An individual making a backup offer for a house listed as "under contract"

Understanding the vocabulary of real estate agents and transactions is often a daunting task. Real estate deals come with a slew of jargon for buyers and sellers to go through. Thus, it can be difficult to grasp the nuances of real estate jargon.

When a home is posted for sale, one of the most common inquiries we hear from purchasers is “What do the terms ‘under contract’ and ‘pending’ mean?”.

What makes the scenario perplexing for purchasers is that terminology such as under contract vs pending are used interchangeably across different listing platforms, states, and markets.

Before getting into under contract vs. pending, let’s go over how real estate transactions work.

How Real Estate Transactions Work

Home buying goes beyond just agreeing on a price, signing the contract, and contacting the movers. In most circumstances, the transaction involves three parties rather than two: the seller, the buyer, and the bank funding the loan. Before the contract can be finalized, all three parties must be satisfied.

Here’s the breakdown of what a typical real estate transaction looks like:

  • A buyer finds a house for purchase.
  • The buyer makes a formal offer.
  • Negotiation begins between the buyer and the seller ( or buyer’s agent) and the seller (or seller’s real estate agent).
  • The seller accepts the offer.
  • The buyer and the seller sign a contract, which is typically contingent on other conditions like financing, inspections, and a due diligence period (under contract stage).
  • The buyer’s earnest money is held in an escrow account or other alternative.
  • The buyer begins securing the financing for the transaction.
  • The property is inspected and appraised (sale pending stage).
  • The deal is closed.


Bear in mind that this is a simplified account of events. There will also be title searches and settlement agreements to go over, and obtaining finance is a lengthy procedure in and of itself.

Having known how a real estate transaction works, let’s continue with our comparison: pending vs. under contract.

Sale Pending Vs. Under Contract

The terms “sale pending” and “under contract” may imply that a property is no longer on the market. However, this isn’t the case.

Only once the property has been sold and the transaction has been legally closed by the consent of the buyer, seller, and financial lender, will it be removed from the market.

Pending status and under contract indicate that the seller has actually entered into a deal with a buyer, and the details of the contract are being refined and completed. This is not a reliable indicator that the property will be sold and taken off the market.

To add to the confusion, either can be mistaken for or interchanged with the term contingent. The term “contingency” generally refers to a buyer who has agreed to purchase the property, but the transaction’s completion is contingent on circumstances such as whether they first sell a property of their own.

So, what’s the difference between under contract and pending?

Sale Pending

The property is under contract, but there are no longer any contingents, so the sale is pending. This stage is further advanced in the selling process than just “under contract,” indicating that the property transaction is more likely to close.

Pending is nearing the end of the transaction’s eighth stage.

However, the real estate transaction isn’t yet complete, and if the final inspection of the house fails, for example, the home might end up back on the market.

Contract negotiation between a seller's agent and a home buyer

Sale Under Contract

When a home is marked “under contract,” it means that the buyer has made a formal offer to buy the property, and the seller has accepted the offer.

Both parties sign a contract contingent on financing and the results of the inspection. This stage is considered the fifth step in the transaction process.

At this stage, the parties have a contract, but there are still some conditions that have not been met. While the money is agreed upon, the buyer may still need to acquire a mortgage, and the house may still need to pass appraisals and inspections. 

Extra contingencies, such as appliance repairs or replacements, and structural difficulties, may have been requested by the purchasers.

If a house inspection yields negative results, the buyers have the option to pull out of the deal or modify their offer. If the purchasers are unable to obtain a mortgage, the sellers may void the contract owing to a failure to make payment.

What is a Contingent Sale?

If a house is labeled “contingent,” it doesn’t mean that it has sold or that an offer has been made. A contingent contract essentially indicates that the property’s sale is contingent on another circumstance, such as the buyer selling their present house first.

Can a Home Still be Bought if it’s Under Contract?

If your dream home has recently been advertised as being under contract, don’t give up. It’s not unusual for a home to go into a contract but fail due to several circumstances. Often, property inspections reveal major defects, or the buyer can’t get a large enough mortgage.

During the contract period, home sales are still in their early stages and many of the essential steps to fulfill the contract have not yet been completed. You can still make an offer and see if the homeowner is interested. If the deal fails, they can choose to pursue your offer instead.

