The 3 reasons why you should get pre-qualified...
#1 Pre-qualification acts as a dry run of the loan application process. The mortgage lender will use details you provide about your credit, income, assets and debts to arrive at an estimate of how much mortgage you can afford. The whole process only takes a few minutes or a few hours at most, and is free. If you don't already have a lender in mind I have a list of lenders who have excellent track records. You should talk to two or three to see who can give you the best deal. Unlike applying for multiple credit cards, applying for a mortgage with more than one lender DOES NOT IMPACT YOUR CREDIT RATING. Plus it will put your mind at ease knowing you're getting the best on your mortgage.
NOTE: I tell my clients to get pre-qualified for the maximum amount you can borrow. It will give you a leg up on the competition if you find yourself in a multiple offer situation. If you offer $300,000 but you're pre-approved for $375,000 it will be more attractive to the seller than someone offering $300,000 who is pre-approved for $300,000.
#2 While a "pre-qual" is non-binding to the lender (because the information you provide has not been verified), it does serve as a good indication to potential sellers of your general creditworthiness.
Which brings us to reason number three...
#3 These days sellers will NOT accept an offer without at least a pre-approval letter. What seller in their right mind would take the chance of tying up their property in a contract if they aren't at least reasonably sure the buyer will have the funds to complete the purchase.
So as soon as you're ready to get serious about buying getting pre-qualified is the first step towards getting you in your new home.