Mortgage bankers are edging out real estate brokers when it comes to garnering potential borrowers, according to the latest Mortgage Bankers Association of America survey.

Two-thirds of the lenders surveyed said they have seen the number of real estate broker and builder referrals decline over the past year.

"The main question is who is the gatekeeper?" president Paul Reid said during the trade association's senior executives conference last week. The industry's momentum to recapture borrowers has been triggered by what Mr. Reid called the "debacle" of the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act.

"Being the savvy group that we are, we've decided to go directly to the borrowers," he added.

Most mortgage bankers are using various types of media to convey their message, with a newfound emphasis on narrowly focused direct marketing. "That's where you get the most bang for your buck," Mr. Reid said. More than three-quarters of the lenders surveyed employed some type of direct marketing, and the rest are considering it as a way to increase customers.

Mr. Reid also commented on the year ahead, tagging 1996 as a year of "cautious optimism" for the mortgage market, with originations volume approaching $800 billion.

Refinancing will play an important part in mortgage bankers' business, he said, and is expected to make up more that a third of 1996 production volume.

Margins, on the other hand, continue to thin out. Mortgage lending has become more of a commodity, Mr. Reid said, and lenders have to continue to be as efficient as possible.

Although that efficiency often includes some sort of technology, the subject often gives many mortgage lenders agita, Mr. Reid added, because they don't know which direction they should be heading.

One thing lenders are realizing, he said, is the value of good representatives. "You would think with shrinking margins, loan officers' bonuses would decrease. But these people are being compensated better than they ever have been. The market is still willing to pay for good salespeople."

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