Contingent vs. Pending: What's the Difference in Real Estate?

By 

Michael Yessis

Updated 

March 5th, 2021

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Home-purchase timeline | Can you make an offer? | Contingent insights | Pending insights | Making a backup offer | Backup offer pros and cons | Your backup offer's chances | Frequently asked questions 

A contingent or pending status on a house listing indicates that a seller has accepted a buyer's offer.

The most significant difference between contingent and pending for a house hunter is this: a house that's designated as contingent sits earlier on the home-purchase timeline than a house that's pending.

Neither status signals a done deal.

A contingent house or a pending house remains potentially up for grabs for another buyer to swoop in with a winning offer. Chances are better, however, on a house that's designated contingent vs. pending.

Why? Take a look at the home-purchase timeline.

Contingent vs. pending on the home-purchase timeline

The contingent and pending statuses are two important milestones on the home-purchase timeline. Let's start with the one that comes first.

Milestone: Contingent

Once an offer on a house or property has been accepted by the seller, it goes under contract. While under contract, the buyer and seller must settle the issues they've included in the contract, which often include contingencies.

Contingencies are conditions that must be met before a contract is legally binding. They can be challenging to resolve and are sometimes intractable. Deals can and do fall apart because a contingency can't be met.

» READ MORE: What Does Contingent Mean in Real Estate?

Milestone: Pending

Once the contingencies laid out in the home-purchase contract are cleared, the deal can move to the next phase. The house's status becomes pending.

Because the challenges of contingencies are in the past, deals on pending houses are less likely to crash and burn. Still, the deal isn't complete.

» READ MORE: What Does Pending Mean in Real Estate?

Only when the fewer but still significant issues involved in the pending phase have been addressed can the deal close and the keys to the house change hands.

It's possible to make an offer on a house that's contingent or pending

You can offer to buy a house that's contingent or pending — if the seller allows it. Sometimes they won't. Often they will because it's in their best interest to have backup options.

When you do make an offer on a contingent or pending house prepare to face significant hurdles, including some that are out of your control.

Let's take a deeper dive through the lenses of contingent vs. pending.

Contingent: What a buyer should know

First, understand that the home-buying process is underway with the initial buyer. The parties have signed a contract. They've agreed to timelines. They've settled on a price.

But contingencies likely remain to be addressed. According to the May 2020 Realtors Confidence Index Survey, 76% of home-purchase contracts include contingencies.

The most common contingencies: Home inspection (59% of home-purchase contracts, per the Realtors Confidence Index Survey), financing (47%), and appraisal (46%).

Many variables are in play with contingencies

For instance: What if the home inspection turns up a major structural issue? Will the buyer's loan will come through? What if the appraisal values the house for less than the agreed-upon sale price?

Because of these and other potential deal-derailing scenarios, the seller of a house that's contingent vs. pending is typically more open to other offers.

In some locations, you may find a "contingent - show" designation, which publicly reveals that the seller still wants to show the property while it's contingent and likely will take new offers.

Otherwise, a good real estate agent can talk to the seller's agent to find out whether the seller is open to offers.

Pending: What a buyer should know

Because the current buyer and seller are deeper into the purchase process for a house that's pending than for a contingent house, the path to a successful purchase is more narrow.

👉 One clue to look for: A "pending - taking backups" status on the property, which shows the seller's open to another offer.

If you don't see a "pending - taking backups" status, ask your agent to contact the seller's agent to learn where things stand with the initial purchase and if the seller will still accept offers.

» NEED AN AGENT? Connect with a top-rated agent in your area

How to make an offer on a house that's pending or under contract

You'll submit a backup offer whether it's a house with a contingent or pending status.

In a backup offer, you'll follow the same process as a primary offer. But the seller won't take any serious action on your secondary offer unless the first offer crumbles.

The pros and cons of a backup offer

Pros 
  • You can reserve the next spot in line and be in a strong position should the initial offer fall through.
  • You're a motivated buyer and you're letting the seller know.
❌ Cons
  • You'll have to face any issues that torpedoed the initial offer, such as problems with the title or the need for major repairs.
  • If there's a better home for you on the market, you may never know since you're focused on the home that's contingent or pending.
  • A seller could be using your offer to nudge the original buyer to take action and finalize the sale.

Lean on a good agent to determine if it's worth your time and energy to make a backup offer.

» FIND AN AGENT: Clever can connect you with a top-rated agent in your area

A strong agent as a partner in the home-purchase process can unearth more information about why the seller's taking backup offers and can evaluate whether your potential backup offer has a legitimate chance of being accepted.

Straight talk: Your chances of buying a house that's contingent or pending

The odds of buying a house that's contingent or pending aren't great. The numbers from the November 2020 Realtors Confidence Index Survey show just 6% of home-purchase contracts were terminated during that month.

The contracts within that 6% fell through because of:

Appraisal Issues 

Example: An independent appraisal of the home's value comes in well below the offer price. The buyer backs out.

» READ: The Ultimate Home Appraisal Checklist

Financing Issues 

Example: The buyer's home mortgage loan falls through. Without financing, the deal can't proceed.

» READ: A Step-by-Step Guide to the Home Loan Process

Home Inspection Issues

Example: An inspection of the home reveals a significant problem. Major electrical, structural, and mold issues are potential deal breakers.

» READ: 7 Must-Know Home Inspection Tips for Buyers

Title Issues 

Example: A title search turns up an unresolved boundary dispute on the property, or even a lien — a legal claim against the owners of a property.

» READ: What to Know BEFORE Buying a House With a Lien Against It

Job Issues

Example: The buyer loses their job and necessarily postpones making a major purchase.

The home-purchase process includes these and other pitfalls, which should provide a little hope if you want to put in a backup offer on a property that's contingent or pending.

How much hope? A great realtor can evaluate your unique situation and help you best position yourself to secure a home you love.

Frequently asked questions

Is contingent or pending better?

For a potential buyer who sees a designation of contingent or pending on a house they're interested in, contingent is better.

The contingent phase comes earlier in the home-purchase process, meaning there's more time for the first potential buyer's deal to fall apart.

» READ: What Does Contingent Mean in Real Estate?

Is contingent before pending?

Yes. Before a home purchase can proceed to pending, the contingencies in a home-purchase contract must be resolved.

» READ: What Does Pending Mean in Real Estate?

Can a realtor show a house that's contingent?

Yes, but only if the seller allows it.

Sometimes you'll notice a status "contingent - show" in a listing, which publicly signals that the seller's still showing the property. Other times, you'll need your agent to touch base with the seller's agent to determine where things stand.

» FIND AN AGENT: Clever can connect you with a top-rated agent in your area

Does contingent or pending mean sold?

No. Both contingent and pending mean an offer has been made on a home, but a deal hasn't been finalized.

If you're interested in putting in an offer on a contingent or pending house, you can do so via a backup-offer.

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