How exciting for you! You just signed an offer to purchase a new home. You may have an good sense of where things go from here, you may not. But lets delve into the most typical scenarios here so you can be prepared. This is a general overview, everyone's situation will vary from this.
Inspect the Home with a Home Inspection
1. The first step is the Home Inspection. Typically, home inspection deadlines are very short - around a week - so this is what we need to do first. Buyers schedule a licensed professional to come inspect the home they have purchased. Once scheduled, buyers should retain an attorney (for #2) and research their financing options (#4) even before the home inspection is complete. At the inspection, the inspector will just have WONDERFUL things to say about the future residence. Mostly. He will, of course, point out many situations that "could be better" or "should be safer" or "will save you money tomorrow, if you fix it today". All of these, and many others, are fair game for the inspection. Homes don't "pass" and they don't "fail", it's all about getting as much information about the current state of the home and the major systems. There are SO MANY things that can come up in an inspection, I couldn't begin to address them all here. (But I started a list here!) But, typically, buyer and seller will agree that certain defects either need to be fixed (by the seller, at the sellers expense), or by the buyer (also at the sellers expense via a credit off the purchase price - typically). That rarely means all defects will be fixed, and if the defects were properly disclosed, those are typically off the table. But most buyers should be prepared to accept some issues and fix them after the closing at their own expense. Welcome to home ownership!
Sign the Purchase and Sale (P and S)
2. Now that we the inspection out of the way, its time to get the Purchase and Sale hashed out. The P and S (as it is conventionally known) is the second contract in Massachusetts, as Massachusetts is a two-contract state. You don't really need to worry about why, but it is. This second offer follows a process that is done the opposite the offer. The seller drafts it, the buyer changes it, and when everyone agrees, the buyer signs it, delivers his large deposit, and the seller countersigns. In many cases, the P and S supersedes (that is overrules) the offer. Once both parties have signed, so the Purchase and Sale becomes the record of the agreement. Where the offer is 1-2 pages, this agreement typically is 8-14, so there's a lot more detail here. Most times, attorneys are in place on both sides, and the quality of the agreement typically reflects their expertise in this area, so choose carefully, and understand to what you are agreeing. Although any attorney can legally do a Purchase and Sale, someone who has done a few thousand is generally better than someone who has done a dozen, IMHO. Do you need an attorney? The law doesn't require it, but a good attorney is like insurance - you hope you don't need it, but when you do, you'll be glad you have it.
Appraisal to Check the Value on the Home to be Purchased
3. Appraisal: Most buyers need a mortgage, so the bank needs assurances that the house is worth what you have decided to pay for it. That's the appraisers job, and they will come out and inspect your home, measure it, and look at local data to determine if the purchase price is appropriate. Appraisals were initially started just to do Fraud detection, but today they have a larger role. If the appraiser is not confident in your price, your deal could be in jeopardy, especially if your percent down is low. So it's best to get that appraisal done quickly, without much ado. Fortunately, problems at this point in the transaction are rare, as most buyers work diligently with their real estate agents to understand the homes market value. Most agents and appraisers rely on similar information, so if you did your homework beforehand, there shouldn't be any surprises here.
Getting the Dough for your Home Purchase: Financing
4. Financing: Let's get some money! Financing is never an easy task, and it can take some time, and a lot of paperwork! Hopefully you have already started this, as banks can take 14-30 days to get a loan through underwriting. There's LOTS of steps here, talk with your loan rep and ask lots of questions (what happens after that? and after that?) so that you can keep an eye on the process from your point of view.
Fundamentally, buyers extend if they still aren't sure the bank is OK to proceed with their loan. And despite words like "Final approval" and "Commitment Letter" better words would be "Final Conditions for Approval" or "Qualified Commitment Letter". Banks can (and do) pull financing at the last minute, and the best way to make sure that won't happen to you is to push to get them everything as soon as possible. Don't let your financing contingency expire until you are comfortable with the letter the bank provides - and don't buy a lot of furniture until after close! The magical words we are looking for from the lender are "clear to close", but we often do not get them until the last minute.
Final Steps, Getting ready to Move to Your New Home
5. Close Preparation: Here is where you make sure the movers are lined up, and the utilities will be cut-over appropriately. Boxes anyone? You'll also need to do a walkthrough just before close to make sure the house is ready for you - as promised.
There's a lot at this step, but we've all moved before, so we probably know the drill. Hopefully your agent has sent you a handy checklist to help you out, but if not, check out the USPS. They have one.
Closing 6. Close: Ah, the big day. Get that wrist limbered up and sign, and sign and sign. An attorney will guide you through the paperwork, and assist you if there were issues at the walkthrough (along with your agent, who will likely recommend a course of action). And now you just have to go where you're going and unpack! How long can that take anyway? Right?
Good luck, and hopefully you'll have many good memories in the new place.