Cultivating relationships with outside allies is just as important as courting customers, mortgage bankers say.

Being able to access loans from originators such as brokers is critical, said Douglas A. Smith, vice president at BancBoston Mortgage Corp., Jacksonville, Fla., which does a big wholesale business.

Mortgage bankers say honing relationships has become even more important in the current market, in which uncertainty about the direction of rates has made many investors skittish.

Observers say the more seamless and stable an operation appears, the more appealing it will be to borrowers, who have a raft of lenders to choose from.

"The better the relationship you have with the people you work with, the better you're able to serve your customers," said Robert A. Calvert, president of Calvert Consulting in Atlanta.

Since small mortgage banks don't typically sell their loans directly into the secondary market, these companies must be especially close to their wholesalers, Mr. Calvert said.

Problems in this relationship "could lock mortgage bankers out from making loans that others now will," he said. Working with a number of wholesalers broadens the kinds of loan products a small mortgage banker or broker can offer.

The bigger mortgage bankers place relationships with investors, or loan purchasers, high on their lists of important alliances.

"Your investors are key," said Mr. Smith of BancBoston.

BancBoston works with more than 100 funding sources, including its parent bank, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac.

Indeed, an alliance with Freddie and Fannie "is probably the most important relationship we have right now," said Stephen McGurl, vice president for residential production with Crestar Mortgage Corp.

The agencies have their ear to the ground, and are able to share the information they receive.

"They know what's happening around the country and what works for other lenders," Mr. McGurl said.

While Crestar and BancBoston base their assessments on the considerable volume they do, smaller mortgage lenders also call loan purchasers their primary partners.

"If we don't have companies to sell our loans to, we might just as well play solitaire on our computers," said Prescott Wright, president of Arrow Mortgage Corp.

Executives at the one-office mortgage company in Buzzards Bay, Mass., have spent the last decade building regional business by establishing ties to many constituents.

Real estate agents, credit report companies, appraisers, and lawyers are among the groups that Arrow Mortgage is linked to.

"Without relationships, you don't have a degree of security," Mr. Wright said. Once a loan is closed, "if I get a call it means there was a breakdown and someone didn't do their job."

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