Are You Bound by the Terms of a Real Property Letter of Intent?
March 1, 2013
Complex commercial real estate transactions typically involve a back-and-forth negotiation of numerous terms of the agreement, a process which does not occur overnight. Accordingly, parties to a real estate purchase or lease transaction generally first execute a letter of intent (LOI), which documents the parties’ intent to proceed with the negotiation of a full contract. The LOI includes the essential terms of the agreement, such as closing date and purchase price, or lease term and rate. However, detailed terms and conditions are reserved for the final, formal lease agreement or purchase contract.
The LOI, with its brief description of only the most basic, essential terms, is not intended to be a binding contract. However, if it is not properly drafted, the parties could find themselves locked into a binding LOI. For example, the existence of elements required in an enforceable contract, such as property description, price, closing date and payment terms, without expressly declaring parties’ intent that it be non-binding, could constitute it as a valid contract.
While parties who enter into an LOI generally intend to consummate the transaction, if the LOI is deemed enforceable as a stand-alone contract, both parties may be subject to undesirable consequences. For example, the LOI lacks essential contract terms such as indemnity clauses, warranties, financing arrangements, or any other detailed terms necessary to protect one or both parties. To ensure the LOI serves its intended purpose, it must contain a specific provision that states the LOI is intended to be non-binding until such time a final agreement is executed by the parties.
What if you want parts of the LOI to be binding, regardless of whether the deal is finalized? Perhaps buyers and tenants want an enforceable provision stating that the seller or landlord will not offer to sell or lease the property to others while the parties are in negotiations. A hybrid LOI can be drafted to ensure the negotiations and final terms are kept confidential until a final agreement is executed. Just as with the provisions stating the LOI is intended to be non-binding, the provisions that are intended to be binding must be carefully drafted to ensure they are enforceable and do not pose unintended consequences for other provisions within the document. A hybrid letter of intent can be a very effective tool in facilitating the purchase or lease of commercial real estate, but care must be taken to ensure it is drafted so that it serves its intended purpose.