Priceline.com is teaming up with Alliance Capital Partners of Jacksonville, Fla., in a venture that would let borrowers name their price for mortgage loans on-line.
Priceline, based in Stamford, Conn., offers to find consumers a price to their liking for various services. It has partners in the airline, car rental, and hotel businesses that bid over the Internet for the consumers' business. Since February it has had a partnership with LendingTree, an aggregate lender site, to offer mortgages, refinancing, and home equity loans.
Ben Ness, senior vice president of financial services at Priceline, said the Alliance Capital subsidiary, Alliance Mortgage, was chosen for the deal because it was not trying to build its own brand name on-line.
"If we had chosen to go with an E-loan we would have been just one of their feeder sites, as they are fighting to build their own brand," Mr. Ness said. "We are already a major Internet brand, and we wanted someone filling the demand we create."
Mr. Ness added that by teaming with the subsidiary of a thrift Priceline is automatically licensed to operate in all 50 states.
Patrick McEnerney, executive vice president of production for Alliance Mortgage said the deal would help his company sidestep a common barrier to Internet success. "It's very expensive for a mortgage company to try to create name recognition on the Internet. Priceline already has that."
Mr. McEnerney is also president of Bank of New York Mortgage Co., which is 51% owned by Alliance Mortgage.
Among Internet companies, Priceline.com is second only to Amazon.com in consumer recognition. In a survey in August, Opinion Research Corporation International, of Princeton, N.J., found that 60.1% of U.S. adults were aware of the Amazon brand and 55.4% were aware of Priceline.
Priceline.com already has a mortgage link on its site and operates as a multi-lender network, matching borrowers with lenders who accept their lowest bids.
Under the agreement, Alliance Mortgage would provide loan decisions using Fannie Mae's automated underwriting system, but would not receive a preferred lender status or additional loan volume from Priceline customers. Borrowers receive a guaranteed maximum closing cost quote and an on-line rate lock-in if their bid were accepted.
Mr. Ness said that borrowers who name "fantasy" loan terms would receive counseling on the mortgage process and more appropriate counter-offers.
The new venture is expected to roll out a pilot program in Florida by the end of the month. Home equity loans will not initially be offered through the partnership.