San Antonio's Rockstar Turned Realtor®: Get pre-approved, but know what that means - a look at the stages of a loan approval.

Get pre-approved, but know what that means - a look at the stages of a loan approval.


Ever wondered what "approval" means?

Mortgage guy Ken Cook breaks down the stages of approval for a mortgage and shows you life on his side of the fence.  Ken's no-nonsense look at the value of the various stages of the loan process is refreshing and straight on.  Then again, Ken's never been known to mince words either.

As I asked him in my comment on his post though, I don't want anyone to think "well since pre-approval is worthless, I don't need one."  The fact is they are still necessary, even though he's right - they guarantee nothing.

If you're looking for a great mortgage blog, look no further than Ken's blog.


Ancient Mortgage Proverb: No deal is ever 100% certain until the loan is completely paid off.

There exists a chasm in communication, familiarity and point of view between agents and loan officers. Sometimes we try to act like it does not exist and we really wish it was not so. I know this chasm exists, just as you do for many reasons, because I have had real estate agents - very good agents - try to convert to loan officer at my companies and I have seen this chasm immediately appear. Sales are fairly and generally black and white, go or no-go, yea or nay. Either the seller accepts the offer, counters or declines. Every agent I have seen try to become a loan officer has had a difficult time adjusting to the different levels of approval.

There are different levels of approval with virtually every mortgage application to loan process and agents we really need you to do your best accept them even if you don't understand them. Otherwise you're going to continue driving the loan officer (me :) nuts and forcing the weaker ones to lie to you or avoid you. Let me help you not contribute to their delinquency by briefly explaining some of the levels of loan approval and addressing how I handle them individually.

First please recognize the average loan has many human and non-human touch-points. It's not just the loan officer or just the loan officer and the underwriter. There are also as many as dozens of other humans plus automated systems involved. If the loan application is not approved by each and every one of these processes as required by the lending or insurance (mortgage insurance) guidelines the application will be denied and the deal will be done.

I don't care who the loan officer is, where they work or what they say - these are constants and work the same way at every lender/bank/broker unless the person you are talking to has the money in their personal checking account and are personally making the loan - something a loan officer does not have the authority to do for any lender.)

Application Approval - these are generally worthless. These are generally called a pre-approval and sent on a letterhead from the bank, lender or broker. These are often given only after accepting the application and examining the credit history of the applicant(s). At this point nothing has usually been verified or even documented such as income, assets and job history. (I do give these and I explain this is a CREDIT ONLY pre-approval and I have verified nothing except credit and payment history.)

Credit Only Approval - see above.

Automated System Approval (Application Stage) - this is also generally worthless. The loan officer generally has not verified income, assets and job history at this point. This is where most "approval letters" are issued on that official looking FNMA Pre-Approval sheet. (I give these as well and explain I still need all the documentation and several verifications of documenation from the appropriate source.)

Underwriter's Opinion Pre-Approval - again basically worthless for the same reasons. (I give these ocassionally when there is a borderline issue as in tax returns for example.)

Underwriter's Conditional Approval - this is where the loan officer should have a very good idea if this application will be approved. There can be as many as 3 or more weeks between the Application Approval and this date because this is the first time anyone has looked at the complete application package which will include: income documentation (pay stubs, tax returns, etc.), asset documentation (bank statements, retirement account statements, letters of verification), employment verification, rent/mortgage verification, appraisal, insurance documentation, inspection (if required), fully executed and legible purchase agreement, and whatever else is needed. THIS IS STILL NOT AN APPROVAL! There will be conditions and until the conditions are satfisfied this is not a loan.

Clear to Close (or Cleared to Close) - this is it. This is the first time ANYONE can assure this will be a finalized transaction and it does have an expiration - usually 7 to 10 days after the approval.

-Side note about conditions. I had a first time home buyer ask me about "Conditions" the other day. He's a young and single man so I used an illustration I thought he could easily understand. I said, "Suppose you finally get up the courage and ask that pretty girl out on a date. She tells you she will go out with you if you drive a red sports car, pick her up at exactly 7PM and take her to the most expensive restaurant in town." I needed to offer no further explanation of conditions.

The bottom line is this: If you do your job right, the loan officer does their job right, the title/escrow agency does their job right, the appraiser does their job right, the inspector does their job right, the insurance company does their job right, the buyer's employer does their job right, the buyer's current mortgage company or landlord does their job right, the person giving the gift (if there is a down payment gift) does their job right, the IRS does their job right, the borrower's accountant/CPA does their job right, the seller does their job right, the appraiser does their job right, the HOA does their job right, the inspector does their job right, the processor does their job right, the underwriter does their job right, the closing co-ordinator does their job right, the funder does their job right, the seller's agent does their job right ... that's most of them ... then within a few days to a few weeks we'll meet at the closing table. Until then NOTHING is certain.

Now do you still want my opinion or do you want to wait for the truth?

Ken Cook - Nationwide Specialist - Information/Marketing - FHA Home Loans

Comment balloon 5 commentsMatt Stigliano • October 25 2009 08:07AM


Hi Matt!  Great post by Ken to re-blog!  Many just don't get it--it isn't over 'til the fat lady sings!  But, as you say, we STILL have to have it done.

Have a great week...

Posted by Debe Maxwell, CRS, Charlotte Homes for Sale - Charlotte Neighborhoods ( | The Maxwell House Group | RE/MAX Executive | (704) 491-3310) over 9 years ago

Good detials for buyers and sellers alike.  Thanks for taking the time to put this together.

Posted by Epcon Communities Epcon Columbia (Epcon Columbia, SC) over 9 years ago

Great posts.  Agents should get it right before placing a person into your car especially these days.  Pre-qualified and pre-approved really could be the same thing, and sometimes are not worth the paper they are written on.

Posted by Jim Crawford, Jim Crawford Atlanta Best Listing Agents & REALTOR (Crye-Leike REALTORS®) over 9 years ago

Most buyers (and some agents) do not realize that just because a buyer has a pre-approval letter does not mean they still qualify and can actually get full loan approval! It is tough to be a buyer these days but with information like the ones in the "re-blog" should help buyers understand the process much better.

Posted by Terrie Leighton, Reno Real Estate Agent ~ Selling Homes in Reno (Ferrari-Lund Real Estate ) over 9 years ago

Good post to re-blog.  Thanks for sharing Matt.  It's unfortunate that some get mislead..

Posted by Lee & Pamela St. Peter, Making Connections to Success in Real Estate (Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices YSU Realty: (919) 645-2522) over 9 years ago