Buying a house in Massachusetts is an exciting milestone, but the process can take some time. Several factors, like your financial situation, market conditions, and the local economy can affect both how long it takes you to find a home and how much it costs you.
For example, homes in Boston are hitting the market at $759,450 and selling within 21 days — 28 days faster than the state average! — so you'll need to move quickly if you want to beat out the competition.
However, homes typically stay on the market longer in Vineyard Haven, so you'll be able to take your time and potentially find a better deal.
The more you know about the steps to buying a house and Massachusetts's current real estate trends, the more prepared you'll be to navigate this complicated process as quickly and smoothly as possible.
No matter where you are in your home buying journey, Clever's concierge team can connect you with local real estate pros who will help you purchase your Massachusetts dream home!
The best part? When you buy with a Clever real estate agent, you could earn a cash-back refund worth up to 0.5% of the home price. On a qualifying $300,000 purchase, you'd get $1,500. That's real money back in your pocket!
Step 1: Save for a down payment
Your down payment is the initial portion of your home's purchase price that you pay at closing. Your mortgage lender will pay the remaining balance.
Typically, mortgage lenders in Massachusetts want you to contribute 20% of the purchase price as a down payment. That would be $118,428 for a $592,140 home — the typical home value in Massachusetts.
However, you have options to lower your down payment amount.
Government backed loans, like VA and FHA loans, allow you to contribute 0% and 3.5% of your home's purchase price respectively. Even conventional loans allow for down payments as low as 3-5% (though the minimum varies by lender).
Minimum Down Payment (%)
Down Payment ($)
Based on typical home values from Zillow (June 2022)
But making a down payment of less than 20% comes with some risks.
First, because you're borrowing more money, you'll have a higher monthly payment and pay more in interest over the life of your loan.
Based on a $592,140 home, the typical home value in Massachusetts (Zillow, June 2022) with a 5.14% interest rate for a 30-year loan.
Second, you may have to purchase mortgage insurance.
Conventional loans require private mortgage insurance (PMI) until your loan balance reaches 80% of the purchase price. FHA loans, on the other hand, require a mortgage insurance premium (MIP) for the life of your loans.
Mortgage insurance costs around 1% of your mortgage balance annually. However, rates vary based on your down payment and credit score. Typically, your mortgage insurance payment is added to your mortgage payment each month.
VA loans don't charge mortgage insurance. Instead, you'll pay a VA loan funding fee at closing, which can range from 1.4% to 3.6% of the purchase price.
Massachusetts down payment assistance programs
Do you need help affording a down payment in Massachusetts?
There are a number of down payment assistance (DPA) programs in the state that can help first-time and low-income homebuyers purchase a house. If you're eligible, you may receive a grant or a second mortgage to cover a down payment or closing costs.
Here are a few good resources in Massachusetts for you to check out:
MassHousing Down Payment Assistance
MassHousing offers down payment assistance of up to $25,000 for those buying in the city of Boston or one of Commonwealth's 26 Gateway Cities. Homebuyers in other Massachusetts counties may be eligible to receive up to $15,000.
Financial aid is available as a 15-year fixed mortgage at a 2% interest rate.
Boston Home Center DPA Program
The Boston Home Center offers loans for first-time homebuyers and people who haven’t owned a home in the past three years. Loans for single-family homes accrue no interest and can provide a maximum of $30,000 in financial aid.
Eligible participants must buy a home in the city of Boston, complete a homebuyer education class, and have no more than $75,000 in household assets. The buyer also needs to contribute at least 1.5% of the purchase price and meet the maximum household income limits.
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
HUD’s list of alternative programs in Massachusetts can be found here.
Step 2: Get pre-approved for a mortgage
A mortgage pre-approval letter is an offer to lend you up to a certain amount of money to purchase a home. It shows sellers that you are a serious buyer who is financially qualified to make an offer on a home.
Most sellers in Massachusetts will require pre-approval before showing you their home.
You don't have to decide on one lender right now. In fact, you should compare interest rates and pre-approval amounts from several lenders to make sure you're getting the absolute best terms when you buy your Massachusetts home.
Get Pre-approved Today!
Get matched with a lender who can tell you how much house you can afford. To get started, where do you plan on buying?
To get a pre-approved for a mortgage, you'll fill out a mortgage application and provide details about your financial situation. They'll look at the following information to determine your mortgage pre-approval amount:
Lenders need to know that you earn enough to make your mortgage payments each month. Most lenders want your monthly housing costs to be less than 28% of your monthly income.
