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    The concept of a mortgage is quite simple. It's basically a loan for a home wherein the property itself is used as collateral.

    Securing a mortgage, however, can be complex. The process may take more than a month, as several parties – from the escrow officer to the loan underwriter – work behind the scenes to put it all together.

    A trusted real estate agent can recommend a reputable mortgage professional and help you navigate through the process.

    Getting approved for a loan prior to your home search is a smart move that offers several advantages. It gives you a benchmark for how much you can afford, helping you narrow down your home search from the start. It also allows you to be taken more seriously in the bidding stage, which can help tremendously in your negotiations, especially when dealing with distressed properties.

    You'll need to assemble several documents to start the preapproval process:

    Federal tax returns for the last two years.

    W2s (or 1099 statements) for the last two years.

    Bank statements for the last two months.

    Recent pay stubs and proof of any other income.

    Proof of assets (stocks, mutual funds).

    Information about your current debts.

    Information about the source of your down payment, including gifts.