While legislators and lobbyists take turns hailing or slamming the advent of computerized loan originations, some real estate industry upstarts are quietly capturing home buying market share with quick, efficient service.

One such upstart, Ryland Mortgage Co., a Columbia, Md.-based home builder and finance company operating in 18 states, is gliding through the third month of its new program, the "Five-Minute Mortgage," 24-hour-a-day automated computer fax service that Ryland developed to provide prequalifying mortgage information about home buyers to real estate sales staffs. The service could be a boon for real estate and mortgage lending industries.

The system works when a real estate agent or finance firm faxes a form to a central computer where it is analyzed using the provided information, Ryland mortgage underwriting standards, as well as federal standards that use Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac guidelines as a benchmark. The buyer's credit report is also accessed and reviewed by Ryland analysts.

Within five minutes--usually it requires just two or three minutes, a Ryland spokeswoman said--a personalized response is generated outlining the loan preapproval status and type, as well as the limits of loan qualification. Geared toward helping the sales agent, the service is available to any real estate firm.

"We've got more than 1,400 agents in four regions, and the number keeps growing," said Ryland's Kristyn Stout.

"The response we've gotten from Realtors has been overwhelmingly positive. The system is easy to use-the only drawback seems to be that some Realtors are intimidated by the technology. But once they learn it, it'll definitely help them," she said.

But while Ryland considers its venture a qualified success, the early statistics seem a bit disappointing. Since kicking off the program in June, the system has been accessed only 320 times. With about three agents each assigned to the initial nine branches, the system was accessed an average of only 12 times. But, Stout said, that doesn't take into account the system's learning curve or the addition of two new regions.

Still, people told Henry Ford to get a horse, so the program may yet reach full bloom. The Mortgage Bankers Association of America thought enough of it to award its F.W. Thompson Award for consumer- or Realtor-directed product marketing.

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