When you initially set out to purchase a new home, the real estate agent(s) and home seller will want to know you can actually afford the thing. Heck, you’ll want to know too.
After all, if you can’t afford to buy it, you’ll be wasting everyone’s time. Aside from affordability concerns, you may find other issues that disqualify you from obtaining a mortgage (do I qualify for a mortgage?).
Agents and home sellers will also want to know that you’re committed to buying a home, as opposed to those just casually browsing.
For these reasons, most real estate agents will demand that you get pre-approved before they even begin showing you prospective properties. Most agents have a mortgage contact they’ll likely refer to you to get the ball rolling.
Tip: You can use this contact for your pre-qualification and pre-approval needs, but don’t forget to shop around with other banks and brokers as well to ensure you obtain the lowest mortgage rate possible!
What Is a Pre-Qualification?
If you choose to finance the home purchase with a mortgage, you’ll need to get pre-qualified first. A “pre-qualification” isn’t as robust as a pre-approval, but it’s a good first step to ensure you can purchase the home you desire (or any one at all).
A pre-qualification is a pretty straightforward, simple check to see what you can afford based on your income/debt levels (debt-to-income ratio), assets, down payment, employment history, perceived credit score, and so on.
You can get pre-qualified very quickly and easily with a bank or mortgage broker, but it won’t carry much weight in the eyes of the agent or the seller.
After all, with a pre-qualification you’re simply supplying estimates and your credit report probably hasn’t yet been run (though it should be pulled early on in the process). That said, a pre-qualification, or pre-qual, is just a determination of what you’d likely qualify for if you made an offer and applied for a home loan.
It’s not necessarily a waste of time, but it’s not going to get you very far. You can liken it to running a few numbers to see where you stand, but it cannot be used in place of a pre-approval.
What Is a Pre-Approval?
A pre-approval, on the other hand, actually has legs. It’s a written, conditional commitment from a bank or mortgage lender that says you are pre-approved for the mortgage financing in question.
It comes only after filling out a loan application, supplying verified income, asset, and employment documentation (assuming these items are necessary), running credit, and underwriting the loan file.
Acquiring a pre-approval shows the interested parties (sellers, agents) that you’re a committed buyer, boosting your chances of sealing the deal at the price you want. It will also show you how much house you can afford, not just an estimate.
- Credit report
- Bank statements
- Pay stubs
- Tax returns
Once you provide all the required documentation and get the pre-approval letter from a bank or lender, it is typically valid for 60-90 days. Just note that things can change during that time, such as your credit score, so it’s not 100% guaranteed.
As you can see, being pre-approved and pre-qualified are not the same thing, so make sure you know the difference before shopping for a home.
Do You Need a Pre-Approval Letter to Make an Offer?
At the end of the day, you don’t necessarily NEED a pre-approval letter to make an offer on a piece of property. But nowadays, with so few properties on the market, and so many multiple-bid situations, it’s often a requirement just to hear back.
Sure, you can tell your real estate agent to tell the listing agent that you’ve got an 800 credit score, $1 million in the bank, and a job that pays you $500,00 a year. And they might say fine, skip the pre-approval.
But chances are that’s not your financial profile, so just to play ball and keep everyone happy, it often makes sense to get the pre-approval done. It will also strengthen your offer.
And as I alluded to earlier in this post, it’s good to know where you stand as well. You might think you’re a sure shot at getting a mortgage, but surprises aren’t all that uncommon and mortgage guidelines change all the time.
So a pre-approval could actually save you time and money, despite being a task that needs to be taken care of upfront. It shouldn’t take very much work to get one anyways.
Just remember not to feel obligated to use the bank that furnishes the pre-approval letter for you!
To summarize the difference between a pre-qualification letter and a pre-approval letter (for you lazy readers):
- First step
- Less robust
- Based on estimates
- Doesn’t require a credit pull
- Carries less weight/ not a sure thing
- Not taken seriously
- Based on verified information
- Must complete an actual loan application
- Requires a credit pull
- Must be underwritten (manual or automated)
- Written conditional commitment
- Shows sellers/real estate agents you’re serious