How to Buy a House in Massachusetts (in 8 Easy Steps!)

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By Hannah Warrick Updated May 20, 2024

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Buying a house in Massachusetts can be both an exciting and confusing process, especially for first-time home buyers. Our guide breaks down how to buy a house in Massachusetts in eight steps, with practical tips to help you navigate Massachusetts’ real estate market.

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Key steps to buying a house in Massachusetts

Step 1: Save for a down payment. » A 20% down payment on a typical house in Massachusetts can be about $122,502. You can choose a mortgage that requires less, but you might have to pay mortgage insurance and more interest over the life of your loan.

Step 2: Find an agent. » A knowledgeable Massachusetts real estate agent can help you understand state requirements for down payments, determine your borrowing capacity, and identify where you want to buy. Interview and vet realtors to find someone experienced and communicative. 

Step 3: Get pre-approved. » Pre-approval helps you set your budget before looking for houses and shows sellers that you're a serious buyer.

Step 4: Find the right location. » Consider your lifestyle, financial situation, and which areas are likely to increase in value as you choose where to buy a home. 

Step 5: Go house hunting. » Work with your agent to find houses within your price range, personal preferences, and preferred locations. Be clear about your must-haves and be flexible about the rest.  

Step 6: Make an offer. » Work with your agent to determine contingencies and concessions ahead of time so you can put forward a reasonable, strong, yet competitive offer.

Step 7: Get an inspection and appraisal. » These professional assessments will confirm the property's value and help you better understand its condition — including any potential issues — before you finalize your Massachusetts home purchase.

Step 8: Close on your home. » Do a final walk-through of the property with your agent to ensure your house in Massachusetts is in reasonable condition before closing the sale.

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Step 1: Save for a down payment

Your down payment is the first part of your home's purchase price that you pay at closing. Your mortgage lender pays the remaining balance.

A down payment can be up to 20% of the home's final price. In Massachusetts, that could mean paying up to $122,502 for a $612,509 home.

If you put less money down, your mortgage lender will typically require you to get private mortgage insurance (PMI) on the loan. That can save you money upfront but increase your monthly mortgage payment and total interest costs over the life of the loan.

However, if you can't afford to put that much down at closing, or want to hold onto more of your cash to cover other home-buying expenses, some government-backed loans have lower down payment mortgage options.

Minimum down payment on a house in Massachusetts

Mortgage typeMinimum down payment (%)Down payment ($) 
Conventional loan20%, or <20% + PMI$18,375
Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loan3.5%$21,438
Show more
Based on typical home values from Zillow (March 2024)

Massachusetts down payment assistance programs

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.

More about low down payment home loans

Government-backed loans, like FHA loans, allow a minimum down payment of 3.5% toward your home's purchase. Even conventional loans allow for down payments as low as 3–5%, though the minimum varies by lender.

But making a down payment of less than 20% comes with some risks:

  1. Because you're borrowing more money, you'll have higher monthly payments and pay more in interest over the life of your loan.
  2. Putting less than 20% down means you'll pay additional PMI, which protects the lender from potential losses.

Down payment Monthly mortgage payment Total interest Total cost
5% $3,809 $789,343 $1,401,852
20% $3,208 $664,710 $1,277,219
Show more

Based on a 6.84% interest rate for a 30-year loan on a median $612,509 home.

Mortgage insurance costs around 1% of your annual mortgage balance and is added to your mortgage payment each month. However, rates vary based on your down payment, credit score, and loan type:

  • Conventional loans require PMI until you've built up 20% equity in the home (for example, until you owe $360,000 on a $450,000 home). Some lenders require proof that your home has increased in value enough to cancel the PMI.
  • FHA loans require a mortgage insurance premium (MIP) for the life of your loans, regardless of your home equity.
  • VA loans don't charge mortgage insurance. Instead, you'll pay a one-time VA loan funding fee at closing, which can range from 1.4% to 3.6% of the purchase price. VA loans are available only to veterans, active service members, and eligible surviving spouses.

Step 2: Find a great real estate agent in Massachusetts

Whether you're actively house hunting or just starting to browse homes on Zillow, it's never too early to find a great Massachusetts realtor to guide you in your search. An experienced agent can help you navigate a tricky housing market, explore your financial options, and negotiate the best deal possible.

In addition to finding and showing you properties, your agent will 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 house in Massachusetts — just remember you can always shop around!

Best of all, hiring the right real estate agent comes at no extra cost to you — sellers typically pay all realtor fees from the home sale — and can get you the best price on a house in Massachusetts.

