Chase Manhattan Corp., seeking to add again to its growing mortgage empire, is negotiating to purchase the assets of a mortgage servicing business controlled by Goldman, Sachs & Co., according to sources familiar with the deal.

Chase, acting through its Chase Manhattan Mortgage lending unit, was described by one source to be "close" to striking a deal to land Main Street Mortgage Co., a limited partnership controlled by the New York investment bank.

Main Street Mortgage, based in St. Petersburg, Fla., services about $3.5 billion in home loans, the sources said. Goldman officials declined to provide information about the unit's activities or assets.

Fred B. Koons, chairman of Chase Manhattan Mortgage, declined to comment.

The deal would be the latest in a string of mortgage banking acquisitions by Chase over the last two years. Chase's interest is also further evidence of the strong drive to grow among top-tier mortgage banks.

Main Street Mortgage is solely a loan servicing company, with no production network. It is used by Goldman as a means to service various blocks of loan servicing rights that the investment bank obtains in the course of other business, such as securitization.

The company was offered for sale several weeks ago, according to a source, and Chase quickly became the front runner. "I think that it is clear that Goldman does not have long-term ambitions as a loan servicer," said one observer.

Chase Manhattan Mortgage, based in Tampa, Fla., currently services $64.5 billion of home loans. This is up strongly from last summer, when the company serviced $47 billion.

Chase's servicing portfolio got a huge boost last summer when the bank plunked down $348 million to buy American Residential Mortgage Corp., a California-based lender with an $18 billion servicing portfolio and a far- flung network of loan originators.

A year before that, in March of 1993 Chase began its acquisition binge when it purchased Troy & Nichols, a Louisiana-based mortgage bank, for an undisclosed price.

While the Main Street purchase would do little more than increase Chase's servicing portfolio by less than 10%, it sends a signal that the money-center bank is willing to consider further acquisitions.

Since Main Street Mortgage carries with it no production, it should be comparatively simple to integrate it with Chase's other mortgage holdings. "They are in the same state," said an observer, "and Main Street has very few personnel."

Other banks, notably Norwest Corp., have hit the acquisition trail more than once this year. Norwest recently announced its intention to purchase Directors Mortgage Loan Corp., following up on its earlier purchase of the home-loan unit of Michigan National Bank. And the Minneapolis-based company is said to be the leading bidder for the $18 billion servicing portfolio of Barclays American Mortgage Co., a unit of Barclays Bank PLC.

Main Street Mortgage is one of many servicing oriented companies currently on the market. Driven in part by the high premiums currently being paid for servicing rights, a number of mortgage lenders and banks have elected to sell their mortgage businesses in whole or in part.

Source One Mortgage Services Corp. is currently marketing a $10 billion package of home loan servicing rights. AmSouth Bancorp. is also attempting to sell its $10 billion servicing portfolio and servicing center. Keycorp Mortgage, with a mortgage portfolio of $24 billion, is also currently for sale.

Negotiations between Chase and Main Street Mortgage are ongoing, sources said. A deal is likely to be finalized in the next several weeks.

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