Prospective homebuyers searching for mortgages are influenced most by advice from friends and family, a study has found.

More than one-third of buyers said they rely on friends for guidance on where to seek a loan, according to the study by the Mortgage Bankers Association of America. Just 12% look to advertisements for such information, and only 3% ask a financial adviser.

Does this mean banks that are devoting millions of dollars to advertising mortgage products should put their money elsewhere?

Not necessarily, said Doug Duncan, the association's director of research.

"If I were a marketing person, I'd say I should shift my marketing" instead, he said. Mr. Duncan suggested that lenders explore advertisements that capitalize on buyers' reliance on friends and family.

The study also noted some racial patterns in borrowers' receptivity to advice.

For instance, Asians who said they turned to media sources for advice overwhelmingly preferred print publications-93%, versus 61% for homebuyers at large.

Real estate agents have long been a source of advice for homebuyers, said Anne Moore, principal at Synergistic Research in Atlanta, who stressed that lenders should cultivate all intermediaries in the lending process, including home builders.

Half of all buyers got in touch with a mortgage broker once they were ready to get a loan, the study found. One-third went directly to a mortgage lender, 10% to real estate agents, and 8% to a financial adviser.

The study also found that most white and Asian homebuyers used mortgage brokers, compared with one-third of black and Hispanic buyers. The disparity may relate to income levels and comfort with the homebuying process, Ms. Moore said.

"We've found the same thing with insurance and investment products," she said. "If you know you can be approved, you comparison-shop through a broker."

Mortgage brokers represent many financial institutions, Ms. Moore said. "Someone with a lower income wants to go to a place they have an account and sit down face-to-face with the lender," she added.

Brokers long ago learned the art of cultivating relationships to boost business, bankers said.

"Some brokers don't do much marketing at all, some do direct mail, but they all say the most important thing is the network of people who know them," said Richard Humphrey, senior vice president for marketing at GreenPoint Financial Corp. in New York.

"We know a broker who hands a business card to the collector every time he goes through a toll booth," he said.

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.