Joint home-lending ventures remain a hot area of business for real estate brokerage companies and lenders despite word that some deals may not be as profitable as expected.

Keyes Company Realtors, Miami, and a subsidiary of First Union Corp., Charlotte, N.C., are the latest brokers and lenders to tie the knot. Thursday, the companies formed HomePartners, which will also be known as American Southern Financial Group.

Also last week, Centerbank Mortgage Corp., Waterbury, Conn., announced a joint venture agreement under which it would originate loans referred by brokers of Coldwell Banker Sammis. The brokerage operation maintains offices in two counties of New York State.

First Union's deal with Keyes is its first foray into controlled- business arrangements, as the ventures are called.

Federal law generally prohibits lenders from paying mortgage brokers for referring a potential borrower. But referral fees can be paid if the lender and brokerage company have established a joint venture.

Keyes had had a lending deal with American Savings since 1993. But the deal came undone when First Union recently bought American Savings.

Michael I. Pappas, president of Keyes, said both parties were eager to continue the lending relationship. He said Keyes has been struggling to make money as its brokers' commissions continue to increase and cut into profit margins. More expensive technology was also an issue, he said.

"You are looking to the same point of sale and trying to figure out how can we maximize that," Mr. Pappas said.

He has been eying ancillary forms of income for Keyes. The brokerage company already has a title insurance unit, and it may create an appraisal operation.

"As the brokerage industry continues to shrink, this type of business will be enhanced," he said.

Keyes has been originating about $6 million of loans per month. Mr. Pappas said his eight-person lending unit is profitable but that he hopes it could achieve $100 million of originations. That would give Keyes "seven-figure" profits, he said.

Homebuying and lending will eventually become a seamless process, he predicted, much like buying a car.

"Everything is full-service," he said. "That is what the customer wants."

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