Pop quiz: who should you call first when you’re ready to buy a house? And no, the answer is not your mom to tell her you found your dream home.
The correct answer is your lender.
In fact, if you’ve already scoped out a dream home but haven’t talked to a mortgage lender, you’ve already skipped too far ahead.
Not to worry, though. A good lender can preapprove you for a loan so you can turn your “dream home” into your actual home.
So don’t touch that Zillow or Redfin app until you’ve connected with a lender. Here’s why.
Mortgage lender: Your first line of defense
If you’re a first-time homebuyer, you might assume that the first step in buying a house is finding a house.
But the homebuying process — especially in today’s competitive market — actually begins at preapproval. And preapprovals begin with your lender.
A preapproval is just what it sounds like: a preliminary approval for a mortgage loan before you’ve found a house.
A mortgage lender with a strong preapproval program will gather information on your credit, income, debts, and assets and have their underwriting team review your file. The underwriters then determine whether you are likely to qualify for a mortgage and how much you may be able to borrow.
The preapproval is not a guarantee that the lender will give you a loan. They still need to verify your information, and when you find a house you want to buy, they’ll order an appraisal to determine the property’s value and adherence to quality standards.
So a preapproval isn’t a done deal. But it does tell you how much home you might be able to afford.
And in competitive markets, a preapproval is a must-have. When sellers receive multiple offers, they look at not just how much a buyer is willing to pay but how likely they are to be able to pay it. A preapproval is essentially your lender vouching for you. And when you’re trying to stand out in today’s very large homebuying crowd, that can go a long way.
How to choose a mortgage lender
Before you can choose a mortgage lender, you have to know how to find a mortgage lender. Fortunately, that one’s pretty easy. You can search for mortgage lenders online or in your community.
You might also ask your friends and family for recommendations if they recently bought a house. But don’t take those recommendations as Gospel. The lenders they used might be fantastic. Are they right for you, though?
As with a real estate agent, it’s important to choose a lender that has experience working with buyers like you.
If you want to use a VA loan, you need to work with a VA-approved lender — preferably one with a history of closing VA loans and supporting the military community. If you’re looking for a low down payment loan and your credit score is on the low end, you may need a lender who offers FHA or USDA loans. Maybe you’re a first-time homebuyer and you’re not sure which loan option makes the most sense, so you need someone to break down the pros and cons.
Questions to ask potential lenders
Whatever your circumstances, look for a lender that can address your specific needs. Ask these questions to get the conversation started:
- What is their average time to close on a loan?
- Have they worked with buyers who are similar to you?
- What loan programs do they offer?
- Do they provide any closing guarantees?
- How quickly do they return calls, texts, and emails?
- Will the process take place largely online or will your loan officer work with you over the phone and in-person as well?
Don’t underestimate the power of gut instinct, though. Your lender will be with you throughout the homebuying process, from preapproval to the day you get your keys, so you want to work with a company and individual you feel good about.
When you talk with a loan officer, notice how you feel. Are you confident in their abilities? Did they take time to understand your goals and situation? Do you trust them? If the answer is no, contact another company.
But if the answer is yes, you may have found a winner, and together you can move one step closer to getting you into a new home.
The lender-real estate agent connection
OK, so you get preapproved for a mortgage and you can’t wait to look at houses. The next person you’ll want to connect with is a real estate agent. Your lender can help you with that, too.
Now, you don’t have to work with an agent your lender recommends. You’re free to shop houses with anyone you choose.
But your loan officer is an expert in the homebuying field, and they likely know which agents are best for which borrowers.
If you’re a first-time homebuyer, you probably want to work with an agent who gets how big a decision this is for you and who will answer your millionth anxious text with the same patience and reassurance as the first.
Or maybe you’re an active-duty Marine and want to use a VA loan to buy a house for your family. Your lender may know an agent who works with VA borrowers all the time and therefore understands the unique needs of military families — and knows the ins and outs of what it takes for a property to qualify for a VA loan.
Whatever your circumstances, chances are your lender can refer you to a reputable, experienced agent who can show you homes that suit your price range and your lifestyle.
Mortgage lender FAQs
A mortgage lender loans borrowers money to buy or refinance a home. Some mortgage lenders also offer home equity loans or home equity lines of credit (HELOCs), which allows you to borrow money against the equity in your house, if you already own a home.
Mortgage lenders will need a number of financial documents when you apply for a loan. These can include pay stubs, tax returns, bank statements, and other documents related to your income and employment. These days, many lenders allow you to securely upload your documents online at your convenience.
If you plan to buy a home soon, it’s best to avoid taking on any other big debts, such as a car loan. You’ll also want to avoid charging too much on your credit cards or opening new credit accounts right before applying for a mortgage.
An increase in debt raises your debt-to-income ratio (DTI), which is a key factor in qualifying for a home loan. New accounts can also signal that you’re struggling financially or that you may soon take on more debt — neither of which a lender wants to see.
Take the next step
Were you ready to buy a home, like, yesterday? There’s no time like the present to get started.
Pre-approval is based on a preliminary review of credit information provided to Fairway Independent Mortgage Corporation which has not been reviewed by Underwriting. Final loan approval is subject to a full Underwriting review of support documentation including, but not limited to, applicants’ creditworthiness, assets, income information, and a satisfactory appraisal.