What are Form and Content Clauses?
If you are buying a home you can usually expect a number of further terms or conditions to be inserted into the contract for your protection. This will typically include conditions relating to finance, a land information memorandum and a building inspection report and if buying in post-earthquake Canterbury, an insurance condition and a clause dealing with the assignment of any residual rights in EQC and/or private insurance claims.
From time to time purchasers and vendors also have a condition inserted making the agreement subject to their solicitor’s approval of the form and content of the agreement. Usually this is requested when a seller or buyer would prefer to have consulted their lawyer prior to signing the agreement but for whatever reason were not able to do so. The idea of such a clause is obviously to enable your lawyer to make sure that all conditions which you need in the agreement for your protection are included in the agreement and, if one were missing to approve only on the basis that it is added.
However you need to be aware (and particularly vendors) that such clauses have been used by a purchaser's solicitor on occasion to vary a condition with a view to cancelling an agreement. When you have conditions or further terms inserted in an agreement for your benefit you have an obligation to use reasonable endeavours to satisfy those conditions. So you cannot therefore simply change your mind and cancel the agreement without good cause.
At least that is the theory. If you have read the blog post on building reports you will be aware that there is an obligation to have a report prepared in accordance with "accepted principles and methods". You will also be aware that on request you are required to provide a copy of the written report if you seek to avoid the contract on the basis of your building inspection. On at least one recent occasion we have seen a purchaser’s solicitor approve form and content only on the basis that this standard wording in the fine print be varied. In the particular instance this was because the buyer had already had a friend or relative do the building inspection and wanted out of the contract but had obviously been advised by their lawyer that they had not followed accepted principles and methods. They would also have been advised that their inability to provide the vendors with a copy of the report would be problematic.
Presented with those circumstances the vendor in that situation was left with little choice but to accept the approval of form and content on the basis of the altered building inspection clause. Predictably the contract was then duly cancelled by the purchaser.
One can argue that when acting for the purchaser it is our duty as lawyers representing the interests of our client to use a form and content clause in such a manner if that is to the benefit of our client. However you also need to be aware that as a vendor the use of such a clause in this manner could lead to a cancelled contract as was the case in the instance referred to.