Tech-powered real estate brokerage ZipRealty Inc. has launched a mortgage center that lets prospective borrowers compare mortgage rates, lender fees and monthly payments charged by lenders who advertise on ZipRealty.com.
Information on rates and fees is provided by Informa Research Services Inc., based on home criteria and credit score. Informa, which also powers mortgage quotes on sites like homefinder.com and bestmortgagerates.com, claims to track mortgage products offered by all major lenders in all regions.
The ZipRealty Mortgage Center also displays information for local loan officers who work for ZipRealty’s preferred mortgage partners, Prospect Mortgage and Movement Mortgage. ZipRealty says its Mortgage Center differs from those offered by competitors in that local loan officers who work for preferred lenders are “directly linked” to a ZipRealty agent.
The marketing of mortgages, title insurance and other settlement services by real estate brokerages and agents is governed by the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA).
RESPA allows real estate brokerages to enter into marketing agreements or form affiliated businesses with lenders and other settlement services providers, but prohibits the payment of kickbacks or unearned fees in exchange for referrals.
In 2011, Prospect Mortgage agreed to pay $3.1 million to settle allegations by federal housing regulators that the company violated RESPA by entering into sham affiliated business arrangements in order to pay kickbacks to real estate brokers, agents, banks, mortgage servicers and others who referred business to the company. Prospect Mortgage denied the allegations, saying it had disclosed its business structure to regulators in a previous audit.
In 2012, ZipRealty disclosed that it had terminated a mortgage services marketing agreement with Bank of America that had paid the brokerage a flat monthly marketing fee. The Emeryville, Calif.-based brokerage said it had entered into “new non-exclusive marketing agreements with other mortgage lenders” in which it was paid either a flat marketing fee or on a cost-per-click basis.
ZipRealty’s partnership with Movement Mortgage dates to 2012, when the company was known as New American Mortgage. In August of that year, ZipRealty announced a strategic alliance with New American Mortgage that placed New American loan officers in all ZipRealty company-owned offices.
The following month, ZipRealty announced it was also integrating online mortgage prequalification and loan application tools from Citibank into the ZipRealty.com website.
At the time, ZipRealty described its alliances with Citi and New American Mortgage as “forming a dual platform” to service homebuyers’ needs.
Wes Womack, ZipRealty’s director of business development, said in a statement today that the company has marketing services agreements with both Prospect Mortgage and Movement Mortgage, “wherein we provide digital and field-based services including placement in [the] mortgage center.”
In its most recent quarterly report to investors, ZipRealty said it generated about 7 percent of its net revenue from marketing arrangements with residential mortgage service providers, the sale of online display advertising, and referral fees charged to other real estate brokerages in “Powered by Zip” markets.