As a Texas real estate attorney representing buyers, sellers, lenders, developers, and occasionally brokers, in Texas, I have sometimes been accused of sounding like a broken record in advising my clients. My oft-repeated mantra is: “Read the document thoroughly, and then read it again”. Even if the document is one I have prepared for my client, it is essential that the client review the document to make sure it expresses their intentions. After everything is signed, it is often too late to ask questions. A recent Texas Court of Appeals case illustrates the perils of signing a contract without reviewing it thoroughly beforehand.In the case of ERA Realty Group, Inc. v. Advocates for Children and Families, Inc., the Texas Thirteenth Court of Appeals considered a commission agreement between ERA and a local advocacy group. The agreement was a preprinted form, with blanks filled in by typewriter by an ERA employee. As the Court explains: “The (agreement) contains a commission calculation if Advocates purchases property and also a commission calculation if Advocates leases property. No lease calculation is selected, although the number “6” is typed before the phrase, ‘% of all rents to be paid over the term of the lease.’ Clearly, the instruction to ‘check only one box’ was not followed because no box is checked. The agreement, therefore, can be read in one of two ways: (1) as providing for a lease commission because the number “6” is typed, or (2) as making no provision for a lease commission because no box is checked.” Because ERA had prepared the agreement, the Court construed the commission agreement against ERA and held that the agreement did not provide for a commission for leases.
As a result, ERA was not only denied it’s request for a commission, it was also ordered to pay $15,000.00 in attorney’s fees to the Defendant advocacy group. Actually, it’s hard to understand why ERA would bring a lawsuit based on this agreement, rather than simply admitting a mistake had been made and resolving to read those form commission agreements more thoroughly next time. The publicity from this suit probably hurt ERA much more than the commission would have benefited them had they won!