The difference between ‘misrepresentations’ (which may support a claim for damages) and ‘mere puffery’ (being statements no reasonable person would take seriously) isn’t always clear. Enticing a purchaser into a contract by misrepresentations was a costly mistake by the vendor in a recent case.
Aldrie Holdings Ltd (through its director Ms Laboyrie) purchased a farm for $2,900,000, but failed to make proper investigations before confirming the contract. Instead Aldrie chose to rely on statements made by Mr Prout, the vendor’s agent. Mr Prout boasted that the level of pasture, milking shed and water at the property were ‘excellent’. Given Ms Laboyrie’s general business experience, the judge held that these statements were clearly puffery as a reasonable purchaser would have made further enquiries to validate those claims.
Aldrie did partially succeed in its claims against the vendor for misrepresentations regarding the effective area of the land, average production levels, fertiliser applied and grazing on ‘run-off’ properties. Although the judge acknowledged Ms Laboyrie should have checked the information provided to her, he found that the misrepresentations were an ‘operating’ cause of Aldrie’s loss (estimated at $500,000).
In determining compensation, the judge referred to the concept of caveat emptor – let the buyer beware. Purchasers must not blindly enter into contracts and become ‘the authors of their own destruction’. The judge quoted a previous judgment highlighting the need to consider “the position in life, experience, and skill of the person to whom the [statement] was made”. The compensation awarded to Aldrie was discounted to $250,000 as Aldrie’s failure to take reasonable care to look after its own interests contributed to its losses.
Property transactions often involve significant assets. If you’re buying a property, you need to make full enquiries about the property and seek advice from the appropriate professionals at the outset. Similarly, if you’re selling, you must be careful when dealing with prospective purchasers and avoid the temptation to make exaggerated boasts.