It’s almost a requirement for Realtors and sellers to recognize you as a serious buyer by being pre-approved. But in fact, you really are just “pre-qualified.”
For most people the fun part of looking for your next home is seeing what different houses and neighborhoods look like. Homes for sale in Mt. Washington, for instance, look nothing like Echo Park homes. Streets in Highland Park don't even remotely resemble neighborhoods in Atwater Village. Enjoyable as it is, however, it still take some effort.
But the real work – and what’s most financially impactful towards your goal of buying a home in Northeast Los Angeles – is getting the right financing. It helps to at least get pre-qualified for a loan before you make an offer, and better yet, before you even look.
Reasons for preapproval – If you are shopping for a home in Mt. Washington, Garvanza or Eagle Rock and you find something that is well priced, you know the competition can be high to get your offer accepted over other bidders. So it’s to your advantage for your agent to be able to say, “the buyer is preapproved.” If the seller is motivated (i.e., they are wary of waiting a few weeks to learn the highest bidder cannot qualify for a loan) they might actually go with a lower offer from a buyer who appears to be more solid.
What the doubters say - A pre-approval isn’t a certainty that you will get the mortgage, much less at a particular rate and favorable set of terms. The process of getting a pre-approval involves minimal documentation just to get you started, to know you are “in the ballpark.” It identifies a price range that is appropriate for your level of income and probably a credit check that would identify “red flag” issues. But because the documentation requirements for homes have gotten much more stringent in the past decade (post-2008 financial crisis), it will be necessary to provide previous years’ tax returns, and as to answer questions on sources of income (e.g., “What was the source of this $30,000 deposit last month?”).
How to do it – Long gone are the “no documentation” loans that existed prior to 2008. That’s probably a good thing, given how most homebuyers want to be able keep their homes, enjoy their time there, and accumulate value in the asset over the years to come. The documentation you will need are the following: Proof of income (W-2 statements, most-recent pay stubs, and proof of any other sources of income such as alimony, pay bonuses, royalties or residuals); verification of employment (with a phone call to your employer and possibly a most-recent past employer); proof of assets (investment account statements, savings of any kind, appraisals of property you might already own and, if you are receiving assistance on the down payment from a relative or friend, a letter stating it is a gift and not a loan).
Lenders will usually give the best interest rates to people with a credit score above 740 – that holds true whether you’re shopping in Hermon, Glassell Park or Highland Park as well as anywhere else in Northeast Los Angeles. But if you fall below that, it doesn’t mean you can’t get a loan. It just means you might have to settle for less-favorable terms.
Note that with self-employed individuals, the requirements for documentation of income are significantly higher. People who consider going out there on their own are highly advised to get a mortgage and buy a new home they think they’ll be able to afford before taking that step. A NELA Realtor with experience in home transactions and the lending process can provide referrals on lenders and mortgage brokers – and show you homes you might find interesting.