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How to Own the Home Buying Journey

Savvy members in today’s digital world are constantly pushing the
financial industry to better meet their needs. With companies such as Amazon
raising the bar through a variety of services and products, members now demand
seamless user experiences and 24/7 access. What if Amazon started
offering mortgages? It’s not as farfetched as it sounds—and if credit unions cannot meet the
needs of tomorrow’s homebuyers, they will face stiff competition.

And the competition is
not just technology giants like Amazon and other financial institutions with
the money to put behind such efforts, but fintechs, and now the new kids on the
block: fintech-powered community banks. Pairing community banks with fintech
startups can be a powerful combination, especially when it comes to providing
consumers with greater convenience and accessibility. Millennials are used to
instantly comparing their options, and those looking for a new home will surely
compare lenders based on their rates, convenience and flexible services. Credit
unions must be prepared to support and engage their member throughout the
entire homebuying process.

With mortgage rates still
at historic lows, there are more individuals looking to purchase. Credit unions
can take advantage of this and refresh their current mortgage lending practices
with technology that will allow them to better compete in this market. Simply
having a mortgage loan application on a website is not enough. Consumers,
especially millennials looking for their first home, want an easily accessible
digital experience similar to purchasing an item on Amazon. Of course, buying a
home is more involved than that; it may be one of the biggest purchasing
decisions of their lives. However, they fully believe that it should not be a
difficult process.

How does this happen?

Traditionally, credit
unions have only entered the member homebuying journey at the last step:
application submission. With more prospective homeowners shopping for home loan
pre-approval, credit unions need to enter the process earlier. However, this
challenge is twofold: to gain first contact and then to own the member
homebuying journey: from research to finding an agent, the house and finally
making a purchase. By bridging the gap between home discovery and financing,
credit unions can build deeper relationships with their members as well as
guide them through what can often become a challenging process.

The homebuying process we
once knew has changed over the years, due to the digital transformation that
has occurred in our industry. Homebuyers rarely visit branches to discuss their
mortgage needs, if they come in at all. The initial process has turned to
online searches – especially for millennials, the new target market for
homebuying. What this means is credit unions need to have the necessary
technology in place to facilitate the all-online experience.    

Recent articles and
studies indicate that millennials will account for 80 percent of real estate
in the next decade. This generation expects
an easy, end-to-end experience that’s digital-first and personalized to their needs. But the question
remains:  what can be done to bridge the
gap between the lender and the real estate professional and the consumer,
ensuring a seamless homebuying experience during the entire home purchase
process? One study by Marqeta, a
fintech startup, notes that millennials are typically less loyal to their
primary financial institution than previous generations; 58% of millennials
would consider switching to a new financial institution if Google, Amazon or
Facebook entered the industry; and 45% would consider moving to an independent
digital-only bank. Armed with this information, credit unions must determine
what they can do to add value to their mortgage loan process, such as
introductions to real estate professionals, personalized support and/or
guidance in finding an affordable home.

How can this happen?

A credit union’s website
is often the first place a prospective homebuyer will visit when comparing
rates. Ensure the page is clear and easily accessible. Are there features to
make your website stand out compared to competitors? If not, this is your
chance to personalize a member’s digital house hunting experience. Rather than
a flat page with static information that only has a listing of available loan
officers or mortgage applications displayed, give them what they don’t yet know
they want (and/or need). Provide a site that includes all the steps needed in
the homebuying process:

  • A good mortgage rate
  • Help with the process through live
    chat bots
  • An easy end-to-end process (from
    pre-approvals to finding an agent to the needed documentation to closing)
  • Available properties that meet
    their criteria

Remember, many members
will also search via their mobile devices, so focus on a mobile-first approach.
According to the 2019 Borrower Insights Survey from Ellie Mae,
50% of borrowers said they chose their lender based on the existence of an
online application or portal. Having a portal that can be accessed on mobile is
also a solid method of maintaining a presence with members throughout their
homebuying journey.

They also want an easy
process. There are end-to-end personalized, self-service platforms that are
making it easier for consumers to look for homes, find agents, get alerts as
new listings become available, all from one online location. The benefits of
this is that homebuyers will remain on one platform: pain points can be easily
addressed; and mortgage and real estate support can be available throughout the
homebuying journey.

What makes for a better

Of course, moving the
mortgage application process online can only go so far in reducing closing
times. To have a more significant effect, credit unions must consider the
entire homebuying cycle. This can be addressed by expanding their offerings to
encompass every stage in the homebuying process, including:

  • Neighborhood
    discovery to help members research areas that fit their needs and budget
  • Educational
    content that helps members understand the scenarios they face today
  • Property
    searches integrated with local MLS data to help members find their ideal home
  • Realtor
    networks to build relationships with trusted local real estate agents and
    connect them with qualified homebuyers
  • Personalized
    lead nurturing to grow relationships with prospective members over the long
  • Platforms
    that offer members insight on their homes’ value over time and identify
    refinancing opportunities

Even though improvements
have been made in the online home search process, members still experience
disconnected technology platforms throughout the homebuying process. And as a
result, they often face a drawn out and fragmented home purchase process that
increases confusion and reduces transparency, which is not good for any of the
parties involved.

Rather than trying to
build their own innovations from scratch, credit unions should focus on
modernizing their infrastructure. Once those improvements are in place, they
can partner with technology providers, leveraging their expertise in serving
real estate consumers online to quickly implement custom-branded solutions that
will delight members.

By working with technology companies to digitize the borrowing process and offer an end-to-end homebuying experience on a single platform, credit unions can reduce closing times, build a strong foundation for the online future of lending and increase member loyalty.  After all – it is the member experience that is so very important.

Tim Bohlman is the chief technology officer of CU Solutions Group (CUSG), and the chief operating officer of CUSG’s Technology Solutions. CU Solutions Group is a national credit union service organization offering industry-leading products and services in the areas of technology, marketing, HR performance and strategic advisory. He can be reached by email at

Marcos Carvalho is chief revenue officer of Boston-based NestReady, a technology company bridging the gap between home discovery and financing to connect lenders, homebuyers and real estate agents through the entire home purchase process via a stack of white-label solutions and predictive analytics models. He can be reached by email at

This content is for CU BUSINESS eMagazine , THE TEAM BUILDER (GROUP SUBSCRIPTION), and Special Deal: 2 websites members only.
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