the California Code of Civil Procedure is where you will find the legislation that applies to this situation. Within this section, you will find a list of the types of contracts that must be written down in order to be legitimate. The only thing that is required under the legislation is that the essential elements be outlined in a written correspondence, note, or memorandum, and that the document itself be signed by the party that is going to be charged. If you have verbally agreed to sell the apartment on Lombard Street to another person, the only way that person may legally compel you to carry out that agreement is if the fundamental parameters of the transaction have been reduced to writing and signed by both parties.

California Lease Agreements

A property lease that is to be held for more than one year is subject to another provision of the California Act, which states that the lease must be documented in writing. Even verbal contracts for the rental of property for periods of less than a year may be legally enforced in San Francisco. The laws that each state has enacted on this matter are distinct, yet many of those laws are comparable to California’s.

You should seriously consider putting pen to paper even if the requirements of your state do not mandate that your specific lease be in written form. Even though all parties want to abide by the terms of the agreement, they may have a different recollection of it. Were other pets permitted, or did the rule just apply to cats? Did you have permission to sublease the space? Who is responsible for paying the trash bills? You may save yourself some confusion in the long run by writing down all of these specifics.

A written lease makes it simpler to keep everyone on the same page in the event that a dispute develops and one of the parties want to cancel the agreement. It is far more difficult to “forget” your agreement when it is written down and there is no escaping the evidence.