The Difference Between Contingent and Pending in Real Estate

Here’s what these terms mean—and how to move forward

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If you’re searching for a home online, you’ll probably notice that not every listing has a simple “for sale” next to that price tag. Some might say “pending,” others might say “contingent,” while others may have even more detail, like “contingent—continue to show” or “pending—taking back-ups.”

All of these phrases indicate that the home is in some stage of the sale process. Knowing the differences between contingent and pending can help you spot properties that you still might be able to buy, and how to move forward if you’re interested in bidding on one of them.

Contingent vs. Pending

Contingent means the seller of the home has accepted an offer—one that comes with contingencies, or a condition that must be met for the sale to go through. For example, the home might have to pass inspection, the buyer needs to secure financing, or a number of other possible contingencies. Either way, the listing is still technically active until the contingency has been met. 

When the offer has been accepted and all that’s left is the final paperwork and closing, the status switches to “pending.”

There are different types of both contingent and pending statuses, each one indicating a different level of opportunity for hopeful buyers. 

A few types of contingent statuses you might see include:

  • Contingent—Continue to Show: The seller has accepted an offer which hinges on one or several contingencies. While the buyer is working to settle those contingencies, other buyers can continue to view the property and submit offers.
  • 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 meet their contingencies. The seller is still showing the home and accepting additional bids.

A few types of pending statuses you might see include:

  • Pending—Taking Back-ups: The seller is still taking back-up 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 sort of release, or kick-out clause, for one of the parties. The seller will still show and accept offers in this scenario.
  • Pending—Do Not Show: Essentially the sale is a done deal. The seller isn’t showing the home nor accepting new bids.
  • Pending—Over 4 Months: A 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 in which phrasing they use. In general, though, anything that says “continue to show,” “release,” or “taking back-ups” means there is still some hope if you’d like to purchase the home.

What To Do if You Still Want to Bid 

Pending and contingent offers can and do fall through. If you find a listing that is in pending or contingent stages, there are several steps you can take to get your foot in the door and potentially buy the home.

For one, you can put in a back-up offer. This gives the seller an option to fall back on should their current deal fall through. You’ll need to pay an earnest money deposit and option fee, as with any other offer, but you’ll get these back if the contract never goes into effect.

If the home is still in an early contingency stage (the buyer is waiting on their financing, home inspection, or previous home to sell), then the seller may still be able to accept a better offer. Options might include offering more money, waiving contingencies, including an offer letter, and more. 

Steps to Take

  1. 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. 
  2. Make a strong offer. Waiving contingencies and making an offer at or above-asking price can increase your odds of winning the bid.
  3. Write an offer letter. Make a personal, direct appeal to the seller and state your case.

If you’re not willing to pay earnest money and option fees on an official back-up contract, at least have your agent contact the listing agent and let them know of your interest. That way, you’re still leaving the door open if the first deal falls through.

Article Sources

  1. North Carolina Real Estate Commission: Questions and Answers on Offer and Acceptance

  2. BAREIS Multiple Listing Service: BAREIS Status List & Definitions 

  3. MLS Listings: When to Use One Status Over the Other

  4. Redfin.com: What is Contingent vs Pending?

  5. Texas Realtors: Back-Up Contracts