Intel Corp., the computer technology giant, and Countrywide Credit Industries, the nation's biggest home lender, are teaming up in an experiment that could redefine how mortgages are originated.
Intel is providing new videoconferencing equipment to a young company that will connect homebuyers in real estate offices with loan officers from Countrywide and 11 other lenders.
The system would bring a more personal touch to the technology of mortgage production. It works like this:
A representative of the new company, called Virtual Realty Network Inc., Newport Beach, Calif., fields initial video conference calls from potential borrowers calling from a real estate broker's office.
The borrower and the network representative resolve which of the dozen lenders the borrower wants to use. The borrower is then switched to a loan officer, who completes the application process. Closings will also be done over the videoconferencing system.
The new service underscores intensive efforts by lenders to forge electronic links with real estate offices and builders. The idea is to guarantee access to borrowers as well as to reduce costs.
An Intel spokeswoman said its deal with Virtual Realty is only the first of several it expects to close with larger operators by the end of the summer. Virtual Realty also has ambitious plans and said it was having discussions that could bring its network, to be called LoanMaker, to 40,000 more sites.
The two-to-three-month pilot program begins Friday. The rollout, after the test is completed, will involve 10,000 teleconference sites, according to Virtual Realty, which would make it the largest mortgage network.
Computerized loan origination networks, or CLOs, have been part of the automation effort. They have been rolled out with great expectations by a variety of small and midsize companies with varying degrees of success.
But the relatively inexpensive teleconferencing feature (about $4,000 a unit), and Intel's all-out marketing efforts, promise to bring mortgage originations far more solidly into the high-tech world.
"In the 25 years I have been in the (mortgage) industry, this is the most powerful technological advancement to come along since the personal computer," said Scott L. Hall, managing partner, Hall Young & Co., a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., consultant.
"You will see videoconferencing be a mainstay in the origination business by the first quarter of 1996," Mr. Hall said.
He said Intel's technology brought the personal touch back into the computerized loan origination process.
A press conference in Los Angeles today will kick off the rollout of the system.
In a conventional origination network, a computer lists mortgage rates from several lenders for borrowers to choose from. No preference is given to any lender.
Virtual Realty's network will work similarly. But Intel's ProShare Personal Conferencing Video System 200 allows the borrower, no matter where, to see the loan officer on a computer screen at every stage of the origination process. The system also allows loan officers to call up documents for borrowers to see and to sign with their electronically stored signature.
Virtual Realty will receive a fee of 50 basis points from the lender for the referral. The real estate broker will not be compensated.
Today's computerized originations "are not warm and friendly," said Dianne D. David, Virtual Realty's chief operating officer. "This gives them a personal feeling that they are dealing with a real person."
She said the system cuts down closing time to 30 days from about 45.
Some observers, however, are not so sure that LoanMaker and Intel will revolutionize computerized originations.
"In this day and age, vaporware is very easy to market," said Paul E. Tuttle, managing partner at Tuttle & Co., a Mill Valley, Calif., consultant.
"It may work, it may not," he added. "The question is, how do you deliver the information and is there enough spread and volume" to make it worthwhile?
Critics question whether the video conferencing technology will be accepted by consumers. "It is just another form of communication," said Scott Cooley, president of Contour Software in Campbell, Calif. "It is a step better than telephone, but it is not as good as face to face."
The Mars system from GHR Systems Inc., Wayne, Pa., is generally considered the most accepted computerized loan origination technology today. But even Mars has not received the volume some expected.
In January, Remax International, one of the nation's largest franchise networks of real estate brokerage offices, tested computerized origination systems.
But despite its leaning towards the Mars system, Remax officials chose not to adopt the technology. They attributed their retreat to yet-undefined government regulations.
Mr. Hall of Hall Young, which has in the past consulted for Intel, said that a dozen lenders had approached him about using the conferencing technology. He said some were now trying to figure out how to develop their relationships with mortgage brokers and other originators using the Intel system.
"It is all very new to the mortgage lending industry and it is only in the last several months that the interest has started to focus" on how to use it best, he said.