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Buying

My Dream Home Is Pending Sale -- Am I Too Late?

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So you're perusing listings and finally you find it: Staring back at you from your laptop screen is the perfect place you've been dreaming about.

It's in the right location, has all the amenities you're looking for, and still, somehow, fits in your budget. There's just one problem: It's pending sale.

Does that mean you're too late? Is it entirely hands off? Or do you still have a shot?

The short answer: If a home you love is pending sale, don't give up hope.

"'Pending' does not mean 'sold,'" says Joy Triglia, broker and CEO of Century 21 Universal Luxury in Fort Lauderdale, FL.

"Pending" means the seller has an offer but hasn't closed yet. (This is different from a contingent sale.) A property is placed in pending status the minute a contract is executed. But there's still a chance the home can be up for grabs again -- say, if the inspection doesn't check out or the buyer can't pull together the financing.

Until the sale is a done deal, there's still an opportunity to land that magical, marvelous dream home. In fact, there's more wiggle room than you might expect, particularly if you're looking in a market that's competitive. Many sellers will want to hold out for the best bid -- and that bid could be yours.

Here are five ways you can improve your odds, swoop in, and steal that home out from under someone else.

Make your interest known

Think you're wasting your real estate agent's time when asking about a pending home? Think again.

"Many seller's agents will continue to show the property to potential buyers up until the very last minute, in hopes of obtaining an even more compelling offer," says Gary Malin, president of Citi Habitats in New York City.

Make sure your agent knows how in love you are with the home. You'll want to be first in line in case any issues crop up with the pending sale.

"Remember: Until the ink dries on the contract, no transaction is legally binding," Malin says.

Get the dirt

While you're at it, call the listing agent. The agent might have some insight on parts of the deal that aren't firm. Try to suss out how many other offers there are and whether there are any potential concerns about the initial bid. You can use those to your advantage in your own bid.

"You need to get on the listing agent's radar screen -- and stay there," Malin says. "If the agreed-upon deadline to close the sale passes, it's time to take action -- and fast."

Try driving through the neighborhood to learn as much about the home and the community as possible. Do your homework. Google the address, check out property tax records, or go on PropertyShark and see what comes up. You may never need the intel, but who knows when details might help sway the odds in your favor. You could think of it as getting a head start on your research in case the initial deal does fall through.

Negotiate to beat the other buyer's deal

This doesn't necessarily mean putting in a higher bid -- although that can certainly help.

If -- and only if -- you're financially comfortable, you could consider offering more than the asking price. But you can also try presenting convenient terms to the seller. Maybe you want to agree to waive a mortgage contingency, pay closing costs, or offer flexible moving dates. Being open to negotiation is one of the best things you can do to improve your odds, Malin notes.

"It helps make the case that you are serious about the property," Malin says. "Your goal is to convey a sense of urgency to the current owner and make your offer, quite simply, hard to refuse."

Use a personal touch

If you're certain that this place is your dream home, tell the seller. Send a handwritten letter explaining why you want the property, and your hopes for it. That human connection could be a significant factor in the seller's decision.

Be aggressive with a capital A

Err on the side of being pushy and tenacious, even if that isn't your normal style. That way if the initial sale does fall through, you'll be the obvious next bid. Be available for phone calls, check your email, and follow up with your agent often.

"If the seller has a sense the competing would-be buyer is dragging their feet -- or has any other seeds of doubt about their offer -- this aggressive approach may end up tipping the scale in your favor," Malin advises.

So the next time you see that pending sale icon, don't despair. Just be prepared to work a little bit harder for your fantasy home.