Time is of the Essence

07 Dec
December 7, 2011

I had to smile the other day when I was teaching a class on the new NVAR Sales Contract to be released January 1st 2012.

Among the changes I noticed was the inclusion of clause 30; “TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE AS TO ALL THE TERMS OF THIS CONTRACT”.

In my 34 plus years in Real Estate this clause has appeared and disappeared in our contract iterations several times.  Most recently it was not part of the main contract but inserted in the various Jurisdictional addenda’s.  This got me thinking about how sales associates go about explaining this clause if their client asks, or holding to it.

We spend time reviewing and commenting on contracts, with stock words or phrases that should mean a lot to us – but oftentimes little, if anything, to our clients. Some of those words or phrases are absolutely essential; others have lost their impact over time. One of the latter is the phrase: “time is of the essence,” which Black’s Law Dictionary defines as, “performance by one party at [a] time or within [a] period specified in [the] contract is essential to enable him to require performance by [the] other party.”

So can we explain this? What does it mean in plain English? Well, by including this phrase it simply means that one party to a contract is automatically entitled to terminate the contract if the other party fails to perform upon the time and conditions specified in the contract.

And that’s important, right? Ok… let’s explore the possibilities.

Most lawyers I know dislike vagueness in any contract language and “time is of the essence as to all the terms of this contract” certainly qualifies. Inclusion of the phrase provides a judge with evidence of your intentions when you entered into the contract, but in and of itself, and without further specificity, this may not be sufficiently strong enough to support a verdict in your favor, if a contract problem ever gets that far. Given all that, I would encourage you not to rely too heavily on the simple existence of this stock phrase in your contracts. Instead be sure your requirements for performance are accurate, specific and time-constrained.

In practice, since no one ever wants to spend the time, money and emotional angst trying to prove their case in court, here are three recommendations to strengthen intent and give it some enforcement:

  1. Clearly state your expectations – both time and quality, for performance or delivery. Do not fall victim to vagueness, either yours or that of your client. This will not serve either party well in the end.
  2. Confirm that all dates and deadlines are accurate. Do not allow for assumptions, or performance, to be qualified as “best efforts.” You want the terms plain and clear to both parties.
  3. Put on your judge’s hat. If it’s vague, or unclear to you, chances are, it would be to a judge as well. Step back from your contract and try to see it through a third party’s eyes.  Consider how a judge, months or years down the line, might interpret the language which documents this contractual agreement.

Know your contract, be accurate, be precise and be clear.

- Scott Avery, President, Avery-Hess Realtors

Find your home, Plan your life: www.averyhess.com

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