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Contingent vs pending: What’s the difference?

Real estate agent placing a "sold" sign on a home
LifestyleVisuals/Getty Images
Real estate agent placing a "sold" sign on a home
LifestyleVisuals/Getty Images

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Have you ever scrolled through the latest listing on real estate sites, seen phrases like “pending” or “contingent,” and wondered what they mean? When a home’s up for sale, there is a lot that can happen between an offer being accepted and the actual conclusion of the deal. Like distance markers on an expressway, these terms indicate how far along a listing is on the road to closing.

“Contingent” and “pending” signal the status of a listed home — specifically, how close it is to being sold. These terms typically indicate that an offer has been made and the property is closing in changing hands — but the deal hasn’t been finalized yet. It’s important for house hunters to understand these terms and what they mean so they know exactly how much time and resources to invest in a particular property.

What does contingent mean?

When a home is listed as contingent, that means that the sellers have accepted an offer but are not taking the listing off the market entirely because there are still certain circumstances that may lead to the sale falling through. The term means that the sale is accepted contingent (or dependent) on certain conditions being met.

However, not all contingent statuses are created equal. There are different degrees of contingent.

Continue to show

A continue to show contingency (CCS) is a contingency that allows the seller to continue not only listing the property but also showing it until a number of agreed-to conditions are met. During this time, the seller may even accept other offers from different buyers, especially if the original buyer fails to meet certain criteria or deadlines.

No show

A “no show” contingency is the opposite of a “continue to show” contingency. This means the seller agrees to stop showing the home during the closing process. It provides additional security for the buyer, and sellers typically agree to this arrangement if they feel confident that their buyer will come through.

Kick-out clause

A kick-out clause is included in some contracts to set specific deadlines for different parts of the closing and sale finalization process. If those deadlines are missed, the buyer or seller can potentially pull out of the agreement. Without a kick-out clause, the proceedings may drag on longer — though this may not be an issue if neither party is in a rush to finalize the sale.

Short sale

A short-sale contingent takes place when the seller agrees to take less money for the home than is owed on their mortgage. This typically happens when a bank or lender has foreclosed on the property in question.

Types of contingencies

There are a number of different contingencies that can be agreed to between buyer and seller. Some are quite common.

Inspection

An inspection contingency means that the sale of the home is contingent on a home inspection — and the results of it. Done on behalf of the buyer, the inspection may reveal flaws with the property that were not disclosed or previously known. Depending exactly on how the contingency is written, certain problems or conditions give the buyer the right to back out.

Appraisal

An appraisal contingency means the sale of the home will go through depending on the determination of an appraiser’s report. The appraiser inspects the home and compares it to comparable ones to determine its value. Lenders often base the size of a mortgage on the appraisal. Sometimes an appraisal produces an appraisal gap, or a significant difference between the agreed-upon sale price and the appraised value. When this happens, it can put the sale of the home in limbo, especially if financing is involved.

Financing

Financing contingencies mean that the sale proceeds if the buyer can secure a loan, or a big enough loan. If they can’t, they’re not on the hook to buy the home, in other words. Failure to get mortgage approval is the number one reason that home sales fall through, according to the National Association of Exclusive Buyer Agents.

Title

The transfer of the property title (ownership of it, in essence) is at the heart of a real estate transaction. A title contingency means that if anything interferes with the clean transfer of the title, such as a lien or other claim by a third party, then the buyer may back out of the transaction.

Buyer’s home sale

Real estate transactions are often about timing. When a buyer purchases a new house, they also need to sell their previous property. A buyer’s home sale contingency makes the sale of one home contingent upon the sale of the other. If the buyer of the new property cannot find a buyer for their previous home, then the transaction can potentially be canceled.

What does pending mean?

While contingencies are conditions that must be met for the sale to go through, pending is used to identify a listing where all contingencies have been met and the transaction is nearing the closing process.

This still does not mean that the sale is final. Things can still go wrong. But the pending status identifies a listing that is getting close to a successful conclusion.

There are several different types of pending status.

Taking backups

While a sale may be in the process of finalizing, there are potential last-minute obstacles that could cause it to fall through.So, sellers will take backup offers: They’ll often let their agents keep on showing the home, and allow other potential buyers to bid. The idea is that the seller has these backup offers in hand, and could accept one if the original deal falls through for any reason.

Short sale

The short sale pending status signifies that the seller, typically a bank or mortgage lender, is selling the home for less than the amount left on the mortgage. When a home is pending short sale, it typically means the transaction is close to finalizing and no other offers will be accepted.

No show

If a property is a no show pending status, it will stop showing up on listing sites. This indicates that the sale is very close and both the seller and buyer feel confident that the transaction will go through.

More than 4 months

If a home has been listed as pending for longer than a four month period, it will automatically appear on MLS (multiple listing services) with this status. It could mean that something is taking longer than expected, or it could mean that a real estate agent simply forgot to list the home as sold.

Confusingly, some of the pending statuses seem to be the same as those of contingent. The bottom line, though, is that with pending, it’s close to a done deal — the contracts and paperwork are all in. With contingent, the listing is still technically an active one.

Making offers on contingent and pending properties

Contingent and pending status both signify that a home has an offer on it and is moving closer to being sold, but both statuses exist to signal that the transaction is not final. For that reason, you can sometimes make an offer on a home listed as contingent or pending — usually, more the former than the latter.

Homes that are contingent and continue to show, or pending and taking backups, will continue to accept offers from other prospective buyers. In the case of a contingent sale, the seller may even accept your offer if it is better than the previous one; technically, the property is still in play. But it often depends on what options the existing contract gives the seller.

It is not often that home sale falls through once it reaches the contingent or pending status, but it does happen. According to the National Association of Realtors’ June 2022 “Confidence Index Survey,” about 6 percent of contracts terminated (that is, deals got canceled) between March–May 2022, and 18 percent were delayed in their closing.

Final word: contingent vs pending

Sometimes the terms “contingent” and “pending” are used interchangeably. While there’s some overlap, they technically describe different parts of the property transaction process.

If a home is contingent, it means that certain conditions still have to be met before the sale can move toward being finalized. If a home is listed as pending, all contingencies have been met and the sale is further down the closing path, with most of the paperwork in place — but the transaction has not yet been completed. You are more likely to be successful making an offer on a contingent home than a pending one.

So, when you see “contingent” or “pending” on a home that you’re interested in, don’t write it off entirely just yet. In both cases, it means that a home is likely going to sell; however, the keys and the checks haven’t changed hands, and it’s not a done deal. Granted, getting a home that is listed with one of these statuses is going to be a longer shot than an entirely free listing. But you never know — and it never hurts to ask.

Written by
AJ Dellinger
Contributing writer
AJ Dellinger is a contributing writer for Bankrate. AJ writes about auto loans and real estate.
Edited by
Senior homeownership editor