growth in the immediate future, according to a study by Gomez Advisors, an electronic commerce research firm in Lincoln, Mass.
Nick Karris, a Gomez senior analyst, said consumers are dissatisfied with traditional means of obtaining financing and will keep flocking to the Internet for mortgages.
"It's easier to find a better deal shopping the Internet because you have access to more options," Mr. Karris said. What's more, he added, "the pure Internet plays are doing a better job of hand-holding the customer than they did earlier." And the Internet-only sites offer longer hours of service, faster turnaround, and on-line documents, he said.
Internet-only lenders topped Gomez's latest quality scorecard. E-Loan Inc. was No. 1, followed by iOwn, Keystroke Financial, and RockLoans.com.
To date, most of the on-line mortgage business has been refinancings. But Mr. Karris said the Internet's adaptability makes Internet-only sites viable in a purchase-loan market too.
"Because they are so flexible about adding new products," Mr. Karris said, "if one segment of business, like the refi market, slows down, they can adapt their resources and continue their growth to reach profitability in the near term."
But the top Internet marketer at Norwest Mortgage, a unit of Wells Fargo & Co., insisted that mortgage Web sites associated with banking companies have the edge.
The pure on-line business model has yet to prove profitable, said Doug Rosbach, Norwest Mortgage's senior vice president of Internet marketing. "There is going to be a serious consolidation of on-line players," he said. As evidence he cited weak prices in recent weeks for the issued stocks and initial offerings of Internet-only lenders.
"Because they're not making money, the pure on-line lenders are going to be squeezed for capital," Mr. Rosbach said. "It's going to be harder to do their next round of financing."
Mr. Rosbach conceded that the Internet-only companies have introduced leading-edge technology and pushed the rest of the industry on-line. But in the end, the established lenders -- with such advantages as servicing portfolios, large customer bases, and established sales forces to solicit business -- will win, he said.
"Most of our business comes from traditional retail and wholesale sources," Mr. Rosbach said.
"The Internet today still represents a small piece of what we're doing," he said, and "the reality is that the pure on-line players are doing very little business."
Even Gomez's Mr. Karris sees "a high probability that some of the leading banks will try to take over the top on-line spots" in his firm's quality survey.
"Certainly companies like Countrywide are already trying." he said.