Property appraisals can now be ordered and delivered electronically over Freddie Mac's Goldworks network, the housing finance agency said.

The service is a joint effort with Mpact Immedia Corp., which Freddie described as "a leader in electronic commerce," and ACI Development, a large appraisal software company.

Freddie, formally the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp., said Norwest Mortgage Inc., Des Moines, was the first lender to participate in the service, using the system to connect with its own appraisal subsidiary, Value Information Technology.

The system allows appraisers to take photos of properties and load them directly into the network along with the written reports, saving time and film processing costs.

"Through this new service, hundreds of thousands of appraisals a year will be completed electronically, replacing a paper-intensive task with a more efficient service," said James Cotton, Freddie's vice president for marketing.

Lenders have been looking intensively for ways to speed up mortgage processing and approvals. Appraisals, with a labor-intensive hands-on element, have been a sticking point.

Freddie Mac said the service eliminates the need to rekey information, print appraisal reports, and use overnight delivery service.

Because the appraisal files are relatively large, an inexpensive transmission network becomes significant, according to Tom Baarsch, a manager with Valuation Information.

ACI, based in Stevensville, Mich., is privately held. It says its customers account for half of the appraisal market and 50% of all top lenders.

In a separate announcement, Freddie said it would provide more than $1.4 billion in financing in Dallas over the next five years to revitalize neighborhoods and expand homeownership.

The announcement gave these highlights of the program:

Mortgages with low down payments. Loans can be for up to 95% of the home's value, with 3% of the down payment coming from the borrower and 2% from a Dallas fund.

A program to help families buy and rehabilitate homes in a designated area that includes some of the oldest neighborhoods.

Development of a neighborhood-based program for low-income families that would include outreach, counseling, and construction monitoring for those that want to rehabilitate properties.

Support for a lease-purchase program that would help renters accumulate the down payment and closing costs needed to buy a home.

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