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What Does Contingent Mean in Real Estate? Contingency Examples (2023)


June 20, 2023

The real estate industry is a complex and dynamic sector that involves significant financial investments and legal considerations. Contingencies play a crucial role in safeguarding the interests of buyers and sellers, mitigating risks, and ensuring transactional security. 

In today’s guide, we will delve into the concept of contingency in real estate, its significance, different types of contingencies, and explore the distinction between contingent and pending statuses. We will also provide relevant statistics and data references that highlight the importance and impact of contingencies in real estate deals.

#1. Understanding the Meaning of Contingent in Real Estate: Definition and Related Terms

In real estate, a contingency is a condition or event that must be fulfilled before a transaction can proceed or become binding. Contingencies are typically included in purchase agreements and contracts to protect the interests of both buyers and sellers. 

They provide an opportunity for either party to back out of a deal or renegotiate terms under specific circumstances, ensuring a fair and secure transaction process.

#1.1. Definition: What Does Contingent Mean in Real Estate?

A contingency in real estate is a condition or action that must be fulfilled for a contract to become legally binding

These contingencies - or deal conditions - are created in order to protect investors, but they can have both positive and negative impacts. 

On one hand, contingencies provide an added layer of security, guarding investors against potential mistakes. On the other hand, excessive reliance on contingencies can hinder the negotiation process

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Sellers may feel overwhelmed if faced with an excessive number of contingencies, which can ultimately hinder the successful completion of a deal.

Since each real estate transaction is unique, every investor has to understand how to effectively incorporate contingencies in the deal they are pursuing. The number and selection of contingencies employed will vary based on the specific deal and property involved, as well as the preferences and requirements of all parties participating in the transaction. 

Finding the right combination of contingencies requires careful consideration of the deal's nature, the fine print of the agreement, and the interests of all involved stakeholders.

#1.2. Contingent vs. Pending Status in Real Estate

In real estate listings, properties are often classified as either "contingent" or "pending". Understanding the distinction between these two statuses is crucial for buyers and sellers and for our present purpose of understanding what does contingent mean in real estate deals. 

Contingent Status in Real Estate: 

When a property is labeled as "contingent," it means that an offer has been accepted by the seller, but certain contingencies are still active. Common contingencies include financing, appraisal, inspection, and others that we will discuss more below. 

The property remains on the market, and other potential buyers can still make backup offers. If the contingencies are not met, the current offer may fall through, making way for a backup offer.

Pending Status in Real Estate: 

A property marked as "pending" indicates that all contingencies have been satisfied or waived, and the transaction is progressing towards completion. In this stage, the sale is considered firm, and the property is no longer actively marketed. 

Pending status suggests that the transaction is nearing its final stages, such as securing financing, finalizing inspections, and preparing for the closing process.

#1.3. Contingency vs. Contingent Listing

In the real estate industry, the terms "contingency" and "contingent listing" are often used to describe different aspects of a property's status during the buying and selling process. Let's explore each term in more detail.

Contingency in Real Estate: 

In real estate, a contingency refers to a condition or event that must be met or satisfied before a transaction can proceed or become binding. These conditions are typically outlined in a purchase agreement or contract and serve to protect the interests of both the buyer and seller. 

Contingencies provide a way for each party to back out of a deal or renegotiate terms if certain circumstances are not met.

Examples of common contingencies include: 

  • financing contingencies (ensuring the buyer secures suitable financing); 
  • appraisal contingencies (ensuring the property's appraised value matches the agreed-upon purchase price); 
  • inspection contingencies (allowing the buyer to conduct a professional inspection and request repairs or negotiate based on the findings);
  • title contingencies (ensuring the seller has clear ownership and marketable title to the property).

During the contingency period, the buyer typically has a specified timeframe to fulfill the conditions outlined in the contingencies. 

If all contingencies are met and satisfied, the transaction moves forward toward closing. If any contingencies are not fulfilled, either party may have the option to terminate the contract.

Contingent Listing in Real Estate: 

A contingent listing refers to a property that is currently under contract but has certain contingencies that have not been fully satisfied. When a property is listed as contingent, it means that an offer has been accepted by the seller, but the sale is contingent upon specific conditions being met. These conditions may include financing, inspection, or other contingencies outlined in the purchase agreement.

