Home computers are quickly becoming as common in homes as televisions and VCRs, and now the telephone lines are allowing people to do an amazing array of thingsget free stock quotes, apply for sky diving lessons, even HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros got into the on-line act by sponsoring an on-line fair housing forum.

Mortgage lenders are zeroing in on that trend and developing programs aimed at tapping the more than 5 million information- hungry subscribers on the four major on-line networks.

Those networksCompuserve, Pro-digy, America Online and GEniehave exploded across American telephone lines and are finding computer users clamoring for information and services.

But its the real estate opportunities that have mortgage lenders excited. Three of those networksGEnie, a subsidiary of General Electric, excludedallow borrowers to access information about homes for sale in their states. America Online lists 6,400 homes for sale posted by real estate agents, brokers and subscribers, and that service is growing daily.

The potential for the on-line mortgage market is limitless mostly because only two companies use these networks to take applications, Countrywide Funding, of Pasadena, Calif., which is on-line with Prodigy, and Express America Mortgage, of Scottsdale, Ariz., which is using CompuServe.

Express America, a publicly traded wholesale lender with more than $8 billion in servicing and $5 billion in wholesale originations in 1993, kicked off its retail program in January and is using CompuServe to test the waters of on-line services.

We went on line in mid-April and weve gotten favorable responses, said Bob Boulware, director of information systems at ExAm. [Prospective home buyers] can fill out mini applications and E-mail them to us, and we get back to them within 24 hours.

Boulware wouldnt comment on the number of applications ExAm has taken on-line, but said the company hasnt closed many yet. He added, however, there are a number of applications in the pipeline.

CompuServe worked with AmEx and in about 90 days the systemwhich is basically just an interactive nationwide E-mail systemwas on-line.

Boulware said establishing the system was easy, and CompuServes programmers helped make the transition smooth.

If successful, AmEx said it would consider expanding to other networks, but for now it will stay where it is. An evaluation of the service is planned for the end of the year.

Countrywides system, called Mortgage Assistance, on-line since December, offers a mini application similar to AmExs, with the same 24-hour turnaround.

It also offers its Lock N Shop rate guaranty program to home buyers that qualify. Countrywide would not comment on the progress of its Prodigy-based program.

But the lenders monopoly on this new medium probably wont last longCompuServe said one major nationwide lender is near completing a deal that would put it on-line. Prodigy said it is courting a number of interested mortgage lenders.

And America Online and GEnie have both had contact with interested lenders, as well.

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.