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When finding and choosing a Massachusetts realtor, consider their local knowledge and proximity to the specific neighborhoods you're interested in.

You can start your search by looking up a brokerage or realty, but don't stop there. Take the time to research and interview multiple real estate agents, paying attention to their:

Step 3: Get pre-approved for a mortgage

Mortgage pre-approval is a lender's conditional offer to lend you a maximum amount of money to buy a home.

Most sellers in Massachusetts will ask for a mortgage pre-approval letter before showing you their home. It demonstrates that you're financially qualified to make an offer and can give you an advantage over buyers who don't have one.

Pre-approval can be as simple as a 40-minute phone call with your lender or mortgage broker, a credit check, and sending them your proof of funds. Once you make an offer on a house in Massachusetts, you'll start the initial mortgage application.

Pre-approval vs. pre-qualification

Pre-approval is a more in-depth analysis of your finances than pre-qualification and serves as a more formal commitment from a lender. It usually requires a hard credit check and supporting documentation, such as paycheck stubs and W-2s.

Pre-qualification gives you a basic idea of what you might be able to borrow based on a quick look at your finances.

Does pre-approval hurt my credit score?

Pre-approval typically results in a hard credit inquiry, which may reduce your credit score by up to 5 points — that's a minimal effect.

✍️ Tip: If you get pre-approved with multiple lenders within a 45-day window, it will only count as one credit inquiry, minimizing the impact on your score.

The savings you'll gain from shopping around for a mortgage pre-approval will likely far outweigh any minor, short-term impacts to your credit.

What do mortgage lenders review?

To figure out if they can pre-approve you for a mortgage loan, mortgage companies usually check the following:

  • Credit report
  • Credit score
  • Payment history
  • Monthly income
  • Debt-to-income ratio
  • Employment

(Note: These are the same factors that determine the loan's interest rate.)

You're evaluating lenders, too.

Consider each lender's quoted mortgage interest rate, estimated closing costs and fees, reputation and online reviews, customer service quality, and responsiveness to your questions.

Although you don't have to decide on a lender now, you should compare interest rates and pre-approval amounts from several lenders to make sure you're getting the absolute best rate and terms when you buy your Massachusetts home.

A local lender:

  • Might provide you with more market-specific information, such as typical home values in your desired area
  • Likely has a better understanding of lending regulations in Massachusetts
  • Can connect with you other real estate professionals (realtors, contractors, inspectors, etc.)

You don't necessarily need to use a Massachusetts-based lender when buying a house in Massachusetts. Many national and online lenders are licensed to provide mortgage loans in Massachusetts and may provide better rates and terms.

Step 4: Choose the right location

Start zooming in on the best neighborhoods where home prices fall within your budget, and consider what you want out of your home.

If home equity is most important to you, search where home values are rising the most. But don't forget about local culture and amenities that fit your lifestyle.

Massachusetts home prices

Currently, the median home price in Massachusetts is $612,509, but prices vary dramatically from city to city and even from neighborhood to neighborhood!

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.

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

Neighborhood 2015 Current Appreciation
South Dorchester $350,656 $619,071 43.4%
Roxbury $348,462 $586,558 40.6%
Jamaica Plain $477,784 $722,466 33.9%
Show more

Lifestyle

Working with a local realtor can be enormously helpful when buying a home, especially in Massachusetts’s competitive market. They'll provide a unique perspective, with in-depth knowledge of neighborhoods and their potential for appreciation over time.

A good local agent can also provide tailored housing recommendations based on your lifestyle, such as information on the best schools, local amenities, and traffic patterns, giving you a clearer picture of what it’s like to reside there.

Step 5: Start house hunting in Massachusetts

📊 Key local data:

  • Median mortgage interest rate: 6.84%
  • Median home value: $612,509
  • Best month for looking for houses (highest inventory): June

Searching for homes in Massachusetts is the fun part of the home buying process! You'll get to look at a variety of available listings and discover what you really want in a home.

Make a list of everything you want in a home and prioritize them by must-haves (such as proximity to work or your children's school) versus your nice-to-haves (like a spacious garage or backyard).

Consider the full costs of owning a home, not just the mortgage payment. Other potential costs of owning the home include maintenance and repairs, property taxes, homeowner's insurance, and HOA fees.

Your realtor can help you understand which of your needs and wants fit your budget and favorite neighborhoods and adjust where possible.

