Foreclosures can be tough to deal with if you don't know what you're doing. They can also be very risky. Sure you may get a great deal on something, but after all of the headaches of repairs go away, sometimes it may not be worth it. There are people that do this type of thing for a living and are very accomplished at it. It is something, in my opinion, that takes practice and a lot of patience.
To answer your question about trying to obtain a mortgage prior to an auction, you must have cash to buy a home that is up for auction. Dealing with banks or other lending institutions that hold the deed for homes that have been foreclosed upon is probably your best bet. Depending on the length of time the institution has held the property, motivation to move it may be very high. I have seen some pretty big discounts occur in this situation. They have a bottom line price and many times are will to take a hit on it to get out from under it. The only thing to do is go after it and not be set on any one property knowing that it will be pretty competitive. The dream of finding the perfect home with minimal work is just that...a dream. I suggest moving forward with both eyes open and plan on unexpected additional work.
If I were you, I would work with a real estate professional and definitely have your financing in order to be able to react on very short notice. There are good deals to be had, but many people get in way over their heads and end up breaking even or even losing on the deal when it's all over.
Best of luck and feel free to contact me if I can be of assistance.
ERA Buckhead Realty