Record low mortgage rates have been a boon to home sales, refinancing activity, equity loans and, as a result, Myers Internet Inc.'s bottom line.
A 7-year-old San Jose firm that offers Internet infrastructure for brick-and-mortar mortgage brokers and mortgage shopping Web sites for consumers, Myers has accumulated 8,000 clients nationwide -- 4,000 of them just in the last 12 months.
The San Jose Business Journal, a weekly business tabloid in San Jose, CA, recently listed Myers Internet as one of the 100 fastest growing Silicon Valley companies based on three years of sales receipts. In recent years, the newspaper also ranked Myers as Silicon Valley's largest web design firm.
The company's 1999 $2.75 million in sales continued unabated through the recession, jumping nearly 80 percent by 2001 to nearly $5 million.
"Clients are busy. They are making money, they have money to spend and they need tools to be more productive," says CEO Warren H. Myer, whose innovative firm has numerous online mortgage firsts under its belt.
To boost mortgage brokers' productivity, Myers offers a host of online services beginning with building transaction-capable Web sites where consumers can complete purchase, refinance and equity loan applications, monitor loan status, shop for rates, determine the value their home, get credit reports, credit scores and read content that offers information about loan programs and the mortgage process.
From their Internet office, mortgage brokers can also order all of a mortgage transaction's peripheral services -- appraisals, inspections and title, escrow and legal services among others.
Myers also operates two Web sites as lead generators for his clients, but they provide payoffs for consumers in the form of useful mortgage content including mortgage news and educational information.
LoanApp.com allows consumers to complete a loan application and have lenders bid for their business. BestRate.com is a mortgage shopping site where consumers can compare the financial details of various mortgage plans side-by-side. BestRate.com has been awarded a "Best of the Web" award by both Forbes and Newsweek.
Behind the scenes, Myers provides clients with technical support, training and online documentation to keep brokers' Web sites up and running and brokers up and running with the latest technology.
"We are not changing how mortgage companies and loan officers do business. We are making it easier and more efficient to do business," says Myer.
Myer also says, even with increased consumer demand for online mortgages, his company's services aren't designed to turn a brick-and-mortar into a Web-only company, but to give clients the latest online tools to assist consumers who do venture on the Net to shop, compare rates and learn more about mortgages, before taking the plunge.
"All consumers should go online to educate themselves about the process and find out general information about mortgage rates. However, most consumers will also need the help of an experienced mortgage consultant to guide them through the process. Generally, first-time buyers might find the online process somewhat intimidating and may want to spend more time offline with an expert advisor," says Myer.
Myers' clients include some of the nation's largest mortgage brokers, Manhattan Mortgage, Mortgage Master, Inc., Allied Mortgage, and American Home Loans; major banks, IndyMac Bank, Provident Bank and US Bank; and large lenders American Residential and First Metropolitan Loans.
It hasn't hurt business to also earn endorsements from the National Association of Mortgage Brokers, the California Association of Mortgage Brokers and several other state trade groups.
And an annual survey of more than 600 mortgage companies and 500 consumers, "Myers Annual Internet Mortgage Survey," keeps the industry abreast of online mortgage shopping attitudes to help clients better target marketing efforts.
The fifth annual survey this year said 75 percent of consumers are willing to complete the entire mortgage process online once digital signatures become widespread.
Some 83 percent of consumers said they would complete a mortgage application online and 76 percent of mortgage shoppers now use the Internet to check rates and research mortgages.
"An increasing number of consumers are using the Internet to shop for mortgages. This year, I expect that about 10 percent of all mortgages will originate using the Internet. By 2005, that number is expected to reach 30 percent," said Myer.
Among lenders and brokers, 72 percent of them take online applications, 56 percent say the Internet is a useful marketing tool for existing customers and 42 percent say the Net is a significant source of new business.
"Consumers are finding a lot of choice when they go online. There are thousands of broker, lender, aggregator and bidding sites. The hard part is deciding where to apply," Myer said.
Myer, a native of India who arrived in the U.S. in 1984, has been in the mortgage business since 1991, when a lay off from a job in his chosen computer science profession forced him to take a detour.
As a technology-sophisticated mortgage broker with a master's degree from early Internet hub University of Delaware (and an MBA from the University of Chicago), Myer applied his skills to his unexpected career and became a mentor to the industry, an often-quoted media source and boss to 75 employees.
Myer claims the first mortgage broker web site and first online loan application in April 1994. His co-founder, Lovina Worick, originated the first mortgage over the Internet in 1992, according to Myer.
His online firsts in the mortgage industry also include an online mortgage portal, mortgage market updates, a loan status tracking engine and a mortgage rate search engine.
After four profitable quarters, Myers has begun to diversify into the online real estate broker arena with the recent purchase of Websuite.com. The new acquisition provides real estate brokerage services including homes-for-sale listing search engines, lead generation features, home shopping tools and educational content about buying and selling homes.
A natural outgrowth of his online mortgage services industry, the move into online real estate brokerage services is a move into a much more crowded segment that will test Myers' staying power.
"I think being one of the fastest growing companies is not what's important. It's also surviving. Some of the ones that grew fastest in recent years are out of business. It's been better to bring the best product to the market at a very competitive price with good customer service," said Myer.
"We entered the market early, we've been there a long time and our strength is we've reduced the competition and have increased adoption of technology in the industry," he added.