real estate brokerage and mortgage origination businesses. This has been said for years, but in 1996 the industry may reach the turning point from theory to reality. Nowhere was that more obvious than at this year's National Association of Realtors convention. "We used to call this the 'refrigerator magnet' conference, but not anymore," said one presenter. Now, wedged between booths selling pecan gift baskets, rhinestone Realtor pins, and customized birdhouses (get it painted like the house you just sold, it makes a great closing gift) are technological oases, with products aimed at the mortgage market. After threatening for years to change the way mortgages are born, computer loan origination software has been refined to the point where it may actually start affecting the market. At the convention here, the software creators were on the lookout for interested lenders and real estate agents. Although few of the systems have begun to write significant volume, many have links with brokers and agent- friendly features, making them ready to roll. "We're looking for technologically advanced lenders, who have quick turnover from point of sale to underwriter," said Kevin Gahagan, of Value Added Loan Origination, Southlake, Tex., one of the smaller, home-bred systems. The company retrofitted mortgage origination software to be more familiar to real estate people, and is hoping to hook up with several wholesale lenders to offer mortgages directly from a realty office. Then, Mr. Gahagan said, savings can be passed along to homebuyers, while agents earn a commission for the origination. The company has begun testing its system in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. This year's new product award went to Virtual Mortgage Network's "Loan Making System." The network features video conferencing and at least 14 lenders are already signed on. From the realty office, homebuyers talk directly to the company's Newport Beach, Calif.-based originators, who appear on-screen. The loan processor interviews the prospective buyer, enters information, picks out a loan that fits, and transfers information to the lender. The homebuyer is contacted by the lender directly. Although the service is provided free to real estate agents, they cannot enter information into the system themselves. On the other hand, Electronic Mortgage Banc, of Costa Mesa, Calif., makes its Mortgage Approval X-press program available for a monthly fee. But the software allows agents to maintain a data base, as well as providing direct links to lenders, credit scoring agencies and underwriters. The system can handle A to D paper, and features approval in about an hour. Right now, it is available in over 40 locations in California. The Virtual Mortgage Network, the Max system, and Snap - Security Network Approval Process - from First Security Savings Bank in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., all use a videoconferencing chip from Intel Corp.
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