Real Estate

Contingent vs. Pending: What’s the Difference Between These Real Estate Terms?

Are you out of luck if a house listing is marked with one of these words? Here’s what you need to know about contingent and pending homes.
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contingent vs pending


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The terms “contingent” and “pending” are often used to describe real estate transactions. But what does it mean when a home is listed in these ways? Both terms are different ways of saying that a deal is not yet complete. There are major differences, however, when comparing pending vs. contingent home sales.

This article will provide answers to two common questions: what does “pending” mean in real estate lingo? And what does “contingent” mean?

What does “contingent” mean in real estate?

The word “contingent” means “dependent upon something else” or “dependent on conditions.” Common in most real estate deals, contingencies are put in place to protect both the buyer and seller as they enter into a contract; they are conditions that must be met before a contract becomes valid. The buyer has the option to back out of a sale if their contingencies aren’t met.

Common Real Estate Contingencies

These are some of the most common real estate contingencies:

  • Inspection Contingency: This contingency ensures that buyers can get a professional inspection done on the property before closing. The inspector will verify that the roof, plumbing, and other important home systems are in good condition. If something is wrong with the property, the buyer can then decide whether or not to move forward with the deal, ask the seller to make repairs, or walk away from negotiations altogether.
  • Appraisal Contingency: An appraisal contingency is a clause in a real estate contract that allows the buyer to back out of the sale if the home appraises for less than expected. If this happens it’s not uncommon for the buyer to ask for additional concessions, such as lowering the sales price or paying back closing costs.
  • Financing Contingency: In a real estate contract, a financing contingency allows the buyer to cancel the sale if they can’t get financing.
  • House Sale Contingency: A house sale contingency is a clause in the sales contract for a home that stipulates that the buyer may cancel the purchase if he or she is unable to sell his or her current home. If a buyer is trying to purchase a new home and sell their existing home simultaneously, they may want this contingency in their sales contract so they are not obligated to pay two mortgages at the same time.

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contingent vs pending real estate

What does “pending” mean in real estate? 

What does “pending” mean? If a home is listed as “pending,” it means that all details have been worked out and both parties have agreed to proceed with the sale. All contingencies have been satisfied and all documents prepared for signing by both parties. It is essentially one step past “contingent” along the path to a sale.

Common Types of Pending Sales

These are some of the most common types of pending sales:

  • Short Sale: A short sale is a way for a homeowner to sell their home for less than the balance of the mortgage. This process allows homeowners who are unable to make their monthly payments to sell their home at an amount that will allow them to pay off the difference between what they owe and what the house sells for, as well as any other debts they may have. If a home is pending short sale, it simply means it’s going through the short sale process.
  • Taking Back-ups: If a sale is pending but the seller is taking backups, it means the seller is willing to accept additional offers in case the current sale falls through.
  • More Than 4 Months: Buyers may see this designation in the MLS (Multiple Listing Service) when a sale has been pending for more than four months. It typically means that there has been an issue in the process and that the sale is being delayed.
contingent vs. pending

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Can a potential buyer make an offer on a contingent home?

Yes, potential buyers can still make offers on contingent homes if the sellers—and their real estate agents—are still accepting backup offers. It’s best for buyers not to get their hopes up when putting an offer on a contingent home because the likelihood is that the initial sale will go through. Buyers who sumit contingent offers should make sure that their bids are competitive—after all, the sellers may be accepting multiple bids while their sale is still contingent, and you want yours to stand out. Many buyers choose to make offers without contingencies (they’ll waive inspection, for example) in order to make their offer more attractive.

Can a potential buyer make an offer on a pending home?

While there’s no rule against making an offer on a pending home, it’s unlikely that a pending sale will fail to go through, since all of the contingencies have been met and the buyer and seller are in the final stages of their sale agreement. If a seller is accepting backup offers, however, there’s no harm in submitting one–again, just don’t get your hopes up.

Can a seller sell to a different buyer when their property is contingent or pending?

Generally speaking, a seller cannot back out of a deal once their property is contingent or pending. This is difficult for sellers who receive a better offer after having already accepted an earlier one. Once a contract has been signed, buyers have more power to walk away from the deal than the sellers do. Sellers risk being sued by the buyer if they back out of a contract once it has been signed.

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