This is a question I got recently from a first-time home buyer that was in the process of getting his pre-approval. He really wanted the house so he was interested in knowing how to "hold" a house. The answer is that you really can't, but once you put the offer in you still have flexibility, which I don't think many first-timers understand completely.
The first step to buying your house should always be to get your pre-approval, that way when you find the perfect house you won't have to wait for one to be done to submit your offer.
Once you have that pre-approval then you can get your offer ready, but there are several aspects of the contract that allow you to review at a few more things before you are completely locked in. These are the contingencies and the two most popular are the Mortgage Contingency and the Inspection Contingency.
The Mortgage Contingency - Since the letter you got from your lender is just a pre-approval you haven't submitted all the documents and answered all the questions to determine if your are definitely going to get a loan. Plus the lender also needs to review the actual house "they" are buying to determine if they want to lend money on it. All these things get done after your offer has been accepted by the seller, but by electing a mortgage contingency you will still be able to cancel the contract and get the deposit you put down with the offer should you not be able to secure financing.
The Inspection Contingency - You walked through the house and looked at it, but no one expects you to be a building professional. Electing Inspection Contingencies lets you have inspections performed on the house to assure (to the the best of the inspector's ability) that you understand the condition and concerns of the property you are buying. Inspections can include the usual home inspection as well as mold, radon, water, lead structural, energy-efficiency and others. They can also include reviews of the zoning situation, insurability of a home or property boundaries. Bring up concerns you have about the home and talk with your agent about inspections. Once you have the inspections done you can then review the reports and decide to proceed with the sale with greater piece of mind, negotiate on the results or terminate the sale and get your hand money returned.
These two contingencies give buyers the opportunity to "hold" a home while they continue to review their pending purchase. Just be aware that the more contingencies you put in an offer the more opportunities you have to cancel it. This may not be as good for the seller, since an offer with fewer contingencies could be viewed as stronger all other terms being equal. Talk with your agent to determine the best way to handle your particular situation.
Buying or Selling a home in the Pittsburgh area? Call Christa Ross from RE/MAX Select Realty, at 724-933-6300 x214 (office) or 724-779-1437 (direct) or visit my website at www.bestpittsburghhomes.com.