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Assume a seller, ABC Company, enters into a contract to sell a parcel of land (referred to here as “Blackacre”) to Ms. Green. Ms. Green subsequently assigns her interest in the contract to Mr. Smith. Such assignments of contracts of purchase and sale raise a number of practical issues—e.g. notice to the seller, payment for the assignment, and transfer of the deposit—that affect not only the seller but also the original purchaser and the eventual purchaser. A party wishing to assign its interest in a contract of purchase and sale to a new party should not assume that the matter is as simple as entering into an assignment with the new party and then walking away and forgetting about the contract.
A real estate contract will often contain provisions that limit or prohibit an assignment of a party’s interest in the contract. If the contract is silent as to the rights to the parties to assign their interests in the contract, then the rights of the parties, with few exceptions, can be assigned. Normally, assignments of contracts relating to the purchase and sale of real estate involve the purchaser assigning its interest in the contract; however, it is not unheard of to have the seller assign its interest in the contract.
In our scenario, to be binding on it as the seller, ABC Company must be given notice of the assignment, although it does not have to receive a copy of the assignment or the business terms relating to the assignment. If ABC Company has been given notice that Ms. Green’s interest in the contract has been assigned, it may be concerned that she is ‘flipping’ her interest in the contract for a profit. Consequently, ABC Company may wish to seek advice as to whether the contract is enforceable.
Assuming that Mr. Smith is paying Ms. Green a specified amount of money for the assignment, the question arises as to when this money will be paid. Ms. Green will want the money to be paid when they enter into the assignment but Mr. Smith will want to pay at the time that they complete the purchase and sale of Blackacre. In most cases, the latter time period is the norm but, in any case, money paid for an assignment is subject to the Goods and Services Tax.
Ms. Green will likely have paid a deposit to ABC Company pursuant to the contract and will want the deposit to be repaid to her at the time of the assignment rather than having to wait until the purchase and sale of Blackacre is completed. It would not be unusual for Mr. Smith to reimburse the deposit to Ms. Green at the time that they enter into the assignment.
Mr. Smith should look to obtain assurances by way of representations and warranties from Ms. Green that the contract to purchase Blackacre is in full force and effect and that her interest can be assigned to him. In turn, Ms. Green should look to obtain representations and warranties from Mr. Smith that he will fulfill her obligations to complete the purchase of Blackacre since an assignment will not release Ms. Green of her obligations under the contract unless such release is specifically provided for—and has been agreed to by ABC Company.
Frequently, and contrary to the scenario presented here, a contract for a real estate transaction will often limit the right of the purchaser to assign its interest in the contract. A common limitation is that “. . . the purchaser may only assign its interest in the contract with the consent of the seller, such consent not to be unreasonably withheld.” In most cases, it would not be unreasonable for the seller to insist that the assignee contract directly with the seller to fulfill the obligations of the assignor under the contract so that, if there is a default, the seller has the right to seek remedies against both the assignor and the assignee.
So long as all parties to a contract of purchase and sale are aware of their rights and obligations, the completion of a purchase and sale where a contract has been assigned can and should proceed in a straightforward manner.
Our Commercial Real Estate Group has experience in all aspects of the law and practice related to commercial property acquisitions, management, structuring, development and sales.
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