While a property is listed as contingent, it remains on the market, and other potential buyers can still make backup offers. If the contingencies are not satisfied or waived within the specified timeframe, the current offer may fall through, allowing the seller to consider backup offers. Once all contingencies are met, the property's status may change to "pending."

In summary, a contingency refers to a condition or event that must be met before a real estate transaction can proceed, while a contingent listing indicates that a property is under contract but still subject to specific contingencies. Both terms are essential in the real estate process, ensuring transparency, protection, and flexibility for buyers and sellers.

#2. The Most Common 8 Types of Real Estate Contingencies:

common types of contingencies in real estate
Here are the 4 most common types of real estate contingencies, courtesy of NYRentOwnSell

#2.1. Financing Contingency: 

A common contingency in real estate deals is the financing contingency. This clause allows the buyer to withdraw from the purchase agreement if they are unable to secure suitable financing within a specified period. 

According to a report by the National Association of Realtors, approximately 76% of home purchase contracts in 2022 had financing contingencies.

#2.2. Appraisal Contingency: 

An appraisal contingency permits the buyer to back out of the deal if the appraised value of the property falls short of the agreed-upon purchase price. This contingency protects buyers from overpaying for a property. 

According to a survey conducted by the National Association of Realtors, 82% of contracts in 2022 had appraisal contingencies.

#2.3. Home Inspection Contingency: 

An inspection contingency empowers the buyer to hire a professional inspector to assess the property's condition. If significant issues or defects are discovered, the buyer can request repairs, negotiate a lower price, or withdraw from the agreement altogether. 

The same survey by the National Association of Realtors revealed that 79% of contracts in 2022 had inspection contingencies.

#2.4. Title Contingency: 

A title contingency ensures that the seller possesses a clear and marketable title to the property. If any liens, claims, or encumbrances are discovered during the title search process, the buyer can request their removal or terminate the contract. 

#2.5. Right To Assign Contingency: 

A right to assign contingency is especially useful for top-level real estate investors who are looking for larger assets, as it provides them with the option to back out of the deal if they are unable to assign the contract to another buyer within a pre-agreed timeline.

#2.6. House Sale Contingency: 

This type of contingency provides a pre-agreed deadline for the buyers to finalize the sale of their current home, in order to be able to afford completing the buy of this new asset they wish to own.

According to the same study, 20% of all real estate contracts in 2022 had a home sale contingency clause added to them. 

#2.7. Kick-Out Clause: 

The kick-out clause helps to protect sellers when their buyers use a house sale contingency for too long, allowing them to back out of the deal if they find a new buyer that can afford to buy the property sooner.

#2.8. Home Insurance Contingency: 

This type of real estate contingency makes the buyer purchase a home insurance in order for the deal to go through. It is sometimes added to the contract by the seller or required by the lender (usually, a bank that finances a mortgage).

#.3. Rules of Contingencies in Real Estate (for Sellers):

Rule 1: Contingency Contracts Are Always Conditional: 

The enforceability of a contingency contract relies on the completion or avoidance of specific tasks. These contingencies, which can vary in type, determine the ongoing validity of a real estate contract. 

Take homeowner's insurance, for instance. If the property experiences a flood, the insurance agency will pay a certain amount to help with the repairs. 

However, this payment is contingent on the occurrence of property damage. Without a flood, the insurance company has no obligation to provide funds. In essence, contingency contracts are contingent upon specific conditions.

Rule 2: Base Contingencies on Specific Events: 

For a contingency contract to be effective, the contingencies must be precise and measurable. For instance, a real estate contingency cannot simply state that the property needs improvement, as this leaves room for interpretation. 

Instead, a more explicit contingency might be that the property will be sold if the seller repairs the leaky pipes before the closing date. This specific contingency leaves no ambiguity and provides a clear benchmark for fulfillment.

Rule 3: Contingencies Need Deadlines: 

The real estate closing process operates within a time-sensitive framework, and investors typically prefer not to prolong the deal indefinitely. It is therefore crucial to establish deadlines for contingencies when appropriate. 

