The list of top originators of loans to purchase homes in the first quarter looks like a Who's Who of large California thrifts, with a bank- owned mortgage company thrown in to keep things interesting.

A survey of the top purchase originators in the major metropolitan counties of 19 states showed they were mostly savings and loan associations, led by World Savings and Loan, Oakland, Calif. The study was done by TRW Redi Property Data, Riverside, Calif.

Joseph Blalock, senior economist at America's Community Bankers, said the first quarter had a strong market for adjustable-rate loans, which are particularly attractive for thrifts that hold the loans in their portfolios.

ARMs made up 59% of purchase originations in this year's first quarter, he said. Based on the kind of product most borrowers were using, thrifts offered the most competitive prices, he said.

Some lenders are not as high on TRW's list as they might have been if the survey had included refinancings and correspondent lending. A spokeswoman at Countrywide Funding, Pasadena, Calif., said the company is usually known as the nation's largest lender. She said that in any given month, refinancings account for 17% of Countrywide's volume, and another 30% to 50% of monthly volume comes from correspondent lending. In TRW's data, Countrywide and its wholesale unit rank No. 8.

Home Savings of America, Irwindale, Calif., does the majority of its business in purchase originations through real estate brokers, said Clifford S. Collins, senior vice president. Home Savings was No. 2 in the ranking, up from No. 3 the preceding year.

Mr. Collins said about 75% of the loans Home Savings funded in the first quarter were purchase transactions.

As a thrift, Home Savings benefited from the ARM market in the first quarter. But as the interest rate environment has changed to where fixed- rate loans are now more attractive, Mr. Collins said, Home Savings has been able to change its loan mix. Half of loans produced now have a fixed rate, he said.

Norwest Mortgage, Des Moines, Iowa, was listed at No. 3 in TRW's survey.

Arthur D. Ringwald, executive vice president at Bank of America, said it has focused on purchase loans rather than refinancings this year because it is a business with repeat customers, he said.

"I started to prepare the sales force for the end of refi boom to make sure we had not given up our relationships with the Realtor community," Mr. Ringwald said. He said he thought it was important to maintain the relationships with realty companies that were easy to neglect during the refinance boom in 1992 and 1993. Those relationships helped BofA keep a strong focus on purchase originations, he said.

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