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Online Help For Mortgage Hunters

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LINING UP A MORTGAGE IS one of the most dreaded steps in purchasing a home. Buyers have to either contact dozens of financial institutions or mortgage brokers to find the best deal or take a chance by letting the real estate agent suggest a favorite lender. Now a small company in Newport Beach, Calif., has come up with a way to get all the parties together in the agent's office for on-the-spot mortgage approvals.

Virtual Realty Network Inc. is using PCs outfitted with Intel Corp.'s ProShare videoconferencing technology in real estate offices and mortgage companies. With the setup, dubbed LoanMaker, the agent and prospective homebuyer can connect to a Virtual Realty loan expert who helps them shop among various financial institutions online. Once a lender is selected, Virtual Realty sets up another PC videoconference on the same day so the buyer and banker can meet. What's more, the buyer can fill out and even sign the mortgage application and other papers right there on the PC, which can get the mortgage-approval process finished within a few hours.

Virtual Realty doesn't charge agents or banks for the computer gear or for time on the videoconferencing network. Instead, it acts as a broker and takes a small percentage of the final mortgage deal. The company is rolling out its LoanMaker system at 25 real estate offices and 20 lenders in Los Angeles and aims to have 10,000 locations across the U.S. by next year.EDITED BY PAUL M. ENG

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