Today's home buyers appear to be unwilling to comparison-shop for just the right mortgage, despite having to navigate a still-roiling real estate market.
At least, that's what LendingTree.com found in an online survey of 1,317 homeowners conducted in September by Harris Interactive Inc.
Survey results showed that, although 96 percent of those responding said they compared prices when shopping for anything, 40 percent obtained just a single quote before settling on a mortgage.
By contrast, consumers researched an average of 3.1 models before buying a computer, LendingTree said.
The bottom line: Fewer than 3 in 10, or 28 percent, of borrowers surveyed said they were confident they had received the best possible deal on their current mortgages.
Several local observers, however, said mortgage-shopping was more prevalent than the LendingTree survey suggested.
It certainly worked well for Laura Cipko. She and her husband, Joe, bought a three-bedroom, two-bathroom townhouse Nov. 19 in Pottstown for $154,000.
Before they met with Weichert Realtors agent Clark Kendus, the couple were preapproved for a mortgage.
After they were told to comparison-shop, "my husband and I contacted two mortgage lenders," Laura Cipko said. Their bank provided information for its lender, and Kendus supplied a contact with Weichert Financial.
"We provided each with information via phone conversations as well as e-mail exchanges," she said.
The Cipkos decided on Weichert Financial because it offered a lower interest rate and "a sample spreadsheet that broke down the finances for us, so that we had a clear idea of what our costs would be and what payment options would work for us," Laura Cipko said.
"My husband and I initially contacted only one lender," she said, "but if we wouldn't have sought preapproval at another lender, we might not have received the same opportunities to lower our monthly payments.
"It is worth the time to do some research into mortgage lenders when one is making such a large investment," she said. "We saved money by doing so, but the lender we chose also gave us confidence that buying a home was manageable, even for a young couple like us."
LendingTree is using the results of its survey to promote its "best-deal guarantee, lender ratings and reviews, and the opportunity to compare multiple offers," said chief executive officer and chairman Doug Lebda.
For many prospective borrowers, doubts apparently linger about the reliability of all lenders after almost five years of horror stories and record foreclosures.
"I believe that if less than half [of borrowers] shop around for mortgages, it could be because of negative press about the mortgage industry," said Noelle Barbone, who manages Weichert's Media office.
That distrust "may lead buyers to trust their agent or the broker and the lender they are introduced to," Barbone said. "If the end result means there is a product that works for their budget, the buyer will proceed accordingly."
Fred Glick, a Philadelphia mortgage and real estate broker, said he was "always getting shopped."
Because more information is available on the Internet, Glick said, "people are becoming more learned about the process, how to shop and what to look for."
What broker Peter Buchsbaum, of Arlington Capital Mortgage in Horsham, said he was finding was that in today's environment, "shopping apples to apples is very difficult" because under the newest regulations, "we lenders are not technically allowed to produce a good-faith estimate before the borrower finds a home."
Because each lender prepares something different, Buchsbaum said, "I believe the customer is left somewhat confused."
The LendingTree survey did, indeed, find that "the complexity of the terms" contributes to frustration among borrowers.
Robert Frazer, of Long & Foster Real Estate Inc., said: "People tend to want to make sure that we are competitive before they take the easy path" and work with an in-house lender.
Because, on the Internet, "they can shop without triggering inquiries," Frazer said, his guess is that 60 percent to 70 percent of borrowers shop in some form or another.
Buyers "now understand the importance of working with someone who walks them through the process," said Jerome Scarpello, of Leo Mortgage Inc., of Ambler.
With tighter underwriting standards these days, borrowers no longer assume they will get the mortgage, so "you need someone who knows how to package it," Scarpello said, "to put it in the best light for approval."
Borrowers like the ones Glick and Frazer pointed to may be more sophisticated about the process than those the LendingTree survey reached, said Prudential Fox & Roach agent Jeff Block.
Since the financial system's meltdown in 2008, "I think buyers have really come a long way in understanding that going with a mortgage company that will get the job done is much more important than trying to shop around to save an eighth of a percentage point," Block said.
"Most Realtors work with lenders that they know have the best chance to get the job done," he said. "Timely funding of a loan at the rates and terms provided is far from a sure thing in these times."