What Pending Means in Real Estate: Why Deals Fall Through

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Written By Justin McGill

DealBloom aims to share the latest tips and strategies to help realtors, brokers, loan officers, and investors navigate the world of real estate.

If you’re in the process of buying or selling a home, you may have come across the term “pending.” Do you know what pending means in real estate?

Essentially, when a property is listed as pending, it means that an offer has been accepted and the sale is in progress. However, just because a sale is pending doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed to close. In fact, there are many reasons why sales fall through even after they’ve reached the pending stage.

As someone who has both bought and sold homes before, I know firsthand how frustrating it can be when a deal falls through at the last minute. That’s why I wanted to share some insight into what pending means in real estate and how you can close the deal.

What Pending Means in Real Estate

The 2021 housing market has been anything but soft. Many buyers were hoping the market would cool off, but the exact opposite has happened.

Many home buyers have been disappointed to find that their dream homes are already off the market and marked as “Pending”.

What exactly is a pending sale?

A sale is pending when a seller accepts the buyer’s offer.

So, this isn’t really a situation you can outbid all the other buyers – it’s already past that phase.

While “Pending” is a status that typically means a sale is pending, some agents will use it as a placeholder for listings that haven’t officially sold yet. It’s always a good idea to contact the seller’s agent for clarification.

Can You Put an Offer on a House That is Pending?

Most of the time, when a seller accepts your bid, they can’t back out if someone else offers them more money.

It can be frustrating to have an accepted offer on a home only to worry that another buyer might outbid you, but this is actually a common occurrence in the real estate market.

While it may seem inconvenient, it’s a smart decision once you do find your dream home. Signing the papers, getting a loan, and handing over the keys for your old home only to have another buyer outbid you is a nightmare.

Can you outbid a competing bid?

You can still submit a counteroffer to a seller’s listing, but keep in mind that the seller can accept another buyer’s proposal at any time.

The agent won’t want you to waste your time and emotion on trying to close the sale, but the buyer won’t be able to consider the offer you made until their current deal falls apart.

Can a Realtor Show a House That is Pending?

Yes, a realtor can show a home that is pending since they are technically not yet sold.

Most agents won’t bother to do this, as a majority of homes do sell, it’s more of a headache for the homeowner, and they’d rather direct home buyers to a property they have a better chance of getting.

Pending vs. Contingent Homes

A buyer can request certain provisions be included in the contract to protect them from backing out of the sale. These safeguards are called “contingencies”. Contingencies are often included when a buyer is concerned about the value of the home or their ability to obtain the necessary funds to purchase the property.

Home sales are often dependent on the sale of the current property, or the appraised value being high enough. If either one of these conditions is not satisfied, then the deal may be called off.

If a seller agrees to a buyer’s request for a condition, then the deal is a contingent sale. This means the sellers cannot sell to anyone else, but the purchaser can back out of the deal if their request is not fulfilled.

A very common stipulation is that buyers need to sell their current house before the deal can go through. The buyer’s old home is contingent upon the sale.

In buyer’s markets, sellers are more likely to accept contingent contracts because the buyer may be less likely to go through with the purchase.

In seller’s markets, where competition is fierce and multiple bids are the norm, buyers are less likely to offer contingency clauses.

Appraisal, inspection, and financial contingencies are also common.

Is there a difference between “pending” and “contingent” home sales?

Contingent deals become pending deals once the contingency is met, but they both mean that an offer on the property has already been accepted.

What Happens if a Contingency Falls Through?

If the contingency is not met, then the sale is nullified, and the earnest money (1%-5% of home value) is returned to the seller.

How Long Can a Home Stay Pending?

The average time for a pending sale is anywhere between one week and 60 days.

This is the time it takes for the two parties to meet all the requirements necessary for the sale, such as obtaining a mortgage, having the property inspected by a professional, or completing the necessary repair.

How Often Are Homes Pending?

Just like any market, real estate sales can be unpredictable. Pending deals can be influenced by several variables, including location, season, and competition.

According to the National Association of Realtors, pending home sales are most popular in the south and least popular in the northeast.

Why Pending Sales Fall Through

About 4% of home sales fall through – or 1 out of 25 houses. When these sales fall apart, the buyers often put the property back up for sale.

