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The question Can you buy land on the moon? does not ask about being on the Moon and purchasing land on Earth, so I thought I'd ask here instead.

Can astronauts in space buy and sell property on Earth by themselves? Purchasing a new home on a plot of land in the US for example involves a lot of paperwork. If an astronaut had not made legal arrangements ahead of time for someone to act as an agent or co-buyer, could they view, bid on, finance, then pay for and insure a home and the property it sits on, transfer mineral rights, etc. (I've never done it myself, but there's a bunch of stuff) and whatever else is involved all via electronic link from the ISS?

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    $\begingroup$ Is this a Space Exploration question? $\endgroup$ – Russell Borogove May 1 at 4:33
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    $\begingroup$ @RussellBorogove Is it possible to get married in space? Yes, at least it is an on-topic Space Exploration Stack Exchange question. Both business in space and the application of laws to people in space are represented by many previous questions and answers here as is what the every day experience of living in space is like. Some other quick examples: What is the jurisdiction for contracts signed in space? and Jurisdiction over crime in space $\endgroup$ – uhoh May 1 at 4:41
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    $\begingroup$ I would expect that astronauts would simply give someone power of attorney while they are on a mission, problem solved. $\endgroup$ – GdD May 1 at 13:01
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    $\begingroup$ They can still give power of attorney over, I've done it remotely, although not in space of course. $\endgroup$ – GdD May 1 at 13:05
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    $\begingroup$ of course it is @RussellBorogove. the OP has asked a question and added "in space" to the end. $\endgroup$ – JCRM May 5 at 8:34
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Yes, No, Maybe. All of those, depending on where they want to buy it.

When buying property in a country, you generally have to do it under the jurisdiction of the country where the property is located. That means which flavor of contract law is involved varies wildly.

In general, though, contracts can be offered & accepted both verbally (oral) or in written form. An verbal contract is, in most jurisdictions, as valid as a written one.

The usual elements of a contract are those:

  • Offer and acceptance
  • Lawful purpose
  • Lawful consideration
  • Certainty and completeness of terms
  • Free consent of the parties
  • Capacity

Lawdepot on Verbal Contracts

So, can we do all of these? Well, astronauts can communicate with earth, so an offer can be extended and accepted. This can be both verbally as well as n writing. Buying real estate is (presumably) a lawful purpose. We assume that the astronaut is willing to pay cash & has means to access & transfer funds.We can assume that astronauts can access their online-banking accounts. Certainty and completeness of terms? Its certainly possible. Capacity? Yes, astronauts are usually mentally capable of entering contracts.

So in theory, nothing prohibits astronauts from entering contracts, at least not in most jurisdictions (I'm not scouring contract law of about 200 countries).

But there is a big but. Not all contracts can be done verbally or without the proper written form. In the US "According to the statute of frauds laws for most states, the following types of contracts must be in writing and signed in order to be valid: Contracts for the transfer or sale of land [...]" Legal Match / Contract Writing Requirements. Other countries, for example Germany, have similar restrictions. Thus, shipping a contract to the ISS, signing it & shipping it back might be required to legally purchase property.

One might think that this is the end of all considerations, but in fact it isn't. The world is a big place, and jurisdiction vary. I'll only slightly tough on one country I'm familiar with, Germany. In Germany, land ownership is registered in the "Grundbuch", or land register. This register says who owns which piece of land.

The following is some hefty legalese:

You should know the principle of abstraction. This states that a change of ownership requires both a commitment and a disposal transaction. You should expect two separate transactions for this: The purchase contract represents the commitment transaction, while the actual transfer in the land register corresponds to the disposal transaction, that is, the transfer of ownership. However, here too, the conveyance must be declared by an authorized body, and this is usually done by a notary.

Source (in German)

In practice this means that buying a plot of land without a notary is pretty much impossible unless you are very knowledgeable about the laws involved, at least in Germany.