This helps ensure that the closing process proceeds smoothly and holds both parties accountable for meeting the agreed-upon contingencies within a specified timeframe.

Rule 4: The Agreement Should Be Binding: 

Investors should take the necessary steps to make a contingency contract official and legally binding. This protects all parties involved and ensures that each contingency is duly fulfilled. At the closing table, it is vital to go beyond verbal assurances. 

Putting each contingency in writing and ensuring mutual understanding creates a robust foundation for meeting all conditions and establishes a framework for action if any contingencies are not met.

#4. Benefits of Contingencies in Real Estate Transactions:

Contingencies provide significant advantages to both buyers and sellers in real estate transactions.

#4.1. Risk Mitigation: 

Contingencies allow parties to identify and mitigate potential risks associated with a property. They provide an exit strategy if unfavorable circumstances arise during the transaction, such as inadequate financing terms, structural issues, or legal complications. 

This risk mitigation aspect is crucial considering the fluctuating nature of real estate markets and the potential for unforeseen challenges.

#4.2. Flexibility and Negotiation: 

Contingencies offer flexibility in negotiating and modifying the terms of the agreement. If a contingency is triggered, it opens the door for renegotiating the purchase price, requesting repairs or improvements, or seeking alternative solutions. 

This flexibility allows parties to find mutually agreeable solutions and maintain a fair and transparent transaction process, contributing to a smoother and more satisfactory outcome.

#4.3. Transactional Security: 

Contingencies provide a level of security for both buyers and sellers. They ensure that parties can proceed with confidence, knowing that their interests are protected. 

Real estate contingencies allow buyers to perform due diligence and confirm the property's suitability before committing financially. For sellers, contingencies can help validate the buyer's seriousness and financial capacity, reducing the likelihood of a failed or problematic transaction.

#5. Contingencies in Real Estate - Key Figures for More Context

The significance of contingencies in real estate deals is evident from the following statistics and data references:

According to a survey conducted by the National Association of Realtors in 2023, roughly 79% of contracts had contingencies of at least one type, emphasizing their widespread use and importance in real estate transactions.

frequency of types of contingencies in real estate contracts
Data source: NAR Realtor Confidence Index.

The same survey revealed that financing contingencies were present in 76% of home purchase contracts, highlighting the importance of securing suitable financing for buyers.

Appraisal contingencies were found in 82% of contracts, underscoring the role of appraised property value in determining the feasibility and fairness of a transaction.

Inspection contingencies were present in 79% of contracts, emphasizing the need for buyers to thoroughly assess a property's condition and identify any potential issues before finalizing the purchase.

Home sale contingencies were included in approximately 20% of real estate contracts, illustrating the importance of clear and marketable titles to ensure smooth property ownership transfers.

Only 28% of all real estate contracts concluded in the past year were all-cash transactions, which means that in the current real estate market, mortgages and loans still dominate the landscape. 

How Do We Do it at MetaWealth?

The beauty of the fractionalized real estate investments brought to you by MetaWealth is that you have zero headaches with contingencies and with paperwork in general. 

It’s our job to review any contingencies present in the deals for the real estate assets we bring to you for fractional investment. In some cases, we want contingencies to be present for safeguarding our investors, and make sure everything is done right: research and underwriting, insurance, valuation (done in collaboration with Colliers International) and so on.

In other cases, we skip them altogether because we don’t need them, for example there’s no financing contingency on the assets we bring to the app, because we are committed to offer our investors only debt-free assets. 

Find out more about how MetaWealth investments work or try our app directly HERE

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Bottom line on what contingent means in real estate:

Contingencies play a vital role in real estate transactions by mitigating risks, ensuring transactional security, and facilitating negotiations between buyers and sellers. The inclusion of contingencies in purchase agreements allows parties to protect their interests and make informed decisions. That's what the concept of contingency means in real estate, or, at least, what its end goal is.

At the same time, having too many contingencies in a real estate contract, or having contingencies with too complex terms, can have a harmful effect on the fluidity of transactions, especially when we’re discussing investing in real estate for its own sake, not just when looking for a new home. 

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