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Who should sign an agreement first?

In the vast majority of cases, it doesn’t matter who signs an agreement first.

The most important thing is that both parties agree to the same set of terms. If any of these terms are changed after signing, the agreement is immediately rendered void. 

Here are some general points to keep in mind:

  • As long as both parties agree to the terms of an agreement, it doesn’t matter who signs first. 
  • One exception to this rule is if you are dealing with a supplier who may postpone approval of a contract, prompting you to search for an alternative source. 
  • Always read a contract thoroughly before signing. Don’t sign a contract that you don’t understand or that contains ambiguities. 
  • Electronic signature tools streamline the signing process and help ensure that all parties approve contracts in a timely manner. 

Let’s explore these points in a little more depth. 

Should you sign before or after a buyer or supplier?

The short answer is that it doesn’t matter who signs an agreement first. In order for a contract to be legally binding, both parties must agree to a set of pre-defined terms (this is called “mutual assent”).

If one party changes those terms after a document has already been signed, the contract is automatically nullified.

If you are providing a product or service within a specified time frame, signing first carries no downsides and may indicate to the potential buyer that everything is ready to go. 

That said, there is one case where signing after the recipient has returned an approved contract can be beneficial.

If you are dealing with a supplier and have not specified exact delivery times, you can run into trouble if the supplier stalls and you have to look for an alternative provider. The supplier may sign the document at a later stage, binding you to the terms of the contract. 

With all that in mind, let’s take a look at some specific examples of business documents and what signing considerations might be at play.

5 points to consider before signing

1. Dates and timeframes

If a document includes clear timeframes related to the delivery of goods or services, then the issue of late-signing suppliers described above is unlikely to arise.

For example, the PandaDoc freelance contract template includes a dedicated section for deliverables. One way of guaranteeing that all relevant clauses, waivers, and legal minutiae are included in contracts is by using a pre-written template. 

2. Main agreement clauses

Main clauses should be agreed in advance of signing.

There will usually be some back and forth between parties when drafting a contract to ensure that the core section of an agreement, which typically covers deliverables, is correct. 

3. Minor amendments

“Hidden” details are often lurking in the small print of contracts, proposals, quotes, and so on. Always check these carefully before signing.

Amendments can be made after another party has approved a contract but they must be countersigned by the preceding signers. 

4. Transactions and costs

Remember that a supplier cannot change the costs associated with delivering a service after you have signed. If you think that a supplier is likely to suggest changes to costs, you may wish to sign after them to be on the safe side. 

5. Exit clauses

Exit clauses and waivers stipulate circumstances in which a contract can be ended before the agreed-upon dates. 

Use PandaDoc to create legally binding agreements

Modern software streamlines the signing process. A platform like PandaDoc provides you with all the tools you need to create professionally written contracts and proposals.

Users can also leverage industry-leading online storage, full document audit trails, and security features like automated signer certificates. 

Sign up for a free trial to gain access to PandaDoc’s full suite of tools, including an extensive template library, intuitive document editor, and detailed tracking dashboard.