• Tactile Finance is launching a consumer-facing website, homeownering.com, which offers homeowners tools to get the best loan or sale deal and make the most of their home equity.
  • The tools guide consumers through the life span of the home finance process, including mortgage applications, refinancing, home sales, home equity and tax considerations for homeownership.

When you’re a self-described “serial buyer and homeowner,” and you experience a refinancing challenge that makes you wonder, “why is this so hard,” what’s your next step?

Nicole Hamilton

Nicole Hamilton

If you’re Nicole Hamilton, you become a woman on a mission: to make the mortgage process more transparent for consumers.

That’s the story behind the founder of Tactile Finance, a software company that helps real estate professionals, loan officers and others give homeowners a “360-degree view” of their mortgage loan.

And now, Tactile Finance is launching a consumer-facing website, homeownering.com, which gives homeowners independent, unbiased tools to get the best loan or sale deal and make the most of their home equity.

“I would never be satisfied if I didn’t offer the same type of tools directly to homebuyers and homeowners, so they could be on a level playing field with the mortgage loan officers who serve them, so homeowners and homebuyers can see with their own eyes what was best for them,” Hamilton said.

Making mortgages clearer

The web-based technology company’s mission is to “make mortgages clear to consumers.”

It achieves this by providing mortgage and real estate professionals with dynamic graphics that depict and predict how their clients’ mortgage loan, insurance, amortization, fees and other loan-associated details will impact their finances and home equity over time, even decades into the future.

“We’re proud of where we are and that our software is used by banks and others who want to give consumers a good mortgage experience in a transparent way,” Hamilton said.

But last spring, while she was housebound while recuperating from an injury, Hamilton said she had a “sobering” moment while reviewing some feedback and metrics from Tactile Finance users.

Features going unused

“When we looked at the metrics from users in different financial institutions across the country, we noticed that parts of our app were not being used when it would not support a sale,” she said.

“I’ll give you a real-life example: Say you have a home and want to refinance. You have a 30-year mortgage and 25 years left on it.

“In some cases, our software will show it’s not a good deal, because it compares what you have now to what you will have later on — with all of the fees, interest, equity and principal shown.

“We found when we looked at our metrics that some loan officers would stop using it if it did not show a good deal. Because let’s face it — if you are a loan officer with a quota to make, you would probably opt not to use it.”

Hamilton also found, to her surprise, that providing enhanced consumer education sometimes complicates a sale.

“Loan officers wouldn’t use our software with customers who had the least mortgage knowledge,” Hamilton said.

“If I am a loan officer, and a customer comes in without much knowledge about how to get a mortgage, it’s faster for me to tell them what to get, or to limit their choices, rather than to spend time bringing them up to speed on anything — or working to get them the best outcome. Because that’s not the loan officer’s job; their job is to secure the mortgage, get it processed and closed, and follow all regulations and rules.”

That was a tough pill for Hamilton to swallow, especially when one Tactile Finance customer, a senior vice president at a large Midwest bank, told her that “consultations with customers about their mortgage rank probably 11 or 12 on the list of important things that loan officers are expected to do.”

“Their job is to get it executed in a legal way and make a lot of sales, but when we’re talking about a service industry, that’s an interesting proposition,” she said.

“Limiting consumer choices is not in the best interest of the consumer, and relying on someone who does not have your best financial interests in mind leaves you open to risk.”

The birth of homeownering.com

Faced with these troubling metrics, Hamilton said she experienced an epiphany: “We were not fulfilling our corporate mission if what we were doing was reinforcing a sale,” she said.

“That was a difficult discovery, but it was also a gift. When we looked at our customers’ usage patterns, we identified important pieces of our software that may not have been getting used, but are still highly beneficial to the consumer. So it became a no-brainer for us to decide to begin to offer solutions to consumers.”

So far, homeownering.com includes tools, similar to those offered on Tactile Finance, that guide consumers through the life span of the home finance process, including mortgage applications, refinancing, home sales, home equity and tax considerations for homeownership.

Hamilton said the website is a good resource for seller agents to recommend to their clients. It aims to help them understand how much money they have in their home and how much they could potentially get back from a sale.

A screen shot from homeownering.com

A screen shot from homeownering.com

While preparing to launch the website, Hamilton herself moved into a new property and faced a lot of challenges, including busted pipes and broken skylights, so once again she was inspired to fulfill an unmet consumer need.

“I wanted to start giving out free resources to homeowners on controlling all costs related to homeownership,” she said.

Thus, homeownering.com also includes a variety of free tools and resources to help increase the joy of owning a home and decrease the financial ups and downs that may come with unexpected repairs and maintenance.

As it prepares for its official launch, the website is offering home cost planners to manage seasonal, home improvement and maintenance projects; guides on how to caulk a tub; reviews of favorite household tools; lawn care tips; and more.

Homeownering.com has already begun introducing some free tools and products to users, but the official launch for its paid products was planned for Dec. 5.

Email Amy Swinderman

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