The short answer is that it can be, but ever since 1677 it has become a lot harder.

What happened in 1677? The English Parliament passed the Statute of Frauds, which made verbal agreements for the sale of land legally unenforceable because they encourage fraud. The Statute of Frauds came to Australia and is the current law in every state and territory in Australia, 341 years after it first became law.

As a result, the Courts will not enforce an agreement which is partly verbal and partly in writing, or an incomplete written agreement for the sale of land, such as a receipt for payment of deposit or a real estate agents sales advice. This is because the written agreement does not contain all of the terms of an agreement for sale of land, and does not contain the requisite documents.

But there is an exception: it is still possible to enforce a verbal agreement for the sale of real estate if there is part performance by the buyer.

What is part performance? Part performance is when a buyer pays some or all of the price, or moves into possession, spends money on improvements, and is led to believe by the seller that for all intents and purposes they are buying the property!

The Court of Equity will not sit idly by and allow the seller to dishonour an agreement which does not comply with the Statute of Frauds, because it would result in another fraud - a fraud on the buyer.

Therefore, if a buyer demonstrates part performance, the Court will enforce that agreement and order that the title to the property be transferred, subject to payment of the price.

As you can imagine, the rules applying to part performance are complex. Recently, the High Court of Australia settled upon a set of rules.

For my case note on that decision click