It was July 2020 and the walls of Brittany Cormier and Nick Chaves’s Cambridge, Massachusetts, rental were closing in – pandemic style.

“We were so sick of looking at the four walls, sick of being so close together, we were both working from home. It was just so tight,” Cormier said of their 700-square-foot apartment. “And at that point, we were just ready to put our money into a house and stop paying someone else’s mortgage.”

The couple’s first stop? Their hometown bank to get a mortgage preapproval letter, a document issued after a lender examines a buyer’s ability to pay. It signals to the seller that buyers, particularly first-time purchasers like Cormier and Chaves, both 30, are able to secure a loan.

“In our minds, we had to have it no matter what,” Cormier said.

After a careful search, Cormier and Chaves happily closed on their new home in Lynnfield, a town 15 miles north of Boston. Before each offer, their lender and agent reworked preapproval details. Once their long hunt was over, the couple moved quickly, Cormier said.

Nationwide, there were four offers per home sold on average in February, according to the National Association of Realtors. At the same time, mortgage interest rates – while still near historic lows – are climbing as the country starts to emerge from the pandemic and the economy improves.

A preapproval letter, or its less intense cousin, a prequalification letter, is now essential, experts say.

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