9 Helpful Websites For First Time Home Buyers

Don’t waste your time watching HGTV! The internet is the best place to learn the ins and outs of the real estate market. Thankfully, we have LTE, WiFi, tablets, laptops and smartphones, and we don’t have to rely on old computers and dial up modems.


Here is our list of the most helpful and informative websites for first time home buyers in Massachusetts (in no particular order):

1. Massachusetts Land Records

All documents related to the ownership of real estate in Massachusetts can be found here.The site has links to each of the twenty-one registry districts.

2. Inman News

Don’t be overwhelmed. This is a news site for Realtors and Brokers. Take five minutes to scan the “Todays Real Estate News” section and you will be well informed about what is happening in the real estate business.

3. Zillow

I know most readers know about Zillow, but in the off-chance someone stumbles across this article who has never heard of the site, check it out! The simplistic home page allows the user to enter a property address and instantaneously view an approximate valuation. The site has some room for improvement when it comes to evaluating multi-family properties, but it is a wonderful tool for the average user searching for a home. The iPad app is fantastic.

4. HotPads

Hotpads was recently aquired by Zillow. The foreclosure heat map is a great tool to see which areas were hit the hardest by the housing crisis. The rent vs. buy calculator is an excellent tool. Its a great website to see what the rental market is across the state without browsing on Craigslist.

5. The Niche Report

This is another site intended for industry professionals. What an incredible wealth of information you will find here. The latest news, in-depth articles, charts and chatter from across the country. I highly recommend subscribing to the RSS feed.

6. Twitter

We already know how to use Twitter to find real estate. Interact with other users, search for updates about communities, and learn about whats trending in your local #realestate market. Don’t forget to follow @RealEstateLawMA!

7. Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association (CHAPA)

CHAPA’s mission is to “encourage the production and preservation of housing that is affordable to low and moderate income families and individuals and to foster diverse and sustainable communities through planning and community development.” CHAPA offers pre-purchase and post-purchase homebuyer workshops several times per week. In addition to the workshops, the organization provides information about lotteries and resales, and links to community based homebuyer counseling agencies.

8. Facebook

Facebook is one of the few sites where you might learn about a property before its even listed! You never know who in your network might post something that could lead to a sweetheart deal for your first home. Even if you don’t use facebook often, skim or search your news feed for chatter about houses and real estate. If you catch a property pre-market, it will be a win for everyone except the real estate agents…

9. Real Estate, Real Problems

Here is the shameless plug for Real Estate, Real Problems! We may not be the best yet, but we are working hard to be the best resource out there for first time home buyers in Massachusetts. Don’t forget to “Like” us on Facebook if you haven’t already!

Jack O’Donohue is a Real Estate Attorney at Dalton & Finegold, LLP
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How Should We Take Title?

This is a critical question that you must answer for yourself. Many first-timers are purchasing homes with boyfriends, girlfriends, fiances, siblings, or friends. I recommend that you think about HOW you want to own the property with that person in advance of the closing. I’m amazed when people make these critical decisions at the closing table.

Reading this article is a great start. If you read the bottom section, you will see what you can look forward to if wedding bells are in your future!

Tenants In Common

  1. There are no survivorship rights between tenants in common.
  2. Each co-tenant has a right to possess the whole property and owns an individual part (that is freely transferrable).
  3. The ownership interest may be equal or unequal.
  4. If you want your ownership interest to pass to your heirs at law, and not the crazy person you just bought the house with, this is the option for you.

Joint Tenants with Rights of Survivorship:

  1. The term “rights of survivorship” means precisely what you think it would. If Boyfriend-Girlfriend own the house and Boyfriend dies, Girlfriend owns the house automatically by operation of law. Boyfriends interest does not pass to his heirs at law.
  2. All joint tenants hold title together.
  3. A joint tenant can sell or transfer his/her interest at any point. The resulting effect is that the buyer becomes a tenant in common with the non-selling owner/tenant.

WARNING: Do not read this next section unless you are married. 

Tenants by the entirety:

  1. Each spouse owns an undivided whole of the property.
  2. Includes rights of survivorship (discussed below)
  3. Creditors of one spouse may encumber that spouses share, but cannot defeat the rights of survivorship.
  4. Arises presumptively in any conveyance to married people unless stated otherwise.
  5. In the case of same-sex couples, a clear statement that the tenancy by the entirety is intended is required.
  6. Neither owner, acting alone, can defeat the right of survivorship by the unilateral conveyance to a third party.
  7. Divorce, death, or agreement by the parties are the only ways to sever this form of tenancy.

Jack O’Donohue, Real Estate Attorney at Dalton & Finegold, LLP
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The Homestead

An estate of homestead is only available for a persons primary residence. The new homestead law took effect on March 16, 2011.

Below is a link to an eight page document authored by Secretary Galvin’s office regarding the homestead law entitled: The Homestead Act: Questions and Answers. If you read this document, you will know everything you would ever want to know about the law in Massachusetts.

Here is a brief summary for those of us too busy to read 8 pages:

  1. Homeowners are entitled to an automatic homestead protection worth $125,000.
  2. If you properly sign and record a declaration of homestead with the registry of deeds, the amount of protection increases to $500,000.
  3. The declared homestead protects against attachment, seizure, execution on judgment, levy or sale for the payment of debts.
  4. Additional protections exist for people who are disabled or 62 or over.
  5. The homestead law does not protect you from: federal, state, and local taxes, assessments, claims and liens, mortgage foreclosures, probate court executions.

How does the Massachusetts law compare with other New England states? See for yourself…the blue text are active hyperlinks…

New Hampshire

The highlight: New Hampshire’s is also automatic but the amount is only up to $100,000 per person.


The highlight: you have to live there for 12 months before you can even apply! Massachusetts has no such requirement.

Jack O’Donohue, Real Estate Attorney at Dalton & Finegold, LLP
Follow him on Twitter

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