Here's the straight goods, ladies & gents; Without a pre-approval, you are playing 'Pin The Tail,' on the Real Estate Donkey. The "donkey" ends up being the Seller of a property, your Realtor®, and yourself. No one wins at that game.
The Seller is the "donkey." Yes, you can make your offer subject to financing, but in my opinion, it is unethical to enter into a Contract of Purchase & Sale with a subject to financing clause when you have no idea if you will be approved or not for the price that you offer and agree to pay. When you release from a Contract of Purchase & Sale, yes, you get to walk away, but, you have often created tarnisshed relations between professionals and you have caused the Seller to lose precious "Days On Market," timing when they could have found a Buyer who was pre-approved.
Your Realtor® is the "donkey," by scurrying around trying to get you into the places that you want to view which does displace Sellers as they need to get their place shiny for your arrival. Most Realtors® will hit the ground running to try help you achieve your goal. They are "free," to the Buyer, but it is important not to mistake that for devaluing the work and important role that they play on your team. They bust a move to get you into places first and to jockey for the best deal and terms etc.., but Buyers need to get in the game with an honest time frame and a realistic price range so that everyone can make sure your goals are being met.
Lastly, you are the "donkey," when you avoid getting a pre-approval. You ultimately just hurt your own chances of achieving your real estate goals. For those who rent, it is even worse as the market goes on with or without you. Over the last year, prices have raised a LOT, while renters have paid their landlords after tax dollars that they will never get back, as they keep deferring the "Get Pre-Approval," reminder that is on their expired To Do List.
Want to own real estate? Make a goal, write it down, commit to it, stop spending money foolishly, get pre-approved through a mortgage broker or your bank (or both), choose your Realtor wisely (they are your team and you should feel like they have your back, always), learn about the market, view places in your price range, adjust your expectations, and then make it happen.
Ready, Set, Go!