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Yes, you definately need to pre-approved for a mortgage in order to put in an offer on any property. You really should do that before you look at properites. Otherwise, you could be looking at the wrong price-range - either setting your sights on homes you can't afford or else missing out on others because you think you can't afford them - both situations will be frustrating and unproductive for you.
Hope this helps! Marilyn
You have already received some great advice here. There are a couple of things I would like to add....
As the real estate market in Massachusetts has remained somewhat strong compared to other areas of the country, you could find yourself in a competitive situation when you find the perfect home.
Having a preapproval letter in hand when you write the offer not only lets YOU know that a bank has given you an idea of your buying power but sends a direct message to the seller that you have been prescreened and WILL be able to obtain financing.
I have closed several deals where multi-offer situations came down to the preapproval letter...AND the name of the company on the letterhead!
Do yourself a huge favor and speak to a reputable (preferably local) lender (not an unknown you find online!) One other advantage of this is the lender will be able to discuss any special financing programs that you might qualify for. You will also get a sense of what your monthly payments would be as taxes and insurance can vary tremendously by town here in MA.
Best of luck and feel free to contact me with further questions!
Contingencies are unrelated to the prequal. The seller will decide those based on the strength of the offer and how limiting they are. Normal contingencies are inspections and loan commitment. A home sale is less likely to fly, but you might be able to get a "right of first refusal".
ABSOLUTELY NO - YOU DO NOT HAVE TO BE PRE-QUALIFIED
That said I do not know a (good) real estate agent that would recommend you over another buyer if you were not.
The agent must present all offers
But it is up to the seller to determine if your offer (with or without a pre-qual) with or without the contingency's would be acceptable to them.
Yes (or pre-approval is better as Mark explained) otherwise your offer is not valid. For an offer to be valid you have to demonstrate that you are a ready, willing and able buyer...without being prequalified or preapproved then you lack the "able" part.
Also, if there is another offer up against yours or if one comes in while the sellers are waiting for your contingency to be met - you could lose it.
What is your contingency? Do you have a house to sell in CA?