Website Review –

As an entity in the mortgage business, you do not need to spend a lot for a website that delivers a wealth of consumer-related benefits. The proof of this can be seen at, from Fair Oaks Mortgage. The layout is typical, functional, and attractive. What makes it a great broker website is the abundance of elements that it offers.

This site’s options are displayed in a tab format that makes your screen look like a tab index card file. Tabs are easy to understand and make navigation easy. The layout is clean and attractive. The graphics are simple, yet effective. It uses economical but effective techniques like drop-shadows behind the company name, creating a 3-D effect. The focal point is a scrolling text box (an “applet” or an embedded file) that is inexpensive to create and is not memory demanding.

Here are examples of techniques that are effective and easy to add to a home page. Next to the scrolling text, options for Apply Online or Bi-weekly Mortgage are encased in powder blue ovals. When you hover your mouse over one of the ovals, it appears to jump in front of the other. Move your mouse to the other oval and it jumps to the front. It looks like animation but it is actually a trick. There are two complete images. Mouse-over coordinates activate a Java Script command, swapping images. Another example that creates an illusion of animation is in the beveled option buttons. Again, the mouse hover triggers an image swap, making the shadow in the bevels appear to move from upper right to lower left. This creates the illusion of a motion.

At least half of the features in the website are purely informational. For instance, under the heading FHA, there are 11 second level options: max loan limits, termite requirements, well and septic information, appraisal red flag items, who can pay for what, reverse mortgages, rehab loans, and MIP refunds, as well as the options of calculating a payment and downloading an FHA loan package. Under the VA tab, there are another dozen screens with information related to that type of home loan.

Other useful features in the website include links to mortgage type agencies. Another of the tabs is Special Programs which lists five programs that have lower rates or ways to buy a home with no money. This section also loads a matrix that displays all the features and requirements of the programs. With Acrobat Reader, you can print all the forms needed to process a mortgage. A feature that I like is “Loan Officer of the Month.” Non-monetary incentives such as this are always welcome.

There is a lot of information in this website, but how does it help Fair Oaks Mortgage get more business? Here is one way. Under the Find A Property tab, there are no less than eight categories of home sources: FHA, VA repos, Fannie and Freddie sales, foreclosure auctions, and MetroList (the local MLS). The good part is that each of these selections is a form of co-marketing with a real estate sales entity. Can you see the potential for relationships with the local real estate companies? The B2B stuff does not stop yet. One of the click options on the home page is a link to MovingSaleClassifieds. This is a website where you can locate a real estate agent, a home, or a lender.

Dan Silverstein, owner of Fair Oaks Mortgage, designed this website with help from Capitol Works, the web professional. He estimates 3000 hits a month and attributes most to the B2B links. Many of his Realtor clients use the site for their home page. The website gets a superlative rating for the following reasons. The graphics are clean, bold, and thematically consistent. Navigation is easy with the tab design and a maximum of three layers throughout. Modest file size and judicious use of elements make it fast loading. The site holds a wealth of industry-related information, brings in loan applications, and creates a rapport with local real estate agents.

by Thor Skonnord

Website Review –

“Good website designers pay attention to file size, because the bigger the files, the longer it takes to load a screen.”

Our pick for this month is a really nice example of a loan originator website: While many of the premier players in the lending industry are prone to fanfare in their splash screens using big screen movies and sound, Brian Farley, president of Pride Mortgage, in Provincetown, Massachusetts, uses a subtler theme for his home screen. If I had to pick one word to describe the theme, it would be “Sincerity.” In the header, an animated gif (graphic image file) displays alternating pictures of happy, satisfied clients. The gif file includes a text box with alternating messages that support the perception of a customer comfort level-“With Pride Mortgage, we assure you comfort, savings, and service,” along with a picture of Brian. The background color subliminally portrays trust: dark “true” blue.

The home page loads extremely fast considering the animation and graphics that it uses. Good website designers pay attention to file size, because the bigger the files, the longer it takes to load a screen. Here, they did a clever thing with the graphic in the header. It has horizontal black lines running through it, which creates an abstract affect. (Imagine you see someone standing behind window blinds.) A benefit (in addition to the effect) is that it cuts the file size down by a third. Black does not require much memory compared to color, and the more colors used, the more memory required. The gif also uses 32 colors, which still gives adequate resolution while keeping the files size down. The result is a modest 30K file. The picture of Brian is a jpeg file, which has more definition, but is still only 7K.

I like the layout, it is one of the reasons that I picked this website out of many good ones. I have to admit that I am getting tired of the stereotyped web design. (Header, option button screen left, and body lower right.) The Pride Mortgage site is fresh. Brian’s picture is on the left. The center of the screen is a column of text saying good things about the company and the options are on the right side of the screen. Instead of the traditional buttons, they are laid out in a column of nice bold, italic hypertext with the addition of really zesty crescents that add texture. A mouse hover turns the target bright red, leaving no doubt that a click will link to something interesting. There are five option links: Apply Online, Online Calculators, Interest Rates, Contact Us, and Our Team. The first three are active components. When you want to add these to your website, you face the same dilemma is a home shopper. Should I build, buy, or rent? Do I contract a web master to create proprietary calculators and application modules? Or, do I buy or lease a pre-canned website? Or should I rent the components? Brian opted for the third option.

The application, calculators, and rates are links to Mortgage 101, which provide highly functional modules. Although the jump to another website appears relatively seamless, you can see the URL change. It changes to Mortgage101/Partner scripts. When loading the new site, and ID is verified to make sure that the link is from an authorized site. If you like trivia, the Mortgage 101 application module starts with https (instead of the more common http). The “s” denotes a secure site where the data is encrypted. This makes sense if you are taking a loan application on the Internet. Something that you lose with this option is a break in theme continuity.

Look at the other two options, Contact Us and Our Team, and you see how the theme and navigation are retained. Our Team is a really nice example of something that should be included in any service-oriented business. The screen is a thumbnail style layout with pictures of (almost) all of the production and management people at Pride Mortgage. Just like Brian’s picture in the home screen, everybody looks happy. Below each picture is the person’s name in hypertext. A click brings up an e-mail to the person. Another idea would bring up links to profile screens of each person.

This website is rated as extremely good because of the presentation and image that it presents. The judicious attention to file size makes it load fast. Although not proprietary to the site, the rented calculators fill the functionality requirements. The general layout and design of the website is extremely well balanced, attractive, and focused.

by Thor Skonnord