What does it mean when a house is pending on a real estate listing?

brown and white wooden house

What you should know about a pending sale and how buyers can position themselves as a backup

Key Takeaways:

  • When a listing says the home is pending, it means the seller has accepted an offer
  • Once a home is pending, the buyer and seller begin the process of closing on the home
  • Pending is not the same as sold, so there are plenty of reasons the home may be re-listed
  • Pending is not the same as “contingent” or “under contract.”
  • While there’s no way to make an offer on a home once it’s pending, there are ways to position yourself as the backup buyer

Is pending real estate no longer up for grabs? Like so many aspects of buying a home, the answer to this question is nuanced. “Pending” refers to the fact that the homeowners have accepted an offer on their home, but in reality, the transaction is just beginning. In this article, we’ll cover what it really means when a home sale is pending.

What does pending mean in real estate?

If you see a home listing that refers to the home as pending, that means the sellers have accepted an offer, but the transaction is not yet complete. Pending typically means that the seller has accepted the terms of the buyer’s offer, but both parties still need to take necessary steps to officially close the sale. Accepting an offer is only the first step to actually closing a real estate transaction. 

So what happens next? The buyer will submit the offer to their lender in order to finalize their financing, and then transfer earnest money and other upfront costs to an escrow account. The seller may also have to meet certain criteria, also known as contingencies, in order to officially sell the home. Most often, the buyer and seller are able to take these steps in a timely manner and close on the home in a few months, but sometimes, the sale falls through. So, until the transaction actually closes, the sale is listed as pending. 

Why do you still see pending listings online?

At the pending stage, a seller has only accepted an offer; a lot more has to happen before the home is officially sold, where legal ownership of the home has been transferred from the seller to the buyer. But a lot has to happen beforehand, so sellers keep their home on the market to avoid re-listing all over again if the sale falls through. 

Also, keep in mind that the MLS listings you see online may not be updated in real time. That means a home that’s listed as pending may actually be fully off the market. Reach out to the listing agent to find out for sure before you get attached to the home.

beige 2-story house
A home listing that’s pending isn’t sold yet so buyers can still make backup offers if the sellers are accepting them

Types of pending listings

Some pending listings will tell you exactly why the home isn’t yet officially off the market, including:

Taking backups: The seller is still accepting backup offers in case their first one falls through.

Continuing to show: The seller has likely accepted a contingent offer and will be willing and able to replace that offer with one that doesn’t come with contingencies attached.

Do not show: The seller is particularly confident in the offer they accepted and is no longer showing the home. 

Pending four months: A listing that has been pending for four months or more and likely is near a closing date. 

The difference between sale pending and contingent

While a contingent property is similar to a pending property, there are some important differences to consider. 

In a real estate transaction, either the buyer or seller may demand that some additional criteria be met before the sale is complete. These additional criteria are called contingencies. In competitive markets, sellers often expect offers to come with fewer contingencies so that there are as few hurdles to closing as possible. 

A home sale is often pending while both buyers and sellers work to meet contingency requirements. In these circumstances, a pending sale is listed as contingent.  

Here are some common contingencies you’ll find in a pending sale: 

Kick-out clause: The seller reserves the right to cancel your contract if another buyer makes an offer without contingencies

Inspection contingency: The buyer waits until a professional inspection of the property confirms there are no major structural issues they will inherit should they complete the sale. 

Sale contingency: The buyer is given time to sell their previous home before closing the sale and taking on a mortgage for their next property. 

What does it mean when a home is under contract? 

Interestingly enough, under contract actually precedes pending in the sale process. Homes listed as under contract can be the listings to watch closely if you’re hoping to swoop in and make a compelling backup offer. When a home is under contract, an offer has been accepted by the seller, but an unfulfilled contingency is holding up closing. The sale won’t be pending until those hurdles are cleared.

Can you make an offer on a pending home?

Probably not. However, it never hurts to ask. The most common scenario is that the first buyer submitted an offer with a clause that specifies that their contract can’t be voided just because a higher offer comes in. In most cases, a seller would have to officially cancel the sale to accept another offer and sales are most often only canceled when contingencies aren’t met. 

If a home is listed as pending but taking backups, you could still make an offer.

Will a real estate agent show me a pending home?

Agents know that homes are technically still for sale until closing happens, and as such, have every reason to want to have backup buyers in place in the event that a sale doesn’t go through. This is why some agents will still allow you to tour a home even if you can’t make an offer due to a non-compete clause. However, it’s rare for sellers to allow you to see their home once it’s pending, because they’d rather not continue to manage showings, open houses, or marketing the home. 

brown and red house near trees
When a home is contingent, the sellers have accepted an offer and are waiting to meet some additional criteria in the contract

How long will a home be pending for?

