Basic Guide to Purchasing a Home

This document is intended to be a general guide to the home buying process in Massachusetts. It is a general guide and does not mean that when buying a home, the process may not deviate from this document.

Narrowing Down Your Location

In the beginning of your home search it is important to decide what your needs are; i.e., are schools important, do you want to be able to walk to a center, is being near public transportation important, etc. A useful way to get started is by visiting various town or city websites. Using the "Quick Search" on my homepage will help you become familiar with all the available inventory. Once you narrow your search another useful tool that realtors use is the Web Program. This program is designed to search for your specific criteria. A realtor can put you into this program and you will receive a daily update via email with new, sold and under agreement listings. This is a convenient way to follow the marketplace and keep abreast of listings and sales with regard to your specific criteria.

Working with an Agent

A buyer expects to be able to rely on his or her agent as a market resource. Informed agents know their territory and its housing stock. It is important, early on in the relationship between buyer and agent, that the buyer be satisfied with the “market smarts” of his/her agent. Agent selection is important. A buyer needs to feel secure and trust his/her agent. If you have not been referred to an agent by someone, ask for references from the agent. A buyer's agent works in the best interest of the buyer.

Understanding You the Buyer

Good brokers are invariably good listeners. When buyers are straightforward and have a reasonable vision of what they are seeking to achieve in a home purchase, there is no justification for an agent trying to match customers to inappropriate properties. To help your agent better understand your needs, it is sometimes useful to put in writing your wish list, your financial capability, your timetable for making a purchase, and a list of properties you may have already seen (with some comments on each). Once your agent develops a sense of what you are seeking, he or she will be monitoring, on a daily basis, new listings coming on the market and advising you if any appear to be a good fit.

When selecting a broker it is common sense to deal with one who is fully committed to serving his or her clientele. Staying on top of an active market means tracking new sales listings and following price reductions on a 7 days-a-week basis. Working with an agent who works less than full-time is usually not to a buyer’s advantage.

Managing the Buying Process

In the last ten years the process of purchasing property has become much more involved. For the most part, these changes have been beneficial to both buyers and sellers. Today, it is the norm for buyers to purchase property with a series of contingencies that often involve provisions for structural inspections, condo document review, hazardous waste material issues, lead paint etc. An experienced broker goes beyond the initial negotiating dynamics and document execution to thoroughly following through on the post-offer contingencies.

Agency Disclosure

By Massachusetts State regulation, agents are required to disclose the party that they are representing.

You should be asked to sign a Mandatory Agency Disclosure prior to looking at property. This is not a contract. It merely states whom the agent is representing. Definitions of different kinds of agency are explained on the back of the Agency Disclosure.


You need to be in touch with a financial institution to provide you with a pre-approval letter (usually subject to certain conditions). It makes good sense for a purchaser to establish him or herself as a strong buyer by getting their financing in line before making an offer. In doing so, the buyer will be viewed more favorably by the seller during the offer process. You do not need to obtain your mortgage from the same lender you receive your pre-approval. Many buyers will shop for a competitive rate after an offer has been accepted. Realtors typically work with certain lenders and can give recommendations. For many buyers, the pre-approval process confirms the amount of the mortgage they qualify for and what their monthly mortgage payments will be. Even if you are a cash buyer, you will need some type of pre-approval or “proof of funds” letter.

Making an Offer

Deciding to make an offer, and deciding on its amount and timing, can be an anxious time. For some buyers, the excitement of choosing a home may begin to fade when faced with the prospect of actually committing to a property by submitting an Offer To Purchase document. While for those who have bought and sold homes, this may be a less daunting moment than for the first time buyer, it still requires more than casual reflection. The terms of an Offer should be a function of one's budget, how much you like and want the property, and how you see it comparing in value to similar properties.

Offer to Purchase

In Massachusetts it is common real estate practice for an offer to be made using an Offer To Purchase document. As a buyer, you may be inclined to want to “sound a seller out” by suggesting a price verbally through your realtor. Do not be surprised if the seller will only deal with offers in writing and accompanied by a deposit or “earnest money”. That way, terms other than simply the selling price (like settlement date, financing, and inspections) are spelled out. Obviously, price is important but there are additional terms that can make an offer attractive. No offer is binding unless in writing.


In a residential sale it is typical practice for an initial binder check of $1,000 (made payable to the escrow account of a broker or lawyer) to accompany the written offer form. It is normal for this check to be deposited if and when the offer is accepted. Additional deposit funds of at least 5% of the purchase price (to be applied against the total purchase price) are usually due upon the signing of the Purchase and Sale Agreement. There are occasions when a seller may accept less than 5%.


Many buyers need to obtain a mortgage in order to bring sufficient funds to close on their purchase. For this reason, many offers are contingent upon financing of a stated amount. A time limit is set in the offer for obtaining the mortgage commitment, which is a guarantee you are approved for closing funds, clear of any conditions.

Condominium Document Review

If the offer is on a condo, it is common to make the offer subject to review of the condominium documents.

Inspection Contingencies

Buyers often make their offers subject to professional inspections of the property. Usually there is a 5-10 day period to conduct these inspections. Contingency extensions and/or inspection results should be in writing.

Date of Title Transfer

The date for the property to pass from the seller to the buyer is one of the terms agreed to at the time of the offer.

Closing Checklist

Typically buyers and their attorney are present at the closing.

Arrangements to transfer the utilities, water, electricity, gas, telephone, cable, etc. should be made prior to closing.

Adjustments for fuel (oil, propane) are prorated with a buyer obligated credit to the seller for unused fuel.

A certified check or cashier's check for the purchase price, less the deposit(s) and the mortgage amount is brought to the closing. Additional fees will be explained on a summary called the HUD, which typically is provided for review by the buyer the day prior to closing. The buyer is required to have insurance on the property at the time of the closing. Arrangements should be made prior to the closing with the insurance company for an "insurance binder." This document should be brought to the closing. Whoever is on the deed will need photo identification at the closing.

Usually, before the closing, the buyer will do a “final walk through,” which is an inspection of the vacant property.

You are now ready to close and shortly you will be presented with the keys to your new home. Congratulations!