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Understanding Why Under Contract Homes May Fall Apart

By Bill Gassett | September 11, 2023

Real estate transactions involve multiple stages, with "under contract" being a critical phase. It's a pivotal point where the homebuyer and seller have agreed on price and terms, but the deal has not yet closed. However, not all homes under contract successfully transition to a successful sale.

We will explore why under-contract homes may fall apart and clarify the difference between "under contract" and "pending" status in real estate.

Under Contract vs. Pending: Clarifying the Difference

Before we explore why homes under contract sometimes fail to close, we must understand the difference between under contract and pending. Maximum Real Estate Exposure is valuable for decerning the differences between these two listing statuses.

Under contract fall through

Under Contract

When a home is "under contract," the buyer and seller have agreed on the terms of the sale, but the transaction has not yet been completed. During this stage, various contingencies, inspections, and other conditions may need to be met before the sale is finalized.

An under-contract status does not guarantee that the deal will go through. Many sales will never make it to the closing due to various contingencies.

Real Estate agents make the status of houses contingent when a contract has been executed.

It is possible to buy a home when it is contingent. However, the sale would need to fall through for a second buyer to purchase. It does happen, so buyers who may have been interested need to stay on their toes.

In some states, the listing status is called "active under contract."

Pending Status

A "pending" status indicates that all contingencies have been satisfied and the sale is in the final stages of completion. In a pending status, the deal's chances of falling apart are considerably lower than in under-contract homes.

Now that we've clarified these two statuses, let's explore why homes under contract may fall apart.

Common Reasons Under Contract Homes Fall Apart

In the world of real estate, the transition from "under contract" to a successful sale can be a delicate process, fraught with potential challenges. Understanding why under-contract homes may fall apart is essential for buyers and sellers.

Here are the key factors that can disrupt the path to a closed real estate deal:

Financing Issues

One of the most prevalent causes of deals falling through is financing problems. The buyer may not secure a mortgage loan with the terms initially agreed upon, or the lender may withdraw their offer due to changes in the buyer's financial situation.

It is also possible for a mortgage preapproval to expire. Additionally, low appraisals can lead to financing issues as they can affect the agreed-upon price.

Home Inspection Concerns

Home inspections are crucial to the buying process. If significant issues arise during the review that the seller is unwilling to address or negotiate, the buyer might decide to terminate the contract.

Appraisal Shortfalls

If the property appraisal comes in lower than the agreed-upon purchase price, it can create a discrepancy between the buyer's expectations and the lender's willingness to provide financing. This discrepancy can lead to renegotiations or contract cancellations.

In real estate sales, it is called an appraisal gap.

Title Problems

Issues related to the property's title, such as unresolved liens, disputes over property boundaries, or undisclosed easements, can derail a sale. These issues must be resolved before the transaction can proceed.

Buyer's Remorse

Sometimes, buyers may experience second thoughts or buyer's remorse after entering a contract. This emotional aspect can lead to contract cancellations, although less common.

Seller's Reluctance

Sellers may return from a deal if they receive a better offer or encounter difficulties finding a suitable replacement property. This can disrupt the sale process. The seller will likely not prevail if the buyer sues for performance.

Contingency Expiration

Contracts often have deadlines for various contingencies, such as financing approval, home inspection, or selling the buyer's current home. If these deadlines are not met, the contract may become void.

Buyers need to be very careful with understanding crucial contract milestones. They could lose their earnest money deposit by not performing or asking for an extension.

Market Conditions

Shifts in the real estate market, such as an unexpected drop in property values, can lead to buyers reconsidering their purchase. Economic downturns or changing circumstances can make a previously attractive deal less appealing.

Warning Signs to Look For

Recognizing warning signs early in real estate can help buyers and sellers avoid disappointment and wasted time.

Here are some key warning signs to be on the lookout for when a home is under contract:

Delays in Meeting Contingencies

Contingencies are crucial safeguards in real estate contracts. If either party consistently fails to meet deadlines for contingencies, it may indicate a lack of commitment or unresolved issues. Pay close attention to inspection timelines, financing, and other contingencies outlined in the contract.

Communication Breakdown

Effective communication is the cornerstone of any successful real estate transaction. It can be a red flag if either party begins to withhold information, become unresponsive, or show reluctance to engage in constructive dialogue.

Transparent and open communication is essential for resolving potential issues promptly.

Repeated Renegotiations

While some renegotiations are a normal part of the process, an excessive number can signal trouble. Frequent back-and-forth negotiations on price, repairs, or other terms can indicate underlying disagreements or dissatisfaction with the deal.

Seller Continues to Market The Property

If the seller continues actively marketing the property even after accepting an offer and entering into a contract, it could be a sign that they are not fully committed to the current deal. This behavior may lead to uncertainty and instability in the transaction.

Buyer's Financing Challenges

Keep a close eye on the buyer's progress with securing financing. Frequent requests for extensions or delays in providing required financial documents may indicate that the buyer is encountering difficulties obtaining a loan.

Buyer's mortgage preapproval letters are only valid for 60-90 days. Keep this in mind if you suspect problems.

Unresolved Inspection Issues

If the home inspection reveals significant problems, and the parties cannot agree on how to address them, it can create a roadblock. Failure to resolve inspection issues can result in the contract falling apart.

Legal or Title Complications

 Legal issues related to the property's title can lead to contract cancellations. Unresolved liens, disputes, or title discrepancies should be addressed promptly to prevent the deal from collapsing.

Market Shifts

Keep an eye on the broader real estate market. Significant changes, such as a sudden drop in property values, can influence buyer or seller motivations. Buyers may want to renegotiate if they perceive a market decline, while sellers might consider other options.

Buyer's Remorse

If the buyer experiences buyer's remorse and doubts about the purchase, it's essential to address their concerns promptly. Ignoring these feelings can lead to contract termination.

Inconsistent Behavior

Any inconsistent behavior from either party, such as erratic decision-making or frequent changes in terms, can signal instability in the transaction. Consistency and reliability are crucial throughout the under-contract phase.

Final Thoughts

The journey from "under contract" to a successful closing can be complex and precarious in real estate. Understanding the difference between "under contract" and "pending" status is crucial, as it sets the stage for expectations during the transaction.

Under-contracting homes may fall apart for various reasons, from financing issues and inspection concerns to unforeseen market shifts. Navigating these potential pitfalls requires open communication between all parties involved and a thorough understanding of the contract's terms and conditions.

Ultimately, a knowledgeable and experienced real estate agent can play a pivotal role in ensuring a smooth transition from under contract to a successful sale.

Bill Gassett is an authority in the real estate industry with 38 years of experience. Bill is well respected for his informative articles for buyers, sellers, and fellow real estate agents to make sound decisions. His work has been featured on RIS Media, the National Association of Realtors, Inman News, Newsbreak, Credit Sesame, Realty Biz News, and his own authoritative resource, Maximum Real Estate Exposure. He has been on of the top RE/MAX agents in New England over the last two decades.
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