I'm Buying My First Home and The One I Want Is Under Contract. Now What?

When you're buying your first home, finding the right one isn't alway easy. So, what happens when you find it, but it's under contract? Should you give up on this house or keep hoping?

What does it mean when the sign out front says "under contract?"

Does it mean you definitely can't have that house? Or is there still a chance? Well, don't get too excited, because "under contract" means exactly that: another buyer has submitted a contract and the seller has accepted. If there are contingencies—and those contingencies aren't met—the house will be back on the market, but it isn't likely.

So why do Realtors put those signs out there anyway? Well, some of them like the way it makes them look to other potential clients, especially if the contract happens soon after the house goes on the market. But other real estate agents and home sellers prefer that the "for sale" sign remain up until the deal is done. 

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Why leave a sale sign up when the contract is already in hand?

There are a couple reasons. The listing agent might not want to miss any of the calls she might get as a result of that "for sale" sign. Even if that house is no longer available, she may have something else similar and that one call nets her a new client. As a home seller, you might want to leave the sale sign up on the off chance that the contract does fall through. Having to remove "under contract" and replace it with "for sale" might make potential buyers think something's wrong with your house. Because the new sign doesn't have enough room for "contract withdrawn because the buyers didn't qualify for as much house as they wanted, darn-it."

What's the difference between "sale pending" and "under contract?"

"Sale pending" usually means all the conditions of the sale have been met except the actual closing. An agent might want it there, once again, to show how well he's doing, and to keep his contact info out there. As a home owner, the sign doesn't really hurt. In fact, the alternative—taking the sign down entirely—might mean the neighbors will amble over to ask what happened. If you like your neighbors, that's great! But if you love your privacy, you're just inviting questions. As a courtesy to your agent, especially if he's done a great job, it might be nice to let them leave the "sale pending" sign up followed by a big, happy "SOLD" sign, which is what you both really wanted to see. So why not celebrate a little?