A Somerset County judge brought New Jersey real estate transactions into the 21st century with his opinion in the case of Conley v. Guerrero (decided March 14, 2014). In this unpublished decision, Judge Coleman was faced with a situation where a party to a real estate contract rejected the other’s cancellation notice as not complying with the 1983 Supreme Court opinion in New Jersey State Bar Association v. New Jersey Association of Realtor Boards. The latter decision gave realtors the right to prepare real estate contracts, provided that the contract contained a notice that the parties had the right to have the contract reviewed by an attorney within three business days of execution and delivery, and to cancel that contract for any reason or no reason during that time period. The notice is required to be given by certified mail, telegram or personal delivery to the realtors. (See also our August 26, 2013 blog post on attorney review.)
In Conley, the notice was sent by the seller’s attorney by facsimile and by email. The buyer argued that the contract was not effectively cancelled and therefore the seller was obligated to sell him the property.
Judge Coleman noted that the parties and the realtors all received the faxed and emailed notices of cancellation. He held that “the essential purpose of the notice provision was met”, and dismissed the case.
This is an important decision for practical purposes. Realtors rarely if ever supply their mailing addresses, fax numbers or e mail addresses in the contract of sale. The reviewing attorney is therefore put in the position of having to gather that information. At the same time, realtors today are commonly sending emails to all involved, as the preferred means of communication. In these times, it is easiest and most effective for a reviewing attorney to draft and scan an attorney review letter and then to circulate that letter by email, which provides confirmation of transmittal. The Conley decision brings the attorney review process into modern times.
Hats off to Judge Coleman for applying common sense to a very common situation!