WASHINGTON - The Mortgage Bankers Association has hired Fleischman Hillard, a national advertising agency, to publicize its program to boost homeownership.

The program is part of an initiative to increase homeownership that was launched by MBA president Joe Pickett when he took office in November.

The aim is to help members reach new audiences of potential homebuyers who are currently "self-selecting themselves" out of the homebuying process," said Sharon J. McHale, director of public affairs at the MBA.

The trade group's research has found that consumers are confused by the complicated process of getting a home loan.

The use of focus groups has helped the agency to formulate its media strategy.

Mary McGuire, senior vice president of Fleischman Hillard in Washington, said that young people often turn to people they trust, such as their parents, to figure out whether and how to buy a home.

But parents, who bought their homes 20 or 30 years ago, may not know how much the mortgage system has changed.

For example, "If your parents put 20% down, they may not know that there are some programs" that permit much smaller down payments, Ms. McGuire said.

Fleischman is targeting magazines such as Family Circle, McCall's, and the American Association of Retired Persons' Modern Maturity to reach the parents of potential homebuyers.

Articles in those magazines "would be something for older people to share with their children," Ms. McGuire said. "I think the message is, 'Don't count yourself out.'"

The MBA's Ms. McHale said many people believe incorrectly that mortgage bankers don't want to do business with younger people, and that a single credit blemish would jeopardize the chance of getting a home loan. "We want to try to dispel some of these myths," Ms. McHale said.

Mortgage bankers will be holding mortgage clinics and other educational events during the first half of the year to tell potential homebuyers more about the mortgage process.

The trade group's booklet for consumers, "A Plain and Simple Guide for First-Time Home Buyers," is being made available through an 800 number at the MBA.

"Given the downturn in business, anything we can do to bring more customers to the door is a benefit to (lenders)," Ms. McHale said.

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