Any reputable lender will “pre-qualify” you for a mortgage before you start house hunting. This process includes analyzing your income, assets and present debt to estimate what you may be able to afford on a house purchase.

Obtaining mortgage “pre-approval” is another thing entirely. It means that you have in hand a lender’s written commitment to put together a loan for you (subject to verification of income and employment).

Pre-approval makes you a strong buyer, welcomed by sellers. With most other purchases, sellers must tie the house up on a contract while waiting to see if the would-be buyer can really obtain financing.