Lenders also consider your other debts, including credit cards, student loans, auto loans, and personal loans. They use this information to calculate your debt to income ratio (DTI) — or your total debt (including future mortgage) divided by your total income.
While some lenders will approve mortgages for buyers with DTI as high as 43%, it's best to keep your DTI under 36%.
Because of this, you might consider paying off some of your other debts before applying for a mortgage in Massachusetts.
Mortgage lenders in Massachusetts want to see that you have enough cash in the bank to cover your down payment and closing costs without completely draining your cash reserves.
While this requirement varies by lender, most want you to keep at least enough to cover two mortgage payments including insurance and taxes.
Step 3: Choose the right location
A house's neighborhood can be just as important as its layout and features. In general, you should consider the following factors when deciding which neighborhood is best for you:
What's your home buying budget?
Once you know your budget (a pre-approval letter will tell you the most you can expect to borrow), you can narrow your search to neighborhoods where homes are selling within your price range.
Also, look at past home value trends. This will give you an idea of how much your home's value could go up over the next few years. You want to choose a neighborhood that's in your budget, but could also lead to a big return when you decide to sell.
To give you an idea of how appreciation could impact what your house is worth in the future, consider these examples from three neighborhoods in Boston:
Home value appreciation in Boston
Once you have a list of neighborhoods with homes in your budget, you should evaluate how well each one meets your personal needs and preferences. To finalize your list of target areas, consider factors like:
- School districts
- Your daily commute
- Crime rates
- Restaurants and amenities
- Transportation options
Step 4: Find a great real estate agent in Massachusetts
Your real estate agent will be your main ally during the home buying process. Besides finding and showing you properties, your agent should be an expert on buying a home in Massachusetts.
They'll help you make offers, negotiate contracts, and navigate the closing process. Plus, they can recommend other service providers like title companies and inspectors to help you buy your home in Massachusetts.
Don't rush into choosing an agent. Instead, take the time to research and interview multiple real estate agents who have experience in the neighborhoods you're interested in. you should pay attention to a realtor's:
- Years of experience
- Number of transactions in the last year (the more the better!)
- Experience in your price range
- Overall review score
- Individual reviews and complaints
Ask each of them questions about your target neighborhoods, how they prefer to communicate, and their strategy for helping you find and close on your new home. You should feel comfortable with the agent's knowledge, experience, and process before committing to an agent.
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Step 5: Start house hunting in Massachusetts
Searching for homes in Massachusetts is the fun part of the home buying process! You'll get to look at a variety of homes and discover what you really want in a home.
Prioritize your needs vs. wants when buying a home in Massachusetts
Make a list of everything you want in a home and prioritize them. At the top of the list should be the items that are most important to you. This will help you separate your "must-haves" from your "nice-to-haves."
Your agent can help you understand if your wants are realistic for your budget and favorite neighborhoods or if you need to rethink what you're looking for.
Look at current housing inventory
The timing of your house hunt in Massachusetts can have a big impact on your number of options. For example, in Massachusetts, June has historically seen the most homes for sale. Searching in this season could give you more options and a greater likelihood of finding your dream home.
On the other hand, January gives you the fewest choices in Massachusetts. Historically, there are 55.5%) fewer homes for sale than during Massachusetts's peak season.
Housing inventory in Massachusetts by season
New Listings per Month
Based on June 2022 data from Realtor.com
Step 6: Make an offer
Once you find a Massachusetts house you love, it's time to make an offer. Your real estate agent will help you write a compelling offer that gives you the best shot of convincing the homeowner to sell to you.
Currently, in Massachusetts, homes stay on the market for 57 days before going under contract. However, every market goes through seasonal changes. During busier months, homes get snatched up more quickly than others.
Historically, Massachusetts homes sell fastest in June, where the average property is only on the market for 40. If your home search falls around this time, you should be prepared to move quickly and potentially make offers on several homes before yours is accepted.
On the other hand, if you buy in January, you have a bit more time to search. Homes typically stay on the market 28 days longer than Massachusetts's annual average.
Average time homes spend on market in Massachusetts
Based on June 2022 data from Realtor.com
What should your offer include?
Your real estate agent can help you decide which of these common options you should include in your offer:
- Seller concessions: You'll have to pay for most of your closing costs out of pocket when you buy a home, but you may be able to ask the seller to cover some of those costs for you. This option may allow you to offer a higher purchase price and essentially include your closing costs in your mortgage.
