Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Joining Forces Mortgage Site Combines Local Technology, Priceline Marketing

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Joining Forces Mortgage Site Combines Local Technology, Priceline Marketing

Article excerpt

Jacksonville-based Alliance Mortgage Co. and sister unit First Alliance Bank are doing complex and ingenious things with ally Priceline.com of Stamford, Conn., to sell name-your-own-price mortgages over the Internet.

The companies created a joint venture called Pricelinemortgage last year and in March started selling mortgages in all 50 states.

Would-be online borrowers can view a medley of sample mortgage deals, then a few hours later receive a formal loan offer online, complete with guaranteed closing costs and a locked-in interest rate.

The screen facing the customer is just the tip of a technological mountain.

So what is the first thing that a recent visitor to Alliance wanted to know?

"Have you met William Shatner?"

"Well, no" said Patrick McEnerney, executive vice president of Alliance Mortgage and president of Pricelinemortgage.

Shatner's quirky comeback TV and radio ads singing -- literally -- the praises of Priceline.com have given the company instant visibility with the millions of potential customers who in the past 30 years or so watched him as Capt. Kirk of Star Trek's Starship Enterprise.

"It's not the typical ad they are used to seeing. It's fun," said Ivy Mollenkamp, an account executive with Rogers & Cowan, the Los Angeles firm handling publicity for the campaign.

The ads on TV and radio are part of the consumer marketing expertise that Priceline.com brings to the joint venture and are managed out of Priceline.com headquarters, said McEnerney.

The pitch to consumers looking for a mortgage loan has four basic elements:

Customers can design their own mortgage from a menu of choices they develop online after answering a series of questions. If they get stuck, they can call the Pricelinemortgage service center in Jacksonville.

Credit approval takes minutes.

After customers decide what terms they want from a menu of choices, Pricelinemortgage will commit to those terms within a few hours, locking in rates and terms online. "As a lender we can do that," said David Strickland, president of First Alliance Bank, corporate parent of Pricelinemortgage.

Pricelinemortgage says it will save borrowers money on closing costs and guarantee that they will not exceed a certain amount.

"We've gone out and negotiated on a national basis discounts for settlement services and then pushed that back to the consumer," said McEnerney.

Mortgages are a little different from the airline seats and hotel rooms that Priceline.com is known for.

For one thing, they can involve many more players than an airline seat, and those players affect the price consumers pay for mortgages.

A mortgage loan can be made -- "originated" in the jargon of the industry -- by Company A, sold to Company B, resold to investors in Company C, with monthly payments managed or "serviced" for a fee by Company D.

"A loan has different value to lots of different people," McEnerney said. …

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