Buyers, skip the pre-qualification letter and go straight to the pre-approval letter. A pre- qualification letter is the minimum you will need to put a contract on a house, but you would be wise to skip that process altogether and sit with a lender and get pre-approved for a loan.
In the post-2008 real estate meltdown, home-sellers and banks selling foreclosures and short sales want to know that you're truly qualified to buy a property before they agree to accept your offer. There is no reason to take a property off the active market if the buyer isn't actually qualified to buy it.
A pre-qualification is likely your lender's first contact with you. During that conversation, the lender will make an assessment of your buying power through a series of questions. Based upon what you tell him/her, he or she will make a preliminary assessment of your financial viability. Granted, it is only a preliminary assessment.
The pre-approval will require documentation, confirmation of income, savings and the capacity to buy. It's the next step in the home-buying process, but you can make it the first step with your lender. When a real estate offer to purchase is delivered to a home-seller or a bank, the difference between the two letters will be big. A buyer who can prove he is qualified will be granted more consideration than one who might be able to buy.
So, do yourself a favor and skip the pre-qualification letter and go straight to the pre-approval letter. If the market heats up and bidding wars become the norm, you'll be ahead of those bidders who are only offering similar contracts with a pre-qualification letter only.