Pending is considered a transitional phase that can typically last anywhere from a week to two months. The pending phase needs to provide enough time for the buyer to secure financing, complete a title check, arrange a home inspection, and make requests for repairs.

Common reasons a pending home sale falls through

There are endless reasons why a pending home sale might fall through. The causes range from everything from cold feet to legal barriers. Here’s a rundown of why that home you love might come back on the market:

  • Financing: Even buyers with preapprovals aren’t guaranteed mortgages. It’s possible that financial changes could disqualify a buyer from moving forward after having an offer accepted.
  • Change of heart: Homebuying is an emotional situation. Buyers sometimes have second thoughts about homes that cause them to drop out of an offer.
  • Appraisal issues: An appraisal that comes in lower than expected can cause a lender to deny a loan.
  • A troubled home inspection: If a home inspection uncovers major issues that a buyer doesn’t want to take on, they may drop out. Home inspections often provide legal avenues for breaking agreements before closing—most commonly if there was an inspection contingency in the offer.
  • Failed short sale: If the seller agreed to sell their home to the bank for less than is owed on the home to avoid foreclosure, this is called a short sale. Short sales sometimes fail if the lender ends up vetoing the sale. However, there’s a good chance you’ll see the home relisted by the seller shortly after.

Does a failed sale mean I shouldn’t make an offer?

The answer truly depends on why the previous offer fell through. If it was a personal issue on the part of the buyer, you may find that your path to closing with the same property is breezy. However, an issue with the house could mean that you’ll bump into the same roadblocks as the previous buyer.

What to do if you fall in love with a house listed as pending

Not much is in your control if an offer is going through on a home. However, there are ways you can position yourself to make an offer at the first sign that a pending listing is about to become available. 

1. Let the listing agent know

It never hurts to let an agent know that you like a house even if it’s pending. Rest assured that the agent will keep your number to contact you in the event that the sale falls through. In fact, you’ll be first in line to know that the home is available again.

2. Do your research

If you decide to call the listing agent, be sure to ask about any potential issues with the home that could be holding up the closing process. You should also do as much digging online as possible to get information on the home’s history. This can help you to be an informed buyer so you can make a strong offer that speaks to the seller’s concerns as much as your own.

3. Get your financing in order

Make sure you’re fully current with your mortgage pre-approval. You should also be watching your spending habits diligently to make sure that unpaid bills, rising debt, or some other factor doesn’t dash your dreams at the last minute.

Final thoughts

Simply put, a pending house is a house that’s on its way to a sale. While you can’t let yourself get too attached to homes that are pending, you also don’t have to disregard them completely.

The best approach is to simply let the listing agent know that you’re waiting in the wings.

The truth is that homes get scooped up every single day. Working closely with an agent can help you to be the first to see the offer-worthy homes in your range to get your own name on a pending agreement as soon as possible.

FAQs

What does it mean when a house is pending?

If a home is pending, an offer on the home has been accepted. Keep in mind that MLS updates can sometimes be delayed. That means that the home’s status may have changed before MLS was last updated. Remember, the best way to get the scoop on a home’s status is to reach out to the listing agent. Listing agents are always happy to answer these types of questions!

Why do houses stay pending for so long?

The pending period is the time that the buyer uses to obtain financing, handle the title, get an inspection, and request repairs. The pending period can sometimes be longer than usual if the buyer has activated a clause that says they will not close until they sell their current home.

Is contingent the same as pending?

No, contingent and pending are not the same. While pending means that an offer has been accepted, contingent means that an offer is contingent upon certain conditions being met has been accepted.

Why do pending home sales fall through?

Truthfully, there can be lots of reasons. While problems discovered during inspections do account for some failed home sales, most occur because the buyer cannot obtain financing, the buyer has a change of heart, or the appraisal came in too low.

Will a real estate agent show you a house that’s pending?

Some agents will show pending houses, but it really comes down to their personal discretion and the seller’s wishes.

Can you buy a house that’s pending?

Most buyer offers contain clauses that state the seller cannot accept any other offers. That means that you usually can’t make an offer on a pending house unless there is an exception clause.

Does a home sale falling through mean something is wrong with the house?

Not necessarily. While problems discovered during inspections do account for some failed home sales, most failed sales occur for other reasons.

About the author: As the son of a construction contractor and a former property manager, Scott Dylan Westerlund knows how to keep the lights on and the water running. In addition to Flyhomes, he has written for Angi, HomeLight and HomeAdvisor. His hobbies include fixing things around the house, baking things up in the kitchen, and spending quality time with his wife and daughter just about everywhere.

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