Online lending company E-Loan is sending loan consultants beyond the virtual world and into the physical field as part of its strategy to capture more of the purchase-money mortgage market.

The company is conducting a small local loan consultant pilot program in the vicinity of its Pleasanton, Calif., headquarters, according to E-Loan spokesperson Tiffany Kelley Fox.

“The pilot program is one of many ongoing efforts to better serve home buyers and build the company’s purchase business,” Fox said.

E-Loan provides mortgage, auto, credit card, home equity and business loans exclusively over the Internet.

Lenders are turning an eye back to purchase-money home loans in anticipation of a significant loss of refinance business this year due to higher and possibly still rising interest rates. The fading refinance market is expected to reduce 2004 mortgage originations by more than $1.5 trillion compared with 2003 volume, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.

Under E-Loan’s pilot program, loan officers will venture into local neighborhoods and establish relationships with real estate agents, according to Kathleen Ruiz, a loan consultant with E-Loan in Dublin, Calif. She said agents won’t pay to be part of the program, but loan officers will refer clients to them when they come to E-Loan for mortgage preapproval.

Realty salespeople are hot contacts for mortgage brokers in a purchase loan environment because the salesperson is at the center of most home purchase transactions.

E-Loan also has an affiliate program that pays $10 to $15 for each qualified purchase mortgage application or pre-approval/referral mortgage application, according to the company’s Web site. The affinity program enables real estate agents to put a link on their own Web sites to the E-Loan Web site.

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