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If you’re a first-time homebuyer, odds are you’ve thrown the words “prequalified” and “preapproved” interchangeably. However, when it comes to home loans, there are some very important differences between the two.

For buyers hoping to purchase a home with a few missteps and misunderstandings as possible, it’s vital to understand the procedures involved in acquiring financing for a home.

Today, we’ll break down these two real estate jargon terms so that you can go into the mortgage approval process armed with the knowledge to help you succeed in securing a home loan.

Mortgage prequalification

Let’s start with the easy part--mortgage prequalification. Getting prequalified helps borrowers find out what kind and what size mortgage they can likely secure financing for. It also helps lenders establish a relationship with potential customers, which is why you will often see so many ads for mortgage prequalification around the web.

Prequalification is a relatively simple process. You’ll be asked to provide an overview of your finances, which your lender will plug into a formula and then report back to you whether or not you’re likely to get approved based on your current circumstances.

The lender will ask you for general information about your income, assets, debt, and credit. You won’t need to provide exact documents for these things at this phase in the process, since you have not yet technically applied for a mortgage.

Prequalification exists to give you a broad picture of what you can expect. You can use this information to plan for the future, or you can seek out other lenders for a second opinion. But, before you start shopping for homes, you’ll want to make sure you’re preapproved, not prequalified.

Mortgage preapproval

After you’ve prequalified, you can start thinking about preapproval. If you’re serious about buying a home in the near future, getting preapproved will simplify your buying process. It will also make sellers more likely to take you seriously, since you already have your financing partially secured.

Mortgage preapproval requires you to provide the lender with income documentation. They will also perform a credit inquiry to receive your FICO score.

Mortgage applications and credit scores

Before we talk about the rest of the preapproval process, we need to address one common issue that buyers face when applying for a mortgage. There are two types of credit inquiries that lenders can perform to view your credit history--hard inquiries and soft inquiries.

A soft inquiry won’t affect your credit score. But a hard inquiry can lower your score by a few points for a period of 1 to 2 months. So, when getting preapproved, you should expect your credit score to drop temporarily.

After preapproval

Once you’re preapproved for a mortgage, you can safely begin looking at homes. If you decide to make an offer on a home and your offer is accepted, your preapproval will make it easier to move forward in closing on the home.

Once the lender checks off on the house you’re making an offer on, they will send you a loan commitment letter, enabling you to move forward with closing on the home.


The single most difficulty first-time homebuyers face is being able to save up the down payment. From student loans to medical bills; wanting to start a family or live in a more expensive city; coming up with those funds keeps many potential buyers out of the market.

In fact, if you don’t have your down payment saved up yet, you probably don’t think you can buy, but a recent report called the Realtors Confidence Index Survey Report claims that over eighty percent of first-time homebuying transactions take place with less than the common twenty-percent down payment.

Thankfully, there are programs out there just for you. These grants and funds may be just the boost you need. 

USDA Loans

If you’re interested in living in an area designated as rural, you may qualify for a home loan using a program set up by the Department of Agriculture. The USDA loans help low- and moderate-income buyers purchase homes in rural areas. While a down payment isn’t required, buyers must meet income eligibility requirements. They also must agree to live in the house as their primary residence. Specific addresses apply for these loan guarantees, so if you’re already looking at a rural home, double check the location to see if it qualifies.

National Homebuyers Fund

This non-profit corporation helps potential homebuyers with their down payment grants and closing costs, mortgage credits, energy efficiency financing, and other programs. To take advantage of these programs, the buyer must also qualify for FHA, VA, USDA, or conventional loans and be a low-to-moderate income earner. The program does not require that the buyer be a first-time homeowner so former homeowners who are looking to re-enter the market may qualify. Also, it’s FICO score and debt-to-income ratios are flexible.

HUD Neighbor Next Door

Purchasing a home through this program works to encourage buying in areas selected for renewal or revitalization. It provides funds for teachers, firefighters, law enforcement, and emergency medical technicians to purchase in these neighborhoods. This incentive is substantial, with up to fifty-percent reduction in the list price of an eligible home via a bid-selection process. 

If you’re interested in the HUD program and qualify in one of the public servant categories, contact a HUD-registered real estate broker for assistance. Or, contact your neighborhood real estate professional and ask about local programs in your area.




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