- Repair credits: If the home is in need of repair, you could ask for credits instead of having the seller make and pay for the repairs. The seller avoids the hassle of waiting for contractors to complete the job, and you get to oversee the repairs in the future to make sure they meet your expectations.
- Inspection contingencies: Most purchase agreements have inspection contingencies that allow you to change your offer (or back out all together) if the inspection turns up major problems. If you have a high degree of certainty about the house's condition (like if the seller can show you a recent inspection report), you can forgo this contingency to give the seller a higher sense of confidence.
- Letter to the seller: Many sellers have a personal attachment to the home. They've lived there for years and want to know the next owner will take care of the property. Writing a letter to the seller can show them how you picture your life in the house and appeal to their sentimental side.
Step 7: Inspections and appraisals
Inspections and appraisals are an opportunity for you to better evaluate the home's condition and value before officially purchasing it. You may have an opportunity after this step to renegotiate the terms of your contract with the seller if something unexpected pops up.
Home inspections in Massachusetts
Having your Massachusetts home inspected by a licensed inspector gives you peace of mind about the condition of the property before you commit thousands of dollars to purchase it.
Your inspector should check out the following parts of the property:
- Electrical system
- HVAC system
If the home has a septic system, you should also pay for a septic inspection to make sure it doesn't have any problems that wouldn't be covered in a typical home inspection.
Massachusetts is known as a “buyer beware” state, which means that sellers aren't required to disclose all known issues with a property. Homebuyers are strongly recommended to complete additional tests and inspections before closing to identify any structural issues, pest infestations, or other hazards.
In addition to a general home inspection, consider doing the following tests to uncover specific problems with a property:
Radon testing: Radon is prevalent in the state of Massachusetts, and it can harm your health at elevated levels. If the seller hasn't conducted a radon test in the past year, get in touch with the Massachusetts Radon Unitto receive a free or discounted testing kit.
Pest inspection: Certain lenders require homebuyers to have a pest inspection completed before closing, but all buyers should have one done anyway. Termites and other pests can pose health risks and cause damage to a property, so it's a good idea to catch potential infestations early.
Appraisals determine the value of the property. If you're using a mortgage to buy your new home, your lender will order an appraisal to make sure the home is worth the money that it's loaning you.
Step 8: Close on your new home!
Once you finish your inspections and your lender approves your financing, you'll be ready for closing! Closing is the process of finalizing your mortgage and transferring ownership of the property.
The closing process in Massachusetts is pretty straightforward. On the closing date, you'll meet at the title company to sign important legal paperwork and settle your closing costs.
It's recommended to review your paperwork before closing day to make sure you fully understand everything. These documents will legally transfer the title of the property to your name, so if something doesn't look correct, ask your escrow agent for advice.
Some of the most important documents you'll need to sign will include:
- Your final loan application
- The deed
- The mortgage promissory note
- The disclosure statements
After you finish signing the documents, you’ll have to pay your closing costs. The title company will inform you how much you owe in total to your various service providers. You'll pay this sum to the title company, and then they'll handle the disbursement of funds.
For homebuyers, closing costs can generally be divided into four categories:
- Lender fees: Fees paid to your mortgage lender for preparing your loan. Other costs related to your loan, such as appraisal fees and survey fees, may also apply here.
- Prepaid costs: Ongoing costs of homeownership. Lenders sometimes require new homeowners to pay for certain expenses up front, such as property taxes, mortgage interest, and homeowners insurance.
- Title and escrow charges: Fees paid to the title company for facilitating the closing process, performing the title search, and providing title insurance.
- Other closing costs: Miscellaneous expenses that can differ for each buyer. A few costs in this category may include natural disaster certification fees or real estate attorney fees.
Buyers in Massachusetts typically pay 3-5% of the purchase price in closing costs. For a $592,100 home — the typical home value in Massachusetts — that's between $17,763 and $29,605!
Frequently asked questions
- Save for down payment
- Get pre-approved for a mortgage
- Choose your preferred Massachusetts neighborhoods
- Partner with the right real estate agent in Massachusetts
- Go house hunting
- Make a strong offer
- Inspections and appraisals
- Do a final walkthrough and close
Yes, MassHousing offers first-time buyers down payment assistance of up to 5% of their home's sales price or $15,000 (whichever is lower). The assistance is given as a 15-year, fixed-rate loan at 2% interest.
To qualify for this program, you'll need to be within acceptable limits of your area. Household income limits and purchase price limits apply and vary by county.