In the past the buyers could go and find their dream home and then go and get pre-approved. In today's market, that method has proven to be the least effective method in getting their dream home.
Just by asking some general questions, a lender can pre-qualify someone right over the phone. Please be aware that being pre-qualified and pre-approved are different things. Pre-approved means that you have gone through all the steps and applied for a mortgage. You have filled out the application, ran your credit report, verified your employment and compared your debts and assets. Once you have done this, you will know exactly what the maximum loan amount will be.
A pre-qualified letter is not verified and does not count for much credibility. When a seller is looking at two different buyers and one has been pre-approved and one has not; which contract would you choose?
Also, it is important to get pre-approved with a legitimate lender. Some choices of legitimate lenders include: banks, mortgage bankers, credit unions, savings and loan associations, mortgage brokers and online lenders.