When you meet with a lender for the first time, they generally ask some probing questions about your income and assets, as well as your expenses and credit file. They’re not just being nosy; that lender is trying to help figure out just how much home you can qualify for and what programs might be best for your financial picture. Sometimes, these lenders will send you elsewhere because their banks or partner lending institutions simply can’t help you, but in a lot of cases they’ll produce something called a pre-qualification letter.
Pre-qualification goes largely by your word about your income and expenses, and is not a promise to lend. It’s simply a hypothetical among a list of hypotheticals. If you do in fact make this much money, your credit is as assumed, the house you choose lines up with these guidelines, and rates don’t change dramatically, you should be able to buy this much house. You can see how that would be a bit dodgy for a seller to hang all their hopes on.
A pre-approval, on the other hand, shows that you’ve gone through the additional steps to reach the highest level of mortgage approval you can get without actually having a house secured (the house you choose also figures into the final approval, but just how it figures depends on the loan program). For a pre-approval, you’ll need to provide income documents, permission for the lender to pull a full credit report, and details on any assets or liabilities you hold that aren’t included in your credit file.
A pre-approval isn’t instant; it requires more review, and you’ll need to choose a lending program to be approved for. However, doing all this extra work shows potential sellers that you’re already putting in a lot of effort to ensure you can actually close when the day comes, and that you’re eager to move the process along as quickly as possible. That’s the kind of buyer a seller wants to see!