I get asked this question a lot from first-time home buyers. When is the right time to start the pre-approval process?
Ideally, you should get pre-approved as soon as possible. This will give you three main advantages:
You will know the most you CAN spend, and on that basis you will be able to decide how much you WANT to spend given all your other financial obligations and priorities.
Once you know how much you want to spend you will be able to perform your home search based on a specific price range, and this will help you to stay focused, save time, and make more informed decisions with regard to any and all details (e.g. upgrades).
If you find a home which you absolutely love — perhaps one that involves multiple offers — you will be able to make an offer immediately and assure the seller that you are ready to buy. In some buying situations this can make the difference between getting or not getting the home you want, and could also put you in a better position to negotiate price and other elements.
Whether you've already fallen in love with a listing or are just starting the process, contact your financial institution as soon as possible. Empowering yourself with information is the best way to get packing!