It is common for a named purchaser under a contract of sale of land to nominate an additional or substitute purchaser.  What if disputes arise between the parties to the nomination?

Such a nomination, in its simplest form, is a two-party agreement between the named purchaser and the nominated purchaser.  It is a contract that exists primarily in a written form, but it may be that there are also implied conditions arising from verbal agreements between the parties or the surrounding circumstances.  It is possible to make a nomination a tripartite agreement, involving the vendor as the third party, but this is unusual and a conventional nomination binds the named purchaser and the nominated purchaser but does not bind the vendor, who stands aloof from such agreements.

There is no specified form of nomination.  A form in common use simply recites the parties and records that the named purchaser nominates the nominated purchaser to take a transfer of the property in the place of the named purchaser.  It is important to realise that the effect of such a nomination is NOT to replace the named purchaser with the nominated purchaser in the contract.  Such a substitution of the named purchaser with the nominated purchaser can only be achieved with the consent of the other party to the contract, the vendor, and would result in the named purchaser exiting the contract and the nominated purchaser becoming a party to the contract and assuming all the rights and obligation of the purchaser pursuant to the contract.  In a conventional nomination environment, the named purchaser remains as a party to the contract and the nominated purchaser assumes no rights or obligations under the contract, other than being nominated to take a transfer in the place of the named purchaser.

The nominated purchaser is therefore entirely dependent upon the named purchaser for enforcement of the contract and it is unwise for the nominated purchaser to allow any reimbursement of the named purchaser’s deposit to be released to the named purchaser prior to completion of the contract.  If the named purchaser receives the reimbursement of deposit prior to completion, the named purchaser may be reluctant to enforce the contract at a later stage, leaving the nominated purchaser without any ability to require the vendor to complete the contract.  This is a matter that should be, but rarely is, dealt with in the written nomination agreement.

The abbreviated form of standard nomination agreements means that if a dispute arises between the parties to the nomination, a Court may be required to look behind the written agreement to determine the full extent of the rights and obligations of the parties to the nomination.  Ran Bi and Sortop P/L v Yingde Investments P/L [2019] VSC 324 is a case involving just such a dispute.

The named purchaser nominated the nominated purchaser to take transfers in relation to a number of properties that the named purchaser had entered into terms contracts to acquire for land development purposes.  Substantial amounts by way of deposits were due under the contracts and the named purchaser was unable to fund those deposits, thus the nominated purchaser was introduced to the project to provide funding and proceed with a development via a land holding company owned by the named purchaser and the nominated purchaser.  Disputes arose between the named purchaser and the nominated purchaser after the nominations had been signed, but before final settlement.  The named purchaser argued that the nomination had been terminated by the parties and was no longer effective, leaving the named purchaser as the party entitled to take the transfers.

The Court was not satisfied that the nomination had in fact been terminated and held that the nominated purchaser was entitled to be the transferee when those contracts came to settlement.  The Court had no problem with the concept of the nomination being retracted, it simply found that such an outcome could only be achieved by the agreement of the two parties to the nomination and that there was no such agreement in this case.

If the parties can agree to retract a nomination, could the named purchaser make another nomination?  There appears to be no reason in principle why a second nomination cannot occur.  Subject to the vendor being informed of the retraction and second nomination, the vendor has no role in the process other than to comply with the purchaser’s written direction in relation to the transferee.

Some vendors insert complex nomination conditions into contracts that impose specific notification requirements and/or require payment of a fee to the vendor.  Section 42(3) Property Law Act prohibits the imposition of such a fee on the purchaser, but a requirement that the nominee pays a fee is enforceable.