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We’ve all seen it before: An eager homebuyer is prequalified for mortgage financing, only to be turned down once credit and income issues are revealed during the origination process. That’s the problem with a typical prequalification. While the lender may ask about the borrower’s income and credit history, there may be no formal verification. So there could be any number of skeletons in the closet that remain hidden until well into the underwriting review. And that could be a deal killer for buyers and real estate professionals alike.

What could be more frustrating than spending a lot of time and effort finding the perfect home, only to be denied financing at the eleventh hour? The solution is to move beyond prequalification and into pre-approval. While the two terms sound a lot alike and are often confused, they are fundamentally different when it comes to verifying credit and income. With a prequalification, the lender typically relies on verbal information provided by the buyer. With pre-approval, the lender independently verifies that information.

At Citi, we understand what buyers and agents truly need: not mortgage prequalification, but pre-approval. That’s why we created the Citi SureStart® pre-approval program. The program gives agents and buyers approval for an exact dollar amount so borrowers can shop with the confidence of cash buyers, knowing their mortgage financing is secure.

What gives Citi the power to approve—not just pre-qualify—a specific “up to” loan amount? By verifying borrower information (such as obtaining paystubs and bank account statements), we’re removing uncertainty from the underwriting process. That gives us the confidence to lend, and home shoppers the confidence to buy.

With Citi SureStart® in hand, buyers and agents can focus specifically on the properties that fall within the approved financing range. That can save a lot of time, effort and frustration. When it’s time to make an offer, buyers and agents can negotiate from a position of strength. Sellers will know you’re serious when you come to them with cash in hand. Once the price is right, all that’s left is to appraise the home. (Remember, the buyer’s credit worthiness has already been thoroughly reviewed and the loan amount approved).

With Citi SureStart®, you’re literally just a step away from closing. And that’s our goal at Citi: to add more certainty to the home-buying process. We provide buyers a more confident path to home financing and real estate professionals the tools to close more sales.

As the housing market continues to recover, this program is true to its name—giving buyers and agents a sure start.

Al Miller is the senior vice president of Citi Partnership Channel.