There seems to be plenty of lending business for everybody these days. That doesn't mean mortgage originators are anything less than fiercely competitive. But price competition can only take you so far, and many lenders have been trying to find other ways to attract borrowers.

One way is through fast service, and Ryland Mortgage Co. of Columbia, Md., has taken that route with a fax-based service offered through real estate brokers.

The borrower fills out a short form and checks off several boxes. The form is faxed to Ryland, and a preliminary approval is returned within five minutes to those who qualify.

There's no charge to the broker or borrower.

Encouraging Response

Ryland achieves the high-speed response through a link with Equifax Inc., the Atlanta-based credit reporting agency. "We've just been offering the service for six weeks," a Ryland spokeswoman said. "The response so far has been very good."

Creative Solutions, an Atlanta-based software company, provides the product to Ryland. Charles Goetz, chairman of Creative Solutions, said the product is attractive to real estate agents because it weeds out people who do not qualify for loans.

Another competitive marketing angle: low-cost closings. Some lenders already have seized on the reduced up-front payments for mortgage insurance now being offered by General Electric and Mortgage Guaranty Insurance Corp. to drum up business.

Among them is Ross Mortgage Corp., Oak Park, Mich., which is promoting Mortgage Guaranty's plan in its service area.

"We predict that this innovation will open up home purchases to many more well-qualified individuals and families," said Tim Ross, president.

When the folks at Boston's Shawmut Bank announced last week that they would be kicking off a new marketing campaign soon, they meant it literally.

A charitable program it calls "Making Points for Homes" will begin with the kickoff of the New England Patriots football team's opening game next week.

The bank, a unit of Shawmut National Corp., Hartford, Conn., will be giving $100 for each point scored by the Patriots this season to Neighborhood Housing Services. The group is dedicated to improving housing in low-income and moderate-income neighborhoods.

The program will be trumpeted on radio, in newspaper and magazine ads, and in a fan newsletter. A spokesman said the bank hopes to stimulate awareness of Shawmut as a source of home loans and other types of consumer credit.

The price may be right. The bank expects to give away between $22,000 and $25,000 this season, which means it is guessing at a wimpy average of about 15 points a game.

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