What Is a Contingency in a Real Estate Contract?

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Definition
A contingency is a provision in a real estate contract that makes the contract null and void if a certain event were to occur. Think of it as an escape clause that can be used under defined circumstances. It's also sometimes known as a condition.

Key Takeaways

  • Contingencies are conditions in a contract that must be met in order for a property sale to go through.
  • Most contingencies are designed to protect the buyer. 
  • If the contingency isn't met, the buyer can walk away without losing any money or paying fees.

How Contingencies in Real Estate Work

A purchase agreement between two parties can list out a number of clauses that must be met in order for the property sale to take place. If any of the contingenciesare not met, the relevant party can back out of the deal without any financial or legal repercussions. 

Types of Real Estate Contingencies

There are many different types of contingency clauses in real estate transactions, though some are more common than others.

Mortgage Approval Contingency 

A contract will typically spell out that the transaction will only be completed if the buyer's mortgage is approved with substantially the same terms and numbers as are stated in the contract. In other words, if the contract specifies a down payment of 30 percent and a conventional 30-year loan, that's what should be approved by the lender. Usually, that's what happens, though sometimes a buyer will be offered a different deal and the terms will change.

The type of loans, such as VA or FHA, might also be specified in the contract. So too might be the terms for the mortgage. For example, there might be a clause stating: "This contract is contingent upon the Buyer successfully obtaining a mortgage loan at an interest rate of 6 percent or less." That means if rates rise suddenly, making 6 percent financing no longer available, the contract would no longer be binding on either the buyer or the seller.

Note

A mortgage approval contingency protects buyers from losing their earnest money deposit if they aren't approved for a mortgage with the terms they initially expected.

Insurance Approval 

A buyer would not want to close on a home—and the lender definitely would not close on it—if the buyer was unable to get homeowner's insurance. That's why most contracts include an insurance contingency.

The buyer should immediately apply for insurance to meet deadlines for a refund of earnest money if the home can't be insured for some reason. Sometimes past claims for mold or other issues can result in trouble getting an affordable policy on a residence.

Appraisal Contingency 

An appraisal contingency allows the buyer to walk away from the deal if the appraisal comes in lower than the selling price. Should the appraisal come in lower, another negotiation might become necessary to see if the seller will lower the price to make up the difference. In a seller's market, the buyer may opt to waive the contingency or pay the difference in cash, since a lender cannot loan more than the house's value. If an agreement cannot be made, this circumstance could void the contract.

Closing Date 

The completion of the transaction is typically contingent upon its closing on or before a specified date. Let's say that the buyer's lender develops a problem and can't provide the mortgage funds by the closing/funding date cited in the contract. 

Technically, the seller can back out, although the closing date is usually just extended. However, if the seller has another, higher offer waiting in the wings, he might want to enforce the contingency, using it as a way to leave the current agreement and accept the better offer.

Inspection Discoveries 

Some real estate deals might be contingent upon the buyer accepting the property "as is." It is common in foreclosure deals where the property may have experienced some wear and tear or neglect. 

More often, though, there are various inspection-related contingencies with specified due dates and requirements. These allow the buyer to demand new terms or repairs should the inspection uncover certain issues with the property – and to walk away from the deal if they aren't met. The seller can then either accept or reject those terms; rejecting them would also terminate the contract unless the buyer responds with another counter.

Note

Your real estate agent should help you track all of the contingency-related deadlines in your contract so you don't miss any important action items.  

Satisfactory Walk-Through 

Often, there's a clause specifying the transaction will close only if the buyer is satisfied with a final walk-through of the property (often the day before the closing). It is to make sure the property has not suffered some damage since the time the contract was entered into, or to ensure that any negotiated fixing of inspection-uncovered problems has been carried out.

Sale of Another Home Contingency 

Sometimes the buyer is only able to close if he can get funds from the sale of his current home, which is usually under contract at the time he enters into the deal for the new home. So he makes the new deal contingent upon successful completion of his old place. A seller accepting this clause may depend on how confident she is of receiving other offers for her property.

The Bottom Line

It's normal for a number of contingencies to appear in most real estate contracts and transactions. Either the seller or the buyer can propose a condition on just about anything; it's all part of the bargaining back-and-forth. Still, some contingencies are more standard than others, appearing in just about every contract. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Can a seller back out of a contingent offer?

It depends on what contingencies are in the contract. One of the most seller-friendly contingencies is the condition that they find another home to move to before finalizing the sale of their current house.

What is a seven-day contingency?

This contingency gives the buyer seven days to complete a home inspection and negotiate any repairs or pricing with the seller. Each state has its own rules on this contingency period so it's smart to check with a real estate agent or real estate attorney to understand the rules in your locale.

Updated by
Lauren Ward
Lauren Ward
Lauren Ward has over 10 years of experience writing about personal finance topics, including estate planning, investing, real estate, and more. She has written hundreds of articles and ghostwritten three e-books in the financial space. Her work has appeared in Time, MSN News, HerMoney, and other online publications.
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Sources
The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Cornell Law School Legal Information Institute. "Contingency."

  2.  Pulgini & Norton, LLP, "Insurance Contingency Clauses."

  3. National Association of Realtors, "December 2021 REALTORS Confidence Index Survey."

  4. Texas Professional Real Estate Inspectors Association, "Home Inspection Survival Guide."

  5. Texas Real Estate Commission. "Addendum For Sale of Other Property By Buyer to Contract Concerning The Property At."

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