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If you’re interested in buying a home, you want to make sure you only look at ones you can actually afford. Finding a house you love and making an offer, only to find that you can’t get approved for a mortgage, will waste everyone’s time and leave you frustrated and disappointed. This is why it’s a good idea to get pre-approved for a mortgage before you start viewing homes.

What Is Mortgage Pre-Approval?
Pre-approval means a lender will review your credit, income and debts and decide whether to pre-approve you for a mortgage. If you get pre-approved, the lender will tell you how much you could borrow and approximately how much your monthly payments would be. Pre-approval means a lender thinks, based on a preliminary assessment, that you qualify for a mortgage. It’s not a final approval, because your financial picture could change significantly between now and the time you bought a house.

Pre-approval is not the same as pre-qualification. Pre-qualification is based on a general overview of your financial picture. Pre-approval requires several documents (pay stubs; W-2s; tax returns; bank, retirement, and investment account statements; and possibly others) and a hard credit check. Since pre-approval requires a more rigorous financial review, real estate agents and sellers take it more seriously than pre-qualification.

A pre-approval from any reputable lender will help you get your foot in the door, but you don’t necessarily have to obtain a loan from the lender that pre-approves you. You should shop around and get a mortgage from the lender that offers you the best interest rate.

Why Should You Get Pre-Approved?
If a lender pre-approves you for a mortgage, it will tell you how much it’s willing to lend you. That can help you figure out an approximate price range so you can focus on properties that are within your budget.

A pre-approval letter demonstrates that you’re a serious buyer. Some real estate agents won’t even show a house to someone who hasn’t been pre-approved.

Being pre-approved can make your offer more attractive to a seller than an offer from someone who hasn’t been pre-approved. The other prospective buyer may have bad credit and be unable to qualify for a mortgage. Pre-approval means you’re in good financial standing, so the seller will feel comfortable accepting your offer.

How to Get Pre-Approved
Before you try to get pre-approved for a mortgage, request copies of your credit reports and check them for errors. Have any you find corrected. If your credit scores are lower than you expected, figure out why and work on getting your finances in better shape before you try to get pre-approved for a mortgage.

Once things are in order, apply for pre-approval and submit all required documents. With a pre-approval letter in hand, you’ll be able to look for houses in the appropriate price range, demonstrate to real estate agents that you’re a serious buyer and increase your chances of getting your offer accepted.

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