At Costco you can buy a 64-ounce bottle of Tabasco sauce, a 36-roll pack of toilet paper, a 10-pound bag of frozen vegetables-and now a home mortgage.
And it doesn't have to be a jumbo loan.
The warehouse retailer, based in Issaquah, Wash., is offering mortgages to some of its member/customers through Amerinet Financial Systems Inc., a real estate services firm.
Cotsco's mortgage program is available only to so-called Executive members, who ordinarily pay a higher fee for their memberships.
Costco refers its Executive members to Amerinet, which handles the entire real estate transaction. Amerinet chooses from 56 lenders and 500 real estate offices, finding or negotiating the lowest fees, rates, and commissions for its customers.
"We're the managed care of the real estate business," said John Pembroke, chairman and chief executive of Amerinet, which is based in Englewood, Colo. "Our objective is to get the fat out of the transaction and get the best value for the consumer."
The real estate agencies pay Amerinet a referral fee, most of which Amerinet rebates to the customer. Consumers can save as much as $13,000 on a real estate deal by letting Amerinet shop around for them, Mr. Pembroke said.
Mr. Pembroke said Amerinet received 41,000 telephone calls last month, and "a great percentage came from Costco because of their aggressive marketing."
But it remains to be seen whether the program will be profitable for Costco. A full-year Executive membership costs $100 a year, $65 more than ordinary memberships. But under what the company says is a limited-time offer, upgrades for the balance of a current membership year are now free.
"'Mortgage financing is not an annual occurrence for most people," noted John B. Rogers, analyst at D.A. Davidson & Co. of Portland, Ore. Costco also offers insurance to its Executive members.
It's not the first time that consumers have been able to get home loans at a discount from a gigantic retail store. Sears Roebuck & Co. made a huge national effort to sell homes and mortgages through its chain in the early 1990s.
And two years ago, Sam's Club, a division of Wal-Mart stores, began a short-lived pilot program offering special benefits to members who needed real estate, relocation, moving, or mortgage services.
Unlike Sears, Costco does not place kiosks in its spacious stores. Customers are solicited by Amerinet through direct mail.
The program has met resistance from large real estate agents, who don't want to give back 35% of their commission fees in markets where they dominate.
One large agency, John L. Scott & Co. of Seattle, dropped out of the program for this reason, Mr. Pembroke said.
Fred Paulsell, the Costco official in charge of the Executive membership program, refused to comment for this story. Costco recently announced it would take a $118 million charge in the first quarter, the result of a change in the way it accounts for membership fees after talks with the Securities and Exchange Commission.