Lucky you, you’ve received an excellent offer on your house, and you’re on the home stretch to selling your home. Well hold your horses for a bit, as there’s always a chance, however small it might be, that your offer could fall through, particularly if there are contingencies involved. 

How often do contingent offers fall through? 

Unfortunately it’s true that a small contingent of contingent offers do sometimes fall through, and that can be a result of either the buyer or the seller. According to Homego, roughly 1.4% to 4.3% of home sales fall through. Zillow states that 3.9% of home sales fall through, and this number has been increasing over time. Based on these two ranges, it looks like about 4% of home sales hit the skids. That means of course that the vast majority of offers still go through, however, 4% is not an insignificant amount, and offers do still fail. 

What does it mean when an offer is contingent? 

During the time your home is under contract, many different things will be going on, including the buyer and seller working together with their real estate agents to resolve any possible contingencies on the offer. If the word “contingent” is used with your listing, it means the buyer and seller are working through any contingencies that were a part of the offer, and there are a number of different kinds.

Contingencies affecting buyers

Here are some of the more common contingencies facing buyers on their purchase of a house.

Financing

One of the most common reasons an offer can be tricky is an unanticipated issue with the buyer’s financing. Typically, if a buyer has already been pre-approved for a mortgage loan by their lender, this is something that happens post pre-approval, such as a change in the buyer’s employment status, a new negative credit issue that wasn’t determined before or that arose later, accrual of additional debts that made the pre-approval not make sense, or it could even be a change in lender guidelines that all of a sudden no longer allow the buyer to qualify for the loan.  

If the buyer is unable to work through this contingency, then the seller can back out. 

First right of refusal

This is often where the buyer is trying to sell their own house and buy a new house at the same time, and the seller is trying to protect themselves from waiting for the buyer to sell their old house. The seller and the buyer therefore agree that the seller can accept additional offers, providing the prospective buyer with a first-right-of-refusal notice to perform in the event the seller receives an additional offer on the house. The “perform” in this contingency typically means that the buyer must sell their previous house prior to being able to continue with buying the seller’s house, and it must happen in a particular period of time that satisfies the seller. 

If the buyer is unable to perform, then the seller can back out. 

Kick out

Similar to the first-right-of-refusal contingency, this is when the seller builds a clause into the contract that allows the seller to get out of the contract most generally if the buyer is taking too long to sell their previous house. The difference between this contingency and the first-right-of-refusal is that the seller isn’t always continuing to market their house, but they are still waiting for the buyer to perform. 

And if the buyer isn’t able to perform under this contingency as well, then the seller can again back out. 

Contingencies affecting sellers

Here are some of the more common contingencies facing sellers on their sale of their home. 

Appraisal 

In markets where there’s limited housing inventory, sometimes called a “seller’s market,” bidding wars can potentially raise prices beyond actual home values. This can then sometimes lead to financing trouble for the buyer when the house’s appraisal report comes back. Often the buyer’s lender won’t finance a home for more than the appraised amount, leaving the buyer in an awkward position. 

If the buyer really wants the house, then they can fill the gap with cash, request the seller lower the price, or the buyer can back out. 

Inspection

An important part of just about every home purchase is the inspection of the house to ensure everything is in working order and that the seller has disclosed everything to their knowledge. A home inspection contingency allows potential buyers to renegotiate the price, should the inspection reveal unexpected flaws, or ask for the seller to make the necessary repairs to keep the offer price the same. 

If the seller doesn’t satisfactorily meet the requirements of the buyer, post-inspection, then the buyer can back out. 

Title

Before closing is reached on a house, the buyer’s lender will check the house to ensure there are no liens or outstanding financial responsibilities on a property that could face the buyer, should they take over the house. If these liens or other financial issues are major and previously undisclosed, then this can seriously affect the length of time it takes to close.

If a title report reveals issues with the title for the seller, then the buyer can back out.

How to keep contingent offers from falling through

As a seller

  • Select the safest offer – In the case of multiple offers made on a seller’s house, it’s important for the seller to consider the advantages and disadvantages of each offer. The seller should consider prioritizing the offers with the fewest contingencies on the table. 
  • Avoid contingent sale offers – If the seller accepts a buyer sale contingency, there’s not much they can do other than wait for their potential buyer to close on their current home. This can take too much time. 
  • Perform a pre-inspection – The seller should anticipate surprises ahead of time by doing a professional pre-inspection to ensure whatever could present an issue in the inspection is noted and either repaired or documented in order to present to any potential buyer. 

As a buyer

  • Lock up financing – When the buyer gets pre-approved and gets ready to head into the home buying process, they should ensure their finances are water-tight both for their loan and for buying the house they love. 
  • Sell the old house first – Before jumping into buying a new house, it might be a better idea to sell the old house first, so that the seller can’t continue to entertain additional offers or force the buyer into selling their old house quickly in order to commit. 
  • Do the homework – If the buyer is careful and their agent is investigative, many things can be discovered about the house the buyer wants to purchase before making an offer and going under contract. This will save time for everybody, including both the buyer and the seller.