Get Your Ducks in a Row Before You Go Hunting
There was a time, early in my real estate career, when I would take buyers out “window shopping”, testing the waters to get a feel for what my clients liked, before they had talked to a lender. More seasoned agents would scoff, “I don’t let a buyer in my car if they’re not pre-qualified!” I felt this was harsh. After all, loans were easy to come by and “pre-qualified” lender letters weren’t worth much. (It’s a pre-approval you’re looking for, anyway.)
Those days are over.
Though interest rates are still at historic lows, loan approval is harder to get. Even those who think their ducks are all lined up may find something sneaky lurking in their credit report: that Victoria Secret card you forgot to pay in the rush to the alter, the seventeen applications you filled out to finance the wedding, the car you had to buy last month when you blew a gasket on the Civic and that FreeCreditReport.com service you’re paying for is not the same as the credit score your lender pulls. Other factors, like your debt-to-income ratio may be working against you if your credit card balances are high. Now that the market is hot, don’t let the numbers leave you out in the cold.
So when your agent tells you to talk to a lender and get pre-approved before you go house-hunting, assume she knows what she’s talking about. It will not only give you a pretty accurate assessment of how much house you can afford and what your payment will be, it will save you (and her) valuable time. I’ve found many buyers their dream home, watched them fall in love, and witnessed the heartbreak when what they thought was pre-approval didn’t pan out. Some lenders have you fill out online applications (a drag, I know) and zip out a BING! YOU’RE APPROVED! message without having enough information to be sure. Best practice is to set up an appointment, have an in-depth phone call, or follow-up on that online application with the necessary paperwork (tax returns, pay stubs, etc.) your lender asks for. Real estate agents are your best resource for mortgage brokers and lenders because we work with them all day long. We know who answers their cellphone at five o’clock on a Saturday, guides the loan through underwriting and shows up at the closing table. And we know who doesn’t.
These days, before I put a buyer in my car, I want them pre-approved. I also want them to schedule a clear window of time to look at houses and be prepared to write an offer on the first one they fall in love with, because by some miracle, in 2012 that house may not be there tomorrow.