Real estate is different from most other “products” that you buy or sell, what with every parcel of residential or commercial real estate being unique. Some may be very similar, but even with tract homes they each have a unique location. When something goes wrong with a real estate deal, because of this uniqueness, you may have an additional option beside monetary damages.
This makes sense, because with other goods, monetary damages can make you whole. If your supplier was supposed to deliver 200 sheets of drywall, and they breach the contract, you can likely obtain the identical product from a substitute supplier. You may have additional damages beyond the price of drywall, but some monetary amount will fully compensate you for the breach.
With land, this may not be possible. If you have a commercial real estate transaction to enable you to develop a particular corner in Boston, if the seller refuses to complete the deal, the mere payment of cash to allow you to purchase another parcel many not be adequate compensation.
The adjacent buildings, the traffic flow on the streets, the ingress and egress to the parcel, may all be different. Specific performance is an equitable remedy that is used most often in real estate transactions because of the unique nature of land.
With specific performance, a seller could be compelled by the court to complete the deal. Because of the somewhat extreme nature of this remedy, in Massachusetts and most other states, this equitable remedy is discretionary on the part of the court. They do not have to order it, and may determine money damages are an adequate remedy.
Because it is an equitable remedy, in order to obtain specific performance, there are additional factors a court will look to including if there was any unfairness touching the transaction.