A couple of George Washington University instructors discovered a big reason that people who buy new homes may regret the mortgage choice they make. The phenomenon is called "cognitive resource depletion," but that fancy phrase just means that once you have broken your brain searching out your property, you lose the ability to make smart decisions about your mortgage. Your reasoning goes to pot, and your achy head cries "no mas!"

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Studies have found that that willpower is a limited resource that can be depleted, or used up. And once your decision-making skills oui have been worn out, you'll have a harder time making smart decisions until you can top them off. The two instructors tested this theory specifically as it relates to mortgages.

One group of study participants was presented with an online shopping simulation that involved 14 choices about housing features, including colors, finishes, and possible trade-offs if a participant spent over budget. Then, they were asked to choose among a set of mortgages presented in a format adopted from the site of a national lender.

The other group did not get the online-shopping exercise. They went straight to the mortgage choosing part.

The loan choices consisted of five distinct products. Each included a monthly payment, an interest-rate offer and a loan term. After each choice, a link was presented that said, "For more details, click here." Anyone who clicked on the link was directed to a Website that offered detailed information about mortgage products and financing terms.

The results? Almost half of those who participated in the house-shopping exercise selected a higher-risk mortgage. Fewer than 1 in 5 of those who did not have to work through the buying simulation did the same.

So if you want to make a smart decision when shopping for a mortgage, find it first, before you look for your home. You'll have the piece of mind that comes from knowing you;re approved, and will be in a stronger negotiating position too.