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Lenders and Real Estate Agents Still Beat Online Sources as Top Mortgage Influencers… For Now

October 19, 2017

Steve DeggendorfIncreasingly, consumers are going online to get information for a wide variety of shopping experiences, but person-to-person engagement still plays a key role.1 To better understand the kind of influence that both online and personal sources of information have on the mortgage shopping experience, we surveyed recent mortgage borrowers in the first quarter of 2017. We asked about their experiences with real estate agents, mortgage lenders, friends and family, and online sources of information, such as mobile apps, websites, and social media. The survey sample was constructed from borrowers with purchase mortgages in the Fannie Mae book of business that were originated in 2016.

Our results show that recent mortgage borrowers use both person-to-person and online sources of information to shop for a mortgage. Real estate agents, mortgage lenders, online sources, and friends and family are used more often than financial planners, mass media, government agencies, and non-profit housing counselors. However, by a wide margin the most influential sources (Figure 1) are industry professionals who offer a personal touch: mortgage lenders (32 percent) and real estate agents (30 percent). Notably, online sources (13 percent) lag well behind person-to-person interactions.

Figure 1. The most influential sources of mortgage information remain person-to-person interactions

Most Influential Mortgage Shopping Sources of Information

Borrowers told us that mortgage lenders, real estate agents, and family and friends are seen as more trustworthy and credible than online sources (Figure 2), explaining why they are seen as more influential. Online sources, however, are seen as much more useful and convenient than personal interactions.

Figure 2. Person-to-person sources of information are seen as more trustworthy and credible

Mortgage Shopping Sources of Information - Why are they influential?

Although consumers are more influenced by person-to-person interactions while shopping for a mortgage, they often use online mobile devices during the process and want to use them more often in the future (Figure 3).

Figure 3. Interest in using mobile tools in the future for mortgage activities is significantly higher than current usage

Current Mobile Participation vs. Future Interest in Home Buying Activities in Q1 2017


Millennials, those between the ages of 18 and 34, may provide a glimpse of where consumers will look for guidance in making mortgage decisions in the future. Millennials report using mortgage lenders, real estate agents, online sources, and family and friends with similar frequency as sources of information for mortgage shopping. They are also the most frequent users of real estate agents and online sources compared with the total sample of recent borrowers. However, the most influential sources of information for Millennials are mortgage lenders, real estate agents, and family and friends, not online sources (page 8 in the full report). Since consumers’ understanding of the mortgage qualification process is uniformly poor across different age groups, as shown in our prior research, young consumers may continue to look to more traditional person-to-person sources for mortgage information and reassurance.

Both sources of information face challenges as mortgage influencers. Online sources have more work to do to gain trust and credibility in order to play a greater role influencing consumers. Meanwhile, person-to-person sources need to be vigilant as advances in online technology deliver improved experiences and outcomes, which may lead to increased trustworthiness, credibility, and influence over time. To be competitive, lenders and real estate agents need to continue to evolve their digital offerings to provide a multi- or omni-channel experience that allows consumers to move conveniently between online and personal interactions to create the experience that best suits their needs.

Steve Deggendorf
Director, Market Insights Research

October 19, 2017

The author thanks Doug Duncan, Tom Seidenstein, Tracy Stephan, and Sarah Shahdad for valuable comments in the creation of this commentary. Of course, all errors and omissions remain the responsibility of the author.

Opinions, analyses, estimates, forecasts and other views reflected in this commentary should not be construed as indicating Fannie Mae's business prospects or expected results, are based on a number of assumptions, and are subject to change without notice. How this information affects Fannie Mae will depend on many factors. Changes in the assumptions or the information underlying these views could produce materially different results.

1 Aaron Smith and Monica Anderson, Online Shopping and E-Commerce (Pew Research Center, December 19, 2016)   https://www.pewinternet.orge-s/2016/12/19/onlinhopping-and-e-commerce/