The Phrase You Never Want to See in a Real Estate Listing

published Dec 12, 2023
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Rear view of a man looking for new houses on sale online. Young man using a real estate website on the laptop
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My husband and I don’t have immediate plans to move — hello, high mortgage rates! — but that doesn’t stop me from browsing house listings. 

Recently, I came across a gorgeous, recently remodeled home in Asbury Park, New Jersey. The first line of the listing sent chills up my spine, but not in a good way. It said, “Under contract continue to show.” In other words, the house was already spoken for, but other buyers were welcome to come and take a look. 

Even though I’m just a looky-loo at this point, I was annoyed on behalf of actual buyers. Was it even worth it to get their hopes up that they could still buy this home? I wanted to find out what this phrase — sometimes written as “pending/continue to show” — actually means, so I talked to some real estate agents. Here’s what I learned.

What to Know When Viewing a House Under Contract

“If a home is listed as ‘under contract continue to show,’ it means the deal is uncertain to make it to the closing table,” says Fran Lisner, real estate agent with Daniel Gale, Sotheby’s International Realty. “The contract may have terms and contingencies that could cause the deal to fall through, and the seller is showing to solicit backup offers.”

I looked at the property’s price history, and there appeared to have been not one, but two pending offers fall through in the past six months. Ouch. It made sense that the seller — or, rather, the seller’s agent — didn’t want to take any chances this time. 

Erin Hybart, a real estate agent in Zachary, Louisiana, will encourage her sellers to use the phrase “because you have to be prepared for anything and everything in real estate.” Ultimately, her job is to get the sellers the best offer for their home. In addition to potential backup offers, the pending status allows her some insight into what agents and buyers are looking for in that area or price range. It also lets her throw down the “seller is not desperate card,” as she calls it.

“If the deal falls through and the property has to go back to the market, having a backup offer or reaching out to agents with buyers for the property could save time,” Hybart says. “Sometimes a day in real estate could change the market entirely. I can’t take that chance.”

Should Buyers Get Their Hopes Up?

Nikki Beauchamp, licensed associate real estate broker at Sotheby’s International Realty, says while you don’t have to pass up that listing completely, it does help to get more information, if possible, about what’s going on behind the scenes. In particular, it’s worth asking if the tactic is to solicit backup offers — and, most importantly, what kind of offer a seller would accept and move forward with.

Still, Beauchamp notes this isn’t the most ideal of situations for buyers. “I can understand being skittish about the situation and would seek to obtain as much clarity as possible,” she says. 

Hybart says that if that pending status makes a potential buyer a little nervous, that’s the point. If the buyer really wants the house, they’ll make the best offer they can — and not just in terms of the price. She’s also known buyers to make fewer demands with home inspection requests when a house is listed as pending. 

“In the end, real estate is all about strategy and is heavily entangled in the psychology of people,” Hybart says. “It is also the reason I personally choose to rarely represent the seller and buyer in the same transaction.”

Lisner says if you are indeed interested in the house, go see it in person and then make a strong offer. “Just remember not to put all your hopes on that one deal,” she says. “Because there’s still a chance the current contract will proceed, it’s smart to keep exploring other options and not put all your eggs in one basket.”