We are taking care of a deceased family member's estate and to get rid of an old vehicle we placed an online ad - we were asking $150. Someone responded and we accepted their offer - all via email. Now our extended family has decided that they would like to keep the old vehicle for sentimental reasons.

So we contacted the prospective buyer and told him that we are sorry but we are no longer selling the vehicle. His response was that we have a contract and that he will be filing a breach of contract. He claims he has already spent $200 prepping for the vehicle - materials to restore it. No money was exchanged between us and the vehicle never left our possession

Does the prospective buyer have a valid argument? Do the emails constitute a contract?


You might take a look at this summary. You have an offer, consideration (a promise of something valuable), acceptance, and "mutuality" i.e. there was no confusion over what you are talking about. Email is a form of writing, and written contracts are the strongest that there are. In this case, the offeree relied on the contract in buying materials and who knows what else. If there's nothing surprising that you're not mentioning, a court would then obliged you to make him whole. That could be in the form of compensating him for his losses, or else ordering specific performance (i.e. making you sell the car). Specific performance is most likely with real estate deals where the seller reneges, but maybe not in this case, and maybe especially not in Wisconsin. It is likely that you could keep the car for a price, but you'd really need an attorney to advise you on that.

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    is correct - there is a contract. If I were the buyer I would probably also be upset at you renegging on a done deal. That said, I would add that in most places he would have to "prove his losses", so he would have to prove that he spent the $200 prepping for the car. Without knowing details other then what you put down, he might struggle to do this if he has not actually seen the car and is just making that figure up !
    – davidgo
    Jul 1 '16 at 22:11
  • +1. I think this is a good analysis. The linked explication of what constitutes a contract is especially helpful for reference. Jul 2 '16 at 2:58

Yes. It is possible it could be breach of contract. But damages are the question.

If you had legal authority to act on behalf of the estate, it's possible your counterparty could bring a claim against the estate for breach of contract. However, under these circumstances, it might be difficult to prove damages exceeding the value of the contract price. $150.

One option might be to try to settle the claim either before or after a suit is filed. For example, you might want to offer a settlement of, say, $20 for gas and expenses. Their claim of $200 is probably not lost unless they can explain why. For example, if they spent $200 cleaning the garage and purchasing a car cover, they could use both of those for the car they eventually purchase. So it's really not a recoverable loss. So those damages (if my speculation is correct) would require an explanation and an analysis to determine if they are recoverable.

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