What are Backup Offers?

Still want to make an offer on a house that’s already active under contract? The good news is that a seller can accept backup offers if the first transaction falls through.

Typically, this situation implies that one backup offer will be picked in the event that the house is relisted.

You can confidently convey your formal offer to the sellers if the property is still under contract, especially if the sale is a foreclosure or short sale, since purchasers tend to back out in these situations more frequently. Also, you can attempt to purchase the house if it’s pending, but it’s in your best interest to keep looking.

What Makes Sales Pending or Under Contract Fall Through?

If a contract sale returns to the market, it might indicate that the buyer was unable to finance the transaction.

Several concerns may arise during the due diligence stage and impair the buyer’s ability to complete the deal. Any lingering land boundary issues, for example, or certain property features – such as decks and swimming pools – that weren’t revealed by the seller’s agent may have an impact on the buyer’s choice.

Furthermore, if an individual breaches the contract for any reason (for example, if the sale is contingent on the buyer first selling their property and the lender doesn’t agree, or for any other due diligence reason), the seller is entitled to take “backup” bids.

Woman browsing through a multiple listing service for a house for sale

How to Buy a House Under Contract

If a home is already under contract but you want to make an offer, your real estate agent will lead you through the steps to purchase a house under contract. To give you some context, here’s how the process works in general.

  • Make Use of Your Agent

Contact the seller’s agent through your real estate agent, to inquire whether they’re open to backup offers. Your agent will inform you if the deal is likely to go through or not. Also, if the seller accepts backup bids, ensure your agent asks what their offer is so your bid can compete.

  • Visit the Home

If possible, attempt to arrange a personal inspection of the home before making an offer. There’s a limit to how much information a photograph can display. When you’re eager to make a bid, you may believe that agreeing to not visit the house in person is worth it, but it isn’t. If the seller wants your offer as a backup, they should allow you to view the property.

  • Make a Competitive Bid

You can make a competitive bid now that you know what the seller wants, such as a rent-back contract or a contingency that the transaction can’t close until they acquire a new house.

Furthermore, you’ll be in excellent shape if you can satisfy the seller’s demands and match their previous offer price. On your end, not having any conditions will be beneficial, but it’s best to agree to a deal that you’re completely happy with.

  • Include an Offer Letter

A bespoke offer letter that explains why you want to buy their individual house is an extra special touch that can go a long way. If you can appeal to the seller’s emotions, you may be able to distinguish yourself from other backup offers that are extremely similar.

Of course, a handwritten letter detailing why you adore their property can’t compete with a good financial offer, but if you’re on equal footing otherwise, it can influence the seller in your favor.

Can a Home Still be Bought if it’s Pending?

Sale pending is the less desired option when comparing active under contract versus pending. When a home is pending, the deal is most likely further along. Pending sales indicate that the buyers and sellers have met the contract’s stipulations, and the house is very close to selling.

If you’re seeking to make an offer, real estate agents will be less inclined to listen to you at this stage. The sale is far less likely to fall through at the pending stage. For contract termination to occur, something drastic would have to happen.

However, if you’re hell-bent on acquiring the house, you may provide your contact information. You could still have a shot, although it’s unlikely. If the deal falls through, you won’t have as much competition, and you could be the first person the seller calls.


In the comparison “under contract vs pending“, the former is the stage in which the seller has accepted a buyer’s offer for the house, while the latter means the deal is at its final stage.

When browsing listings you often come across houses listed as “under contract” or “pending.” Like most home buyers, it’s likely you ignored these homes, thinking they weren’t on the market anymore. 

However, you can purchase these houses following the several steps mentioned in this article. It’s critical to note that not every seller will accept a backup offer, even if it’s much more enticing than the one they’ve already received.

If you’re a homebuyer or real estate investor looking for the fastest and most reliable option to acquire a property, Ardor Homes Massachusetts is a professional real estate service worth considering.

With Ardor Homes Massachusetts, you can skip the hassle of home hunting and get a reasonable price for your property in no time at all. We’re partnered with the best real estate agents across the country, so we have properties all over!

Contact us now, and let’s help you buy or sell a home quickly, conveniently, and effortlessly.


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