You should also decide whether you'll only visit homes in person or if you trust your agent to visit the properties on your behalf. This can be useful if you work demanding hours and can't always be available to see a house.

Next, your agent will search for homes on your local MLS and bring you top picks, and you'll schedule viewings and tours.

» LEARN: When’s the best time to buy a house in Massachusetts? 

Step 6: Make an offer

Once you find a house in Massachusetts that you love, it's time to make an offer. Your real estate agent will help you write a compelling offer that will give you the best shot at convincing the homeowner to sell.

Talk to your real estate agent to work out all your contingencies and concessions so you can act quickly and make a strong offer that gives you a good chance of winning the home.

Part of your offer could include an earnest money deposit, which may be 1–2% of the purchase price. It's an incentive for the sellers to take the home off the market until closing. If the sale goes through, the earnest money goes toward your down payment, so you won't be anything additional out of pocket.

Note: When housing inventory is high, so is demand. So if you're house-hunting in June, you may have less time to make an offer than in February.

Average time homes spend on the market in Massachusetts

Annual average 57
January 71
February  53
March 36
April 32
May 33
June 32
July 39
August 41
September 40
October 40
November 49
December 64
Show more

Source: Realtor.com (March 2024)

Step 7: Inspections, appraisals, and financing

Once the seller accepts your initial offer, you have to do due diligence before officially purchasing the home. Inspections let you better evaluate the home's condition, and lenders use appraisals to determine value and decide how much your final loan amount will be.

If something unexpected pops up or if the home's appraisal comes in below the purchase price, you could have an opportunity to renegotiate the terms of your contract.

Underwriting

This is also the period that your lender will verify that you can afford your mortgage. They may ask for proof of income, pay stubs, and letters of explanation for income that doesn't come from wages, and other loan statements (like for student debt).

Delays could lead to postponed closing, so start collecting this information early so that you can be ready to submit documents when your lender asks.

Home inspections in Massachusetts

Having your house in Massachusetts 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. A licensed professional checks the house for any unseen, unexpected, or potential issues. 

Your inspector should check out the following parts of the property:

  • Roof
  • Foundation
  • Electrical system
  • HVAC system
  • Plumbing

A home inspection costs around $300 to $600, depending on factors like the home's location, condition, and age.

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-specific inspections

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 Unit to 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

Appraisals determine the value of the property. If you're using a mortgage to buy your new house in Massachusetts, 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!

Final walk-through

Before you close on your new home, you and your agent will do a final walk-through of the property to ensure that it's still in the expected condition. You'll want to check to make sure: 

  1. The appliances are in working order.
  2. Any agreed-upon repairs were handled by the seller. 
  3. There was no damage to the home when the seller moved out.

Closing day 

On the closing date, you’ll meet at the title company to review lots of important paperwork. You'll need to read and sign several documents, including:

  • The final loan application
  • The deed transfer
  • Various disclosures

Before signing anything, ask your agent or closing attorney about any questions you have to make sure you fully understand each document.

After completing the paperwork, you'll have to pay for closing costs. The title company will collect the total amount you owe for various services and pay each party on your behalf.

Typically, a buyer's closing costs can be separated into four categories:

  • Prepaid costs: Ongoing costs of homeownership, such as property taxes and homeowners insurance. Mortgage lenders often require buyers to pay these monthly fees upfront.
  • Title and escrow charges: Charges for the title company's services, such as title searches and title insurance.
  • Lender fees: Fees for the mortgage company to originate and underwrite your loan. Lender fees might include other expenses associated with your loan, such as appraisal fees or mortgage points.
  • Other closing costs: Miscellaneous costs unique to each buyer. Other closing costs can include pest inspection fees, natural disaster certification fees, and other variable expenses.

Buyers in Massachusetts typically pay 3%–5% of the purchase price in closing costs. For a $612,509 home — the typical home value in Massachusetts — that's between $18,375 and $30,625!

After signing all of the paperwork, you'll get the keys and can move into your new house in Massachusetts. Congrats! 

Start of mortgage payments

If you took out a mortgage to purchase the home, your first loan payment is likely due within a month after closing.

Ask your lender for more specific details about the payment schedule, how to make the first payment, and how to set up automatic payments (if desired).

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Frequently asked questions

Do I need a real estate attorney in Massachusetts?

In Massachusetts, it's required for a real estate attorney to be part of every home sale. While your agent can make recommendations, remember you get to make the final decision. Interview lawyers before hiring them to make sure they have the experience you need.

Does Massachusetts have a first-time home buyer program?

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.

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