A new Web site promises consumers shopping around for the best deal on a mortgage the ability to initiate instant messaging “chats” with loan officers at more than 200 mortgage brokerages around the United States.

LoanAgentsLive.com, which launched in April, says it’s different than other Web-based services that help consumers choose a lender — such as Bankrate, Lending Tree and LoanWeb — because customers can remain anonymous.

Many Internet users are reluctant to provide personal information or submit applications for loans online because they are afraid brokers will inundate them with sales calls, said LAL Enterprises LLC Vice President Patrick Bliesener. Other online mortgage services are essentially lead generation companies for mortgage brokers, he said.

“When you fill out a form at (a leading online mortgage service), it sells that information to five brokers — and not the companies you necessarily want them to sell it to,” Bliesener said. If none of those brokers is able to turn a lead into a loan application, the online mortgage service sells the applicant’s information to nine additional brokers, he said.

“That means they’ve sold that information to 14 companies,” Bliesener said. “That’s a lot of companies to have calling you.”

But if that’s a concern, why not just open up the phone book and call around?

“Number one is convenience,” Bliesener said. “A lot of people who work 9-to-5 don’t have time during the day to shop for a mortgage. This is day or evening, into the night — I’ve seen chats going on at 4 a.m. Another factor is that some people feel intimidated talking to someone who does home loans — they are afraid they are going to be hard sold. This is less intrusive.”

An expert who advises lenders, Steven Bedikian of Real IQ Consulting, said that while he could not comment directly on LoanAgentsLive, an instant message chat service “doesn’t sound revolutionary in my mind.”

“Yes, a chat would allow consumers to remain anonymous, but the problem is the information you get will be generic,” Bedikian said. That sort of information can be useful to inexperienced customers who want to know more about the mortgage application process, he said, “But at some point you’ll have to give your personal information and see what programs you qualify for. Until you tell them who you are, what your Social Security Number is, and let them pull credit, you don’t know if you qualify.”

“If my own concern was privacy, I would say it’s best to go to nationally known, reputable lead generation companies … as opposed to less reputable companies, which will sell your information as many times as they can,” Bedikian said.

Bliesener said experienced rate shoppers can provide enough information to a loan officer in an anonymous chat to get a quote — without filling out an application.

“Typically people who are rate shopping already know their credit score — they don’t have to give up all their information to get what they are looking for,” Bliesener said. “They can provide gross income, gross monthly bills, and get some actual quotes.”

If a customer wants to close a deal, he said, “They will ultimately end up in a phone conversation.”

Based in Hermosa Beach, Calif., LoanAgentsLive charges clients a service fee of $250 to $500 a month to be listed on the site. The company also provides instant messaging software from another vendor (the company is in the process of developing its own IM application, Bliesener said).

While it’s relatively easy for any brokerage to offer IM chat services through its own Web site, “LoanAgentsLive allows the consumer to shop different companies all on the same site,” Bliesener said.

When a customer visits LoanAgentsLive, they select a state to find lenders licensed to serve them. A link next to each company’s display ad indicates whether a loan officer at the brokerage is available to chat.

Most of the 200-plus lenders who have signed up as clients so far are small- to medium-sized firms. Virginia-based Carteret Mortgage Corp.is the biggest company using the service, which is just fine with Bliesener.

“We are still talking to Wells Fargo, but it (would be) kind of an unfair advantage to our (smaller) brokers to have that huge name up there,” he said. “It’s not that we are opposed to it, but the way it’s set up is to represent a lot of mid-sized companies.”

Bliesener said LoanAgentsLive conducts background checks and personal interviews with all prospective clients to exclude those with a history of predatory lending.

“We get a copy of all chat transcripts, so that if we ever have any problems we can go back in and see what happened,” he said. “The last thing we want on our site is a company trying to rip someone off.”

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