If, as often occurs, it does not matter a great deal whether a contract is performed exactly on time, failure to do so is not a material breach, and the promisee has to accept the performance and deduct any losses caused by the delay. If, though, it makes a difference to the promisee whether the promisor acts on time, then it is said that “time is of the essence.” Time as a condition can be made explicit in a clause reciting that time is of the essence. If there is no express clause, the courts will read it in when the purpose of the contract was clearly to provide for performance at or by a certain time, and the promisee will gain little from late performance. But even express clauses are subject to a rule of reason, and if the promisor would suffer greatly by enforcement of the clause (and the promisee would suffer only slightly or not at all from a refusal to invoke it), the courts will generally excuse the untimely performance, as long as it was completed within a reasonable time. A builder’s failure to finish a house by July 1 will not discharge the buyer’s obligation to pay if the house is finished a week or even a month later, although the builder will be liable to the buyer for expenses incurred because of the lateness (storage charges for furniture, costs for housing during the interim, extra travel, and the like).
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Condition of Timeliness