GMAC Mortgage Corp. has hired a relative unknown to head the retail side of its home equity lending.

Willem J. Nieuwkerk, 35, joined the Elkins Park, Pa., lender last month and took over its retail home equity operation in March.

The new manager of home equity operations helped form the second- mortgage lending unit at Residential Services Corporation of America, Prudential Insurance Company of America's mortgage subsidiary.

GMAC is the latest mortgage bank to plunge into the home equity lending market with the hope of making up for first-mortgage originations lost to higher interest rates.

Until now, GMAC was using the home equity loan mostly as something else to sell to its first-mortgage borrowers. Now it is approaching the loans as stand-alone products.

GMAC originated $110 million of home equity loans last year - a pittance when compared with the volume of industry leaders.

Mr. Nieuwkerk, who likes to be called Bill, will try to propel GMAC into the top ranks of home equity lenders. And he has a comprehensive plan to do so, he said.

He said GMAC would use its foundation of millions of customers and employees to propel its home equity lending. Service and a grand product menu will be the hallmarks of the unit, he said.

He said most banks "are still slow on the uptake" when they originate home equity loans. He said GMAC will provide second mortgages much faster and with better service than small regional banks - GMAC's main home equity competitor.

GMAC will soon offer second mortgages with set expiration times. He also said the lender may soon introduce unsecured second mortgages, or loans that do not use the borrower's home as collateral.

GMAC will also keep its products price competitive.

"It is obviously very competitive in this industry," he said. But "probably where we can really increase our presence in the market is just looking at some of the things we have in place."

He said GMAC will broaden the product selection at its branches to include home equity loans. GMAC is licensed to originate home equity loans in 44 states.

GMAC will try to develop its direct mail and telemarketing originations, he said. GMAC will also use a rebate program, currently in the testing stage, as a springboard to originate home equity loans.

The program, which began a test run in November, entitles General Motors credit card holders to earn up to 1% of their average outstanding home equity balance as a rebate towards the purchase of a GM car or truck. Gold GM Mastercard holders can earn up to $1,000 towards the purchase of a GM vehicle. Blue Mastercard holders can earn up to $500.

GM cardholders are entitled to rebates on vehicle purchases of up to 5% of total purchases with their GM cards.

Ford Consumer Finance Co., Dallas, has long offered rebates for home equity loan borrowers with much success.

Mr. Nieuwkerk expects car and truck rebates to differentiate GMAC in home equity lending among new industry entrants.

GMAC's home equity lending through mortgage brokers and other lenders is also expanding and growing. Last month, Residential Funding Corp., GMAC's wholesale lending unit, closed its first home equity securitization. It had been originating home equity loans for just over a year.n

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