Referrals by real estate agents are pure gold for mortgage lenders, according to a new survey done for Norwest Mortgage Inc., Des Moines.

That finding is hardly a surprise to the mortgage industry. Lenders are always seeking to develop relationships with realty agents and builders in order to collar loan customers early in the homebuying process. And HFS Inc., which operates three major chains of real estate agencies, has agreed to acquire PHH Corp., a mortgage lender noted for its low-cost originations.

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