Some Realtors fear that consumers may one day bypass them by using the Internet to go straight to mortgage lenders, but Sharon A. Millett is not one of them.
Ms. Millett, president-elect of the National Association of Realtors, says most consumers do not want to take the time to gather all the pertinent lending information. Homebuyers still depend on realty agents for analysis and guidance, she said, adding that "56% of buyers use a lender that their broker recommended."
"Real estate is one of the top five growth sectors on the Internet," Ms. Millett said in an interview during the association's annual convention, which concluded Monday. "Where you see a threat, we see an opportunity; we're not running away from the Internet. Information is just information, and it's not a threat to the industry or to Realtors."
Indeed, the association predicted that the value of consumers' transactions over the Internet will total $26 billion by 2002 and that the number of home Web users in the United States will rise to 102 million, from 30 million today.
The association predicted that 30% of mortgage originations will be done on-line by 2005, up from only 1% in June 1997. The group estimated that 68% of the people considering real estate transactions will use the Internet by next year, up from 36% last May.
This technology revolution is already changing relationships between lenders and real estate agents, who have traditionally fed off one another for business.
"I would say 90% of our business is from" realty agents, said John C. Russo, a loan officer for North American Mortgage Co., an Orlando unit of Dime Bancorp. "We have in-house lending in real estate offices and exclusive deals with certain firms to do the lending for their clients."
But as technology offers consumers more choice, "the marginal producer will disappear," Ms. Millett acknowledged.
However, she added, "as on-line mortgage origination goes up, we consider that a real plus for the industry because more competitively priced loans on-line will make more people buy homes from us."
The Realtors' association says 4% of firms have 68% of the real estate agents. This means lenders can consolidate with a few firms and reach a majority of clients.
Another example of realty agent/lender partnerships can be found at GMAC Home Services, Liberty Corner, N.J., an indirect subsidiary of General Motors Acceptance Corp., Detroit. GMAC Home bought Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate of Des Moines in July.
"The vision of the company is to provide one-stop shopping; we want to bundle the real estate experience," said Joan DalFarra, GMAC Mortgage external relations. "That includes mortgage lending and services, real estate, relocation, and home security and warranty services."
Among the association's other findings about technology:
On-line mortgage origination saves $21 billion a year nationally-$7 billion by eliminating the middleman and $14 billion by automating the paper trail.
Intuit's QuickenMortgage attracts more than 500 million visits a month.
There are more mortgage sites than bank sites on the Internet.
About 81% of patents issued in 1997 were for Internet-related products.