So to answer your question, its a solid: It depends. Regulations are different from state to state even in the US, and the question wasn't even restricted to the US (we do get astronaut, cosmonauts & taikonauts from a variety of countries, who could all try to buy property in their home country or even abroad). It might be possible in some states/countries to buy land online or by phone (verbally), it might require shipping written contracts to the ISS for signing, or it might -- in practice -- be impossible due to the legal requirements surrounding sales of real estate in some jurisdictions (e.g. Germany).

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  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for the very thorough and very thoughtful answer! +1 $\endgroup$ – uhoh May 4 at 12:13
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Why would being in space be any different from being in another country, or even at home during lock down (covid 19)? Every local government has different rules.

With cash, transfer is just changing ownership. You don't need a contract to trade money for real estate.

Getting a loan to finance a land purchase might be difficult. But if you are paying cash, and can transfer funds from your electronic device, you can buy anything, land included.

While there may be some local restrictions, there is undoubtedly some land on Earth that you can purchase, completely electronically.

Buying a car would be more difficult then land, and you can do that on the internet currently. At least according to the TV commercials I am seeing in the US.

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  • $\begingroup$ " You don't need a contract to trade money for real estate.". You should specify where, because that isn't true in all countries. I know of at least one country where you can only buy land with a written contract that needs to be signed by both parties (or, if you use a facsimile, needs to be done with a notary, disqualifying the "by themselves" part). $\endgroup$ – Polygnome May 4 at 10:46
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I see the two key issues are:

  1. proving ones identity
  2. having witnesses to the signing of documents

I hesitated about answering this question. I think the question only stands as a "Space Exploration" question to the extent that these two issues can or cannot be solved in a way that is unique to being in space as opposed to simply being physically removed from the conveyancing solicitors, e.g. being around Jupiter as opposed to in another country on Earth.

I don't think there should be any issues that arise from the large distances and finite times taken by speed of light communications, even if the conveyancing solicitors were separated in space from one another. This process has always relied on trust. Before the internet, telephones and fax machines the conveyancing solicitors relied on the post and all the delays that came with it (and some still do).

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    $\begingroup$ Just allot some weight for a notary! $\endgroup$ – Magic Octopus Urn May 4 at 12:00
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I think buying while in space should be OK.
Selling could be a different story.

I purchased a condo located in the United States 6 years ago without physically signing anything except the docs at my bank for the wire transfer. All the other docs that I had to sign were signed electronically. Although I had flown in for a weekend to look at properties, the transaction happened later while I was physically in a different US state from the condo.

I don't know any specifics about laws particular to entering into contracts while in space, but I can't see how local real estate laws would stop you from buying property in the US just because you are way, way, waaaaaay out of town - provided you can sign docs electronically and have a way to transfer the money.

Statute of Frauds: Statute of frauds shouldn't be a problem for the buyer, though I don't know if it would be a problem for a seller. Each US state has its own version of a "statute of frauds," which is basically a legal requirement for some contracts - including the sale/transfer of land - to be in writing in order for them to be enforceable. I am not a real estate lawyer (and you should check with an actual real estate lawyer in the appropriate location rather than relying on my comments if the answer matters to you IRL!), but my impression is that the statute of frauds requirements applicable to real estate will generally require a writing from the seller, not the buyer. In other words, when you are buying a house, it is the seller who needs to sign the deed - not you.

I have no idea if any US states would recognize/enforce electronic signatures from a seller on a deed. So I can imagine that statute of frauds could well be a problem if you wanted to sell property while you're in space.

Also, no idea how things would work for real estate outside the US.

[Side Note for Clarification: my description of the statute of frauds is brief and oversimplified and leaves out lots of exceptions - and I think the statute of frauds won't usually be directed at "contracts" for the sale of land in the strict sense, but rather to the written instrument conveying the interest in real estate, such as a deed. For example, the first part of the Utah Statute of Frauds reads: 25-5-1 Estate or interest in real property. No estate or interest in real property, other than leases for a term not exceeding one year,nor any trust or power over or concerning real property or in any manner relating thereto, shall be created, granted, assigned, surrendered or declared otherwise than by act or operation of law, or by deed or conveyance in writing subscribed by the party creating, granting, assigning,surrendering or declaring the same, or by his lawful agent thereunto authorized by writing.]

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