What Does Contingent Mean? - A Comprehensive Guide to Real Estate Terms

What Does Contingent Mean? - A Comprehensive Guide to Real Estate Terms

Discover what ‘contingent’ means in real estate, the types of contingent statuses, and how they affect your property deal.

Marcio VasconcelosMarcio Vasconcelos

Published on April 30, 2024

When you’re exploring the world of real estate, the term "contingent" often crops up, carrying different nuances in various contexts. To fully understand what this term means and how it applies, especially when shopping for a home, it's crucial to view it from multiple perspectives.

There are different terms used in the real estate market that can be complex, primarily due to the different listing statuses a property may have, which range from "active" (available for sale) to "sold" (no longer available). 

These statuses, crucial for assessing your chances of buying a home, can vary in name depending on your location and may not always be up-to-date. Understanding these nuances is essential for any potential buyer or seller, and recognizing how the status of "contingent" fits into this spectrum will help you make more informed decisions as you proceed with a potential purchase or sale.

What Does "Contingent" Generally Mean?

In its broadest sense, "contingent" refers to something that depends on certain conditions or  events that are not yet certain. It essentially means "conditional" or "dependent". This general definition lays the groundwork for understanding more specialized uses of the term, particularly in legal and business contexts, including real estate.

What Does Contingent Mean in Real Estate?

When a home is listed as "contingent" or "contingent sale" in real estate, it means that the seller has accepted an offer from a buyer, but the finalization of the sale is subject to certain conditions specified in the purchase agreement.

These conditions, known as contingencies, allow the buyer to back out of the purchase under specific circumstances without losing their earnest money deposit. Both the buyer and seller must resolve these contingencies to their satisfaction for the transaction to advance to a "pending" status and ultimately close.

Contingent Status Types

When a home is under contract but the sale hasn't been finalized, the listing or yard sign may reflect the current stage of the sale process through various status types. Here's what each status might indicate:


The buyer has not yet fulfilled all the contingencies in the purchase agreement. The property might still accept backup offers if the seller allows. This status is also referred to as “under contract”.

Active Contingent

This status means that although the seller has accepted an offer with contingencies, they are still accepting backup offers in case the initial deal falls through. This listing may also appear as “contingent: continue to show” or “active under contract” if the property is still being shown to potential backup buyers. If showings are not allowed, it may be listed as “contingent: no show.”

Contingent With Kick-Out

Here, the seller has accepted a contingent offer but may terminate the agreement if a better offer comes along. This status indicates that the seller is still open to receiving offers, and the current contingent buyer has a chance to meet their contingencies before the seller moves on to a new offer.

Contingent Probate

This status is used when the seller has accepted an offer but requires approval from probate court before the sale can proceed. This often occurs when selling property from an estate of a deceased individual, and other buyers might have the opportunity to submit a competitive bid during a court hearing.

Short-Sale Contingent

The seller has agreed to a buyer’s offer, but the closure of the deal is dependent on approval by the seller’s lenders and lienholders.


All contingencies have been met by the buyer. The sale is expected to close soon, and it would be wise to look for another property. However, if you are particularly interested in this home, you could let the seller's agent know in case the current deal falls through. The listing might state “pending – taking backups” if there is still a possibility for backup offers.

Can I Make an Offer on a House That is Contingent?

Yes, you can make an offer on a house that is listed as contingent. However, it's important to know that the seller may only consider your offer if the current one falls through due to the existing contingencies not being met. It’s typically a backup option, and pursuing such properties requires strategic thinking about offer attractiveness and timing.

Common Real Estate Contingencies

Many real estate transactions include "contingency clauses" in the offer or sales agreement to safeguard the interests of the buyer or seller, which either party may choose to waive.

An appraisal contingency ensures that the purchase offer is conditional upon the home being appraised at a value close to the agreed purchase price. If the appraisal reveals a lower value, the buyer has the option to withdraw their offer without penalty.

The inspection contingency or "due diligence clause" makes the offer dependent on a satisfactory home inspection within a specified timeframe. If significant issues are discovered, the buyer can negotiate for repairs, seek compensation, or even cancel the offer.

A financing contingency is used when the buyer’s ability to follow through on the offer depends on securing a mortgage or other financing. If the buyer cannot obtain financing as specified, they can withdraw from the agreement without consequences.

A title contingency protects the buyer against issues with the property's ownership that emerge during a title search. If questions about legal ownership arise, the buyer can back out of the purchase.

Lastly, a buyer’s home sale contingency is often used when the buyer needs to sell their current home to finance the new purchase. This clause makes the new home purchase contingent on the sale of their existing home by a certain date, allowing the buyer to withdraw if their current home doesn’t sell in time.

What’s the Difference Between Contingent and Pending?

A contingent offer means that although a seller has accepted an offer, the buyer's conditions necessary to finalize the deal have not yet been met. Conversely, a pending status indicates that an offer has been accepted and all contract conditions have been resolved, pushing the purchase towards completion.

Homes under pending status are no longer active listings since both the buyer and seller are finalizing the necessary legal formalities to complete the sale. On the other hand, homes listed as contingent are still active on the market, can be shown, and the seller may continue to receive and accept additional offers until all contingencies are satisfied.

The key difference between these statuses is that a contingent sale remains subject to the fulfillment of specific conditions, while a pending sale suggests all contingencies have been met, making it more final and closer to closing.

How long will a listing stay contingent? 

Typically, a home remains contingent for about 15 to 90 days, as dictated by the purchase agreement and the specifics of the contingencies involved. If the contingency is simple, like an inspection, the period may be brief. However, if multiple contingencies are outlined in the contract, such as inspection, financing, and home sale, the contingent status could last much longer.

The longest contingent periods often involve a home sale contingency. When only a mortgage contingency is left, and the sale seems secure, agents might shift the status from contingent to pending, shortening the contingent period to possibly just a few weeks. Conversely, for cash buyers without contingencies, an agent might list the property as pending right away, bypassing contingent status entirely.

People also ask

Can you make an offer on a home listed as contingent or pending? 

While a home in contingent or pending status might seem out of reach, it's not necessarily off-limits. Sellers can still accept offers on homes with these statuses, depending on the circumstances.

To enhance the appeal of your offer, consider getting prequalified for a mortgage and collaborating with a real estate agent. These steps might improve your chances and position you advantageously if the current deal doesn't close.

Are contingent offers risky?

They can be, as they depend on uncertain future events. Buyers should weigh these risks against the benefits.

What happens if contingencies aren't met?

Typically, the deal can be nullified, and any deposit may be returned to the buyer, depending on the contract terms.

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