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Mortgages & Refinancing

Preapproved? Think Again

It turns out that you sometimes really aren't qualified to buy that house.


Amid slow markets and tightened credit, some real estate agents, loan officers and mortgage brokers mislead home buyers by letting them believe that they've qualified for a loan (preapproval), when they've actually received only an estimate of what they can afford (prequalification). Such ethically challenged representatives assume that they can find the buyer a loan later. But when they can't, the frustrated buyer and seller find they've wasted time and money on a deal that was dead on arrival.

In Cincinnati, mortgage broker Johnathan Barber says that if obtaining a preapproval seems too easy to be true, it probably is. To obtain a bona fide preapproval, you must submit a loan application with the necessary documentation and fee. After the lender verifies and analyzes your application, it will notify you of the maximum monthly mortgage payment for which you qualify. Armed with the preapproval, you'll enjoy greater credibility with sellers. You can continue shopping for a better loan if you like.

First-time buyer Lenore Covington, 34, began to shop for a home in Cincinnati for herself and her two children, L'Kya, 14, and Ricoe, 5, only after obtaining a preapproval from Barber. She's confident that she's looking only at houses she can really afford.

Sellers can protect themselves by hiring an experienced real estate agent who can sniff out a dubious prospect and dog the process between acceptance of an offer and closing.