How a buyer gets pre-approved for financing is typically two ways:
1) The first is kinda "duh" but you pretty much walk into your preferred bank and tell them this. A loan officer will then get your W'2s, bank statements, last 2 years of tax returns, credit report, etc... to pre-qualify you. I think if you just want a ball-park estimate of your purchase price and confirmation you can buy now this is better than what most people do PROCRASTINATE haha! Trulia does have loan officers and many times you can just fill out an online application as well. Just make sure whoever you choose has experience with down payment programs. Not very many loan officers do down payment programs.
2) The 2nd is the usual route and is through a Realtor referral. I would say the majority of my clients just wait until we start working together. Buying a home for the first time can be intimidating for some, and it is my job to help get the right loan officer for my client. I work with them every day, and through the years have built some great relationships with who I believe to be the best in the business.
We are paid be the seller so buyers pretty much get all of our services for free.
You usually don't need to hire a realtor right on the spot just for a lender referral. Usually what happens is you research some of us on Trulia and contact one of the Realtors you would like to try out. I give you my lender referral and help get you started reviewing neighborhoods and the market you plan on buying in....pretty much the "preparation stage of home-buying". I also get you set up on a MLS search directly from the realtor portion (no public access). It is the ONLY and best property listing search out there.
If down the road you think we are a good fit than we will work out an agreement, but if not and you decide to use someone else you don't have to worry about ever being in any sort of contract. My brother is a teacher and I don't think there are any advantages of being one, but overall there are a lot of down payment assistance programs for St. Paul. Try to find a Realtor that is used to working with first time buyers and is willing to put forth the extra effort to help empower you with all the tools to buy a successful home.
Whether it is pre-approval for financing, or just figuring out what area in St. Paul is the best area for looking at homes, being a first-time buyer can be intimidating at first. A great Realtor will help be there for you as a valuable resource.
And a great loan officer too hehehe! Hope this helps Amy