Contingent vs. Pending Offers: What's the Difference?

It's more than just taking the house off the market

Table of Contents
Table of Contents
contingent vs. pending in real estate: Contingent means the seller of the home has accepted an offer that comes with conditions that must be met for the sale to become final. The listing is technically still active until contingency has been met. The status switches to “pending” when all that remains is closing and final paperwork. There are different types of contingent and pending statuses.

The Balance / Caitlin Rogers

You’ll probably notice when you’re searching for a home online that not every listing simply says “for sale” next to that price tag. Some may say “pending,” while others may say “contingent.” Still others may give more detail, like “contingent, continue to show” or “pending, taking backups.” These phrases indicate that the home is in some stage of the sale process.

Knowing the differences between contingent and pending offers can help you spot properties that you might still be able to buy. It can tell you the best way to move forward if you’re interested in bidding on one of them.

What's the Difference Between Contingent and Pending Offers?

Reasons for Contingent Status Reasons for Pending Status 
The home hasn't yet passed inspection. The seller has accepted the offer, but will still look at other offers.
The buyer hasn't yet secured financing. The seller has accepted the offer, but is still showing the home due to some loophole.
The deal hinges upon the buyer first selling their existing home. The seller has accepted the offer, but the sale hasn't yet closed after four months or more.

Contingent means the seller of the home has accepted an offer—one that comes with one or more contingencies or conditions that must be met before the sale can go through. The listing is still technically active until the contingency has been met. The status switches to pending when the offer has been accepted, and all that’s left is the final paperwork and closing.

There are different types of contingent and pending statuses. Each one indicates a different level of opportunity for hopeful buyers. 

Types of Contingent Offers

You might see a few types of contingent statuses.

  • Contingent, Continue to Show: The seller has accepted an offer that hinges on one or several contingencies. Other buyers can continue to view the property and submit offers while the buyer is working to settle those contingencies.
  • Contingent, No Show/Without Kick-Out: The seller has accepted an offer with contingencies, but will no longer be showing the home or accepting offers.
  • Contingent, Release/Kick-Out: There’s a deadline by which the buyer must satisfy their contingencies. The seller is still showing the home and accepting additional bids until that time.

Types of Pending Sales

You might see a few kinds of pending statuses, as well.

  • Pending, Taking Backups: The seller is still taking backup offers for the first offer.
  • Pending, Release/Continue to Show: An offer has been accepted, and contingencies have been met, but there is still some release or "kick-out clause" for one of the parties. The seller will still show and accept offers in this case.
  • Pending, Do Not Show: The sale is essentially a done deal. The seller isn’t showing the home or accepting new bids.
  • Pending, Over Four Months: The home has been in the sales process for four months or longer. The listing should also include a tentative closing date if this is the status.

Many of these phrases overlap, and different real estate groups and multiple listing services (MLS) vary as to the exact phrasing they use. But anything that says “continue to show,” “release,” or “taking backups” usually means that there's still some hope if you’d like to purchase the home.

How To Make a Backup Offer

Neither pending nor contingent offers are carved in stone. They can and sometimes do fall through.

You can take several steps to potentially buy the home if you find a listing that's in a pending or contingent stage. The seller may be able to accept a better offer if the home is still in an early contingency stage (the buyer is waiting on their financing or for their previous home to sell). You might try to tempt the seller in this case, offering more money, waiving your own contingencies, or by including an offer letter.

You can also put in a backup offer in most cases. Here are some steps to take to do that:

  • Speak to the listing agent (or have your agent do it). Find out how long the contingency period is or when the release date is up. 
  • Make a strong offer. Waiving contingencies and making an offer at or above asking price can increase your odds of winning the bid.
  • Write an offer letter. Make a personal, direct appeal to the seller and state your case.

A backup offer the seller an option to revert to if the current deal falls through. You’ll have to pay an earnest money deposit and option fee, as with any other offer, but you’ll get this money back if the contract never goes into effect.

At the very least, you can have your agent contact the listing agent and let them know of your interest if you’re not willing to pay earnest money and option fees on an official backup contract. You’re still leaving the door open if the first deal falls through.

The Bottom Line

Contingent and pending offers are common in real estate, and buyers and sellers should know what they mean and how to deal with them. In both cases, the sale has not been completely finalized and there is still a chance that it could fall through. Whether you're making an offer or trying to sell your home, be sure to discuss contingencies and pending statuses with your agent.