There are a few possible reasons why this might happen.

Financing falls through. Before buying your first home, you should first contact a mortgage lender to get either a pre-qual or pre-approval letter. This will let you know how much you can borrow and at what interest rate. A letter of approval requires more work, but it provides more security for the seller. Both letters, however, are not guarantees of receiving the loan. If you lose your job or take on more debts, or your credit situation improves, you may no longer be approved. If rates drop, your qualification may also decrease. If there are any financing contingencies in your offer, both you and the buyer can walk away from the deal without any consequences.

If you believe your loan fell through because of discrimination based on your race, religion, sex, marital status, disability, or age, you should file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau or the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Home inspection reveals major damage. Your dream house might look picture-perfect, but you never know what could be hiding under the surface. This is why most real estate transactions have a home-inspection clause that protects you from purchasing a property with serious damage. If there’s serious structural damage, such as if the foundation is cracked or if the roof is leaking, you can ask the owner to fix it. Or, as an alternative, they can offer to give you money to cover the cost of the repair as a credit at the close. If they won’t fix it or the damage is too much for you to handle, then the sale could fall through.

The appraisal is lower than the sale price. The appraiser will evaluate the value of the house before approving your loan. This is usually determined by comparing your home to other similar properties in the area. They’ll want to make sure it’s worth more than what you’ve agreed to pay for it, so if they ever have to repossess it, they can sell it for a profit. In a hot seller’s market, when prices are being driven up by multiple offers, the appraised value may be lower than the asking price. If this happens, the lender can deny you a loan, or they can require you to make up the difference in cash. If you can’t, the purchase agreement will be voided.

The buyer can’t sell their old home. Sometimes, when a buyer is already a homeowner, they may need to sell the old home to finance their new home. In this case, they might request a 30–60 day window for selling their current house. While this may seem like a long time, it can be helpful to look at other homes in your area to see how long it typically takes them to go under contract.

There are issues with the title. Before a lender will approve the loan, they want to be sure the title is clean and there are no other claims on the property. If a lien or judgment shows up on the house, it may mean the homeowner didn’t pay their property tax or that they owe money to a contractor. If the IRS or a state has a claim on the home, it could mean that the homeowner has unpaid taxes. If any of these issues are discovered, it may take some time to sort them out. Sometimes, however, a buyer will walk away instead of dealing with it.

The home cannot be insured. To secure a mortgage, you have to purchase home insurance. So if the property is uninsured, no mortgage. A property is uninsured if it is inhabitable, which normally means it has some serious damage that needs repairing. If the property’s previous owners had made major insurance claims on the property—because of floods or black mold, for instance—insurers would see that history and may decide not to cover it. Whatever the case, if the house is insured, your mortgage lender will approve the purchase. The only way to do this is to pay for the house with money. And to be frank, if the home is uninsured, it probably isn’t worth buying.

The paperwork is incomplete. There are many moving parts to every house purchase, and it requires a lot of work by many different individuals. If one person fails to perform their task, it can slow down the entire process. For instance, the real estate agent might miss the closing date or fail to hand-deliver the appropriate paperwork. If the fault of the missed deadline can be pinned on the buyer, they will have to pay their seller a daily fee until the closing is complete. If a seller does not agree to a delay, they may cancel the contract.

The buyer or seller gets cold feet. Canceling the sale of your home after it’s been accepted can be a big headache. If there’s a legitimate reason for doing so like if you’ve discovered something during the home inspection that you don’t like, or if your mortgage lender denies your loan application, you’re free to walk away. If there’s no justifiable reason for the cancellation, though, you could find yourself in hot water. If buyers back out, they lose the good faith deposit they put down when they first made an offer. That money is meant as compensation for the time you spent showing the property to potential buyers. If sellers cancel, they open themselves up to legal action. Buyers can sue for breach of contract, and depending on the circumstances, they may be able to collect additional compensation.


If you’re wondering what pending means in real estate, it essentially means that an offer has been accepted and the sale is in progress. However, just because a sale is pending doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed to close. There are many reasons why sales fall through even after they’ve reached the pending stage.

Justin McGill