Two big names in the housing business are setting up an electronicnetwork to market mortgages to homebuyers in realty offices.

Alltel Information Services will hook up several national and regional lenders to Prudential Real Estate Affiliates around the nation. Alltel already runs a network that the biggest lenders use to ferry monthly payment information on half the nation's home loans.

Lenders that participate in the new venture will pay a fee to join. Their names will be announced by the end of the month, according to Rob Lee, a senior vice president at Jacksonville, Fla.-based Alltel.

There are a number of other networks in various stages of development in the mortgage industry. The systems address two pressures lenders now face - how to snag loan customers before competitors, and how to make loans cheaper and quicker than the next guy.

Prudential Real Estate Affiliates has nearly 1,300 offices in the United States and Canada and more than 34,000 sales associates. The two companies' announcement said operation had home sales of more than $52 billion last year.

Mr. Lee of Alltel said potential homeowners may use the new network to prequalify for a home loan, lock in interest rates, and file mortgage applications.

Employees designated as "facilitators" at the real estate offices would help homeowners shop for loans. In some cases, acting like much like mortgage brokers, they would also electronically procure borrower credit reports, title searches, and appraisals, Mr. Lee said.

The network will feature well-known lenders, with which a homebuyer would normally shop for a mortgage, he said. Consumers would not pay a fee for the service.

During the fourth quarter, the service will operate with a small group of lenders. Each Pru realty office will be able to choose the mix of services it believes will best suit its customers.

Alltel and Pru are seeking additional partners for the network, according to the announcement. Alltel recently announced that it was partnering with Microsoft Corp. to provide a secure network for electronic data interchange EDI.

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