One of the more common questions I get from homebuyers is whether earnest money is refundable.

Yes, earnest money can be refunded in Massachusetts under specific conditions. This money serves as a sign of commitment from a buyer when making an offer on a property. If the seller rejects the offer, the earnest money is typically returned to the potential buyer.

The purchase agreement mentions certain conditions, such as the failure to secure a mortgage resulting in the earnest money being returned. These guidelines ensure that both parties are protected during real estate transactions in the state.

Let’s examine how this works.

In Massachusetts, if a buyer enters into a real estate purchase contract and later decides not to proceed due to a contingency outlined in the agreement, such as an unsatisfactory home inspection or failure to secure financing, they may be entitled to a refund of their earnest money deposit.

However, specific circumstances and contractual language can impact refund eligibility. Buyers must review their purchase agreement and seek guidance from a real estate attorney for personalized advice.

Working as a Massachusetts Realtor for nearly forty years there have been several circumstances when my clients were unaware of deposit refund requirements.

One of my roles as a real estate agent is to educate them on the process. Whether representing a buyer or seller it is my job to protect the client’s right to the money.

Let’s examine everything you should know.

Is Earnest Money Refundable

When is earnest money refundable in Massachusetts?

Understanding Earnest Money in Massachusetts

In Massachusetts, earnest money demonstrates the buyer’s sincere intent to proceed with the purchase of a property. It also reassures the seller that the offer is serious and made in good faith.

The typical amount of earnest money in Massachusetts is 5 percent of the home’s purchase price. However, this percentage may vary depending on local real estate customs and the parties’ agreement.

If the seller accepts the offer, the earnest money deposit is often in the listing brokers escrow account. It will then beapplied towards the buyer’s down payment. However, if the offer is not accepted, the deposit is returned to the buyer.

Some might question placing such a significant sum as earnest money at an early negotiation stage. However, this practice showcases the buyer’s commitment and seriousness.

Understanding these basics about earnest money is essential for buyers and sellers. It educates them on the purpose and significance in real estate transactions. It is especially vital when selling by owner, as you won’t have an agent to educate you on the process.

Let’s now investigate the specific laws and regulations governing earnest money refundability in Massachusetts.

Understanding the role of earnest money in real estate transactions makes it imperative to consider the circumstances that warrant a refund.

Circumstances Resulting in an Earnest Money Refund

Several important circumstances need to be considered when refunding earnest money in Massachusetts. One such circumstance is when the offer isn’t accepted.

In this case, the earnest money deposit is returned to the buyer. This is a way of acknowledging that the transaction did not move forward as intended. A refund ensures that the buyer is not financially penalized for a situation beyond their control.

Another significant circumstance leading to refunding earnest money is when specific contingencies outlined in the purchase agreement are unmet.

For example, if the buyer fails to secure financing within a specified timeframe, they may be entitled to a refund of the earnest money. This stipulation protects buyers who may encounter unforeseen challenges while securing the necessary funds. Sometimes a buyer might not get a home loan even when they have a preapproval.

It’s essential for both buyers and sellers to clearly understand these contingencies and their implications. The purchase agreement should explicitly outline the conditions under which the earnest money can be refunded to the buyer. This clarity helps mitigate any potential disputes or misunderstandings that happen during the transaction.

Consider a scenario in which a buyer includes real estate contingencies related to property inspections and appraisals in the offer.

Legitimate concerns discovered during the inspection process or an appraisal below the agreed-upon purchase price may lead to the buyer having grounds for an earnest money refund if these contingencies are not met.

Protecting Buyer’s Interests

It’s important to note that these circumstances exist to protect the buyer’s interests. It ensures they are not unfairly penalized in situations beyond their control.

The refundability of earnest money serves as a safety net for buyers. It offers them recourse in case contingencies vital to their purchase decision are not fulfilled.

Earnest money refundability underscores the significance of carefully negotiating and structuring contracts in real estate transactions. By incorporating clear and comprehensive language regarding contingency clauses and refund provisions, buyers and sellers can navigate potential challenges with greater confidence and transparency.

Understanding these crucial circumstances surrounding earnest money refunds can empower buyers to make informed decisions while providing sellers with clarity on their obligations within real estate transactions.

As a Realtor, I always make buyer and seller clients aware of these circumstances.

Situations Leading to Loss of Earnest Money

Buyer Did Not Get Earnest Money Back

The Buyer Did Not Get Their Earnest Money Back Due to a Contract Violation.

Earnest money is an integral part of a real estate transaction, and when a buyer doesn’t fulfill their end of the deal, they may forfeit their earnest money.

Common scenarios where a buyer might lose their earnest money include the following:

Failure to Secure Financing

The most common reason a buyer loses their earnest money is not getting a mortgage within the specified timeframe. When an offer is made on a property, it’s usually contingent on the buyer’s ability to secure a mortgage.

