So is the House for Sale? Pending, Contingent, and Under Contract in Real Estate

So is the House for Sale? Pending, Contingent, and Under Contract in Real Estate

Like most industries, the world of real estate has a language all its own. Sometimes the terms used can be confusing, especially for first-time homebuyers. If you find a house for sale with a status listed as “sale pending,” “contingent,” or “under contract,” what does that mean, exactly? Is the house off the market, or can you still take a tour or make an offer? 

In most markets around the country, all three of those examples are actually variations on the same concept, although there can be a few subtle differences. These differences can depend on the region, so it’s best to ask a local real estate agent if you are unsure. In the St. Louis area Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Select Properties can shed light on these questions about the home buying process.

Let’s look at these and other common real estate terms and what they mean when it comes to the availability of a house for sale.

The Steps of a Home Sale

First, it’s important to understand the basic process of buying a house. Of course, every offer and sale can have some variations or hiccups along the way. But if everything goes according to plan, it will follow this path: 

  1. The buyer finds a house they are interested in.
  2. The buyer makes an offer and lists any contingencies (more on those later).
  3. If the seller agrees to the offer, they accept and both parties sign a contract.
  4. The home is inspected and appraised according to the contingencies.
  5. Any issues that come up in the inspection are addressed. Negotiations might include the seller making repairs or adjusting the sale price accordingly.
  6. If everything is resolved, the parties move on toward closing. If not, the buyer walks away and the house goes back on the market.

The sale is not final until the closing happens. If the sale is anywhere within this list other than number 6, it is possible for the deal to fall through. This means that another potential buyer can make an offer on a home—and possibly end up buying it—even if the seller has a contract with someone else.

Understanding MLS Statuses

House with "under contract" sign in the yard

MLS stands for Multiple Listing Services. The MLS is the online source for homes that are on the market. The statuses that are listed in the MLS are initiated by the listing agent for the house that is for sale. 

As soon as an offer is accepted by a seller, the listing agent will change the house’s status to pending, contingent, or under contract. This signals buyers and other agents that a sale is in the works, but it does not mean the sales is completed. There is still a chance for another buyer to get the home should things fall through.

What Does “Under Contract” Mean?

Under contract means exactly that: there is a contract that has been signed by both a buyer and seller. The contract details how much the buyer has offered and any contingencies they are asking for. Earnest money is typically paid and placed in an escrow account when the contract is signed. 

Houses under contract might also show an additional status of “Show” or “No Show” in the MLS. Show means that the homeowner is still willing to have other potential buyers view the home. No Show means the opposite. Because they have a contract and are getting closer to making a final sale, they are not allowing agents to conduct tours or showings.

What is a Contingent Sale?

Two people conducting a home inspection, which may be the reason for a contingent sale

A house that is listed as “contingent” is also under contract. Contingent means that both parties are waiting for all of the requirements listed by the buyer to be addressed and taken care of. These often include:

  1. Inspection. The sale is contingent on any flaws found by a professional home inspector being fixed by the seller, or the sales price lowered accordingly. If the two parties can not come to agreement about how the issues will be resolved, the buyer can back out.
  2. Financing. Even though a buyer may have pre-approval, they may have trouble securing financing when it comes to getting the loan. This could stop the sale from proceeding.
  3. Appraisal. The lender will insist on protecting their investment. This means that they will not approve a loan for more than the fair market value. 
  4. Title. If there are liens or other issues with the seller’s title, the sale will not be able to close.
  5. Buyer’s Home Sale. Buyers may include a contingency that if they can not sell their current house within a specified time period, they can end the contract with the seller.

A house listed as contingent may still be actively shown and the buyer may continue to accept offers if they wish. There is a chance that a contingent sale can fall through. If any of the requirements do not work out as spelled out in the contract, or if the buyer and seller can’t come to an agreement about how they are to be resolved, the buyer is allowed to back out of the contract.

Does Pending Mean Sold?

In many cases, a pending sale is no different than either of the other two statuses. Some agents, however, use the term pending once all contingencies are addressed and the parties are just waiting for the closing date.

It’s (Almost) Never Too Late to Make an Offer

If you are interested in a house and the status says it is under contract, contingent, or pending, it may still be worth pursuing. Follow these steps to toss your hat into the ring:

  1. Tell your agent you are interested, and make sure they know you are serious. 
  2. Find out all you can about the current contract. Your agent may be able to talk to the listing agent and find out if the sale is likely or if there are indications that the deal could fail. 
  3. Make an offer. Many sellers will take backup offers in case the first one does not work out. You may be able to secure the first spot in line if that happens.
  4. Sweeten the deal. This is not a situation where a low-ball offer will work. Also, consider waiving contingencies (within reason). Many buyers have success writing a letter to the seller to make a human connection. You may not need to be the highest bidder to be their chosen buyer.

As we mentioned before, a sale is not final until closing. Until the final documents are signed, there is still the possibility that the deal could fall through. Some else’s loss could be your gain, allowing you to buy the house of your dreams.

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