If the buyer cannot secure financing within the agreed-upon timeframe, they may forfeit their earnest money as compensation for the seller’s time taken off the market.

Not violating the contract and risk losing your deposit means notifying the seller in writing by the contingency date.

Geoff Tackney with Team Tackney of GMT Real Estate has some great points here:

“As the transaction continues it’s important to stay on top of the deadline for your financing commitment. This is the date by which your lender must confirm your loan. If it seems like we’re approaching that deadline and your financing isn’t finalized yet we’ll have to ask for an extension.

Remember, being proactive about this can greatly impact the smoothness of the transaction. As a real estate agent I’ll typically give buyers a nudge when it’s time to contact your lender for an extension if needed. The goal is to keep things moving forward smoothly without any bumps in the road.”

Buyer’s Withdrawal Without Valid Reason

If the buyer returns from the purchase agreement without a valid reason, they may risk losing their earnest money. Real Estate agents like to call this “buyer’s remorse.”

Valid reasons generally include problems found during an inspection or an inability to sell the buyer’s current home as part of a contingency clause.

However, if the buyer changes their mind without a justifiable cause, they could lose their deposit. This could happen in an as-is purchase without a home inspection contingency.

Failure to Meet Contingencies

Contingencies are conditions that must be met for the purchase agreement to proceed. These can include inspections, appraisals, or selling an existing home. If the buyer fails to meet these contingencies outlined in the purchase agreement – and does not properly exercise an available contingency waiver – they may risk losing their earnest money.

It’s important for both buyers and sellers in a real estate transaction to fully understand and adhere to the purchase agreement terms to avoid any potential loss of earnest money.

Understanding the nuances of earnest money forfeiture sets the stage for comprehending the legal framework surrounding it in Massachusetts.

The Legal Framework Around Earnest Money in Massachusetts

In Massachusetts, earnest money rules aim to protect buyers and sellers. The Massachusetts broker license law requires brokers to deposit earnest money in a separate bank account. This mandate safeguards the funds by ensuring that they are held separately from the brokerages operating funds, which protects the buyer’s deposit.

Itt’s vital to note that the law spells out specific conditions under which a seller can retain the earnest money.

One such condition is the inclusion of a clause in the contract allowing the seller to keep the deposit as liquidated damages in case of a buyer breach.

Without this explicit provision, the seller cannot withhold the earnest money without justifiable cause.

This legal provision ensures that sellers cannot unreasonably withhold earnest money and adds a layer of protection for buyers. It dictates that the seller must have valid grounds for keeping the deposit.

Buyers can have peace of mind knowing that the seller cannot unjustly retain their funds.

For example, if a buyer decides not to proceed due to valid reasons such as issues uncovered during a home inspection or financing challenges, they have the right to receive their earnest money back.

This stringent legal oversight gives buyers confidence in their financial investment throughout the real estate process.

Understanding these legal aspects sets the stage for informed decision-making when engaging in real estate transactions in Massachusetts.

The Role of Purchase and Sale Agreements

The purchase and sale agreement is more than just a piece of paper. It’s an essential binding contract that establishes the rules for the real estate transaction. This document can be a few pages or multiple pages filled with detailed stipulations.

By signing it, the buyer and seller confirm their understanding and agreement on the sale’s terms.

Additionally, this agreement includes details about the property. The contract contains the address and legal description, along with agreed-upon conditions like the purchase price, any earnest money deposit, and any contingencies or conditions that need to be met for the sale to go through. For example, financing approval, and title reviews.

The agreements are crucial in setting out expectations. They outline the rights, and responsibilities in case problems or disputes arise during the purchase of real estate.

The purchase and sale agreement would dictate how to handle any earnest money if the property had undisclosed problems, such as structural damage or zoning issues discovered during an inspection.

Imagine this: You’ve found your dream home, but upon conducting a home inspection, you uncover some major problems with the foundation. The purchase and sale agreement outlines your options for withdrawing from the transaction while safeguarding your earnest money.

By clearly specifying how earnest money should be handled under different circumstances, this agreement provides a framework for both parties to follow. It should minimize confusion and misunderstandings.

Understanding every detail within a purchase and sale agreement is crucial for buyers and sellers to protect their interests in a real estate transaction. It acts as a guide for getting through potential obstacles and uncertainties on the road to homeownership.

What Happens When a Buyer is Due a Refund and a Seller Won’t Give it Back?

In some circumstances there are earnest money disputes between the buyer and seller. When one of the parties believes they are entitled to the money and the other disagrees, the broker must hold the money.

The earnest funds cannot be released by the broker in a dispute. A court will need to decide who is entitled to keep the money.


It is crucial for buyers and sellers to understand the contingency deadlines in the offer to purchase and purchase and sale agreement. Many earnest money disputes often arise because a date was missed in the contract.

To remain legally in contract, a buyer must follow what the terms agreed to by both parties. It’s when these dates are not followed that a deposit becomes at risk.