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One of the world's largest financial institutions is offering a new lead generation opportunity for Realtors, but only in the context of partnership.

Bank of America is launching "The Bank of America Real Estate Center" where consumers can learn about loans and search MLS listings provided by local real estate brokers among other activities.

The Real Estate Center will be located in the loans and home buying section of the Bank of America Website, www.bankofamerica.com, where it will provide "access to a broad base of information, services and online access to real estate brokers to conduct home buying and selling research in one convenient location."

Functions will allow homebuyers and sellers to:

Utilize a variety of mortgage tools and calculators, including product and rate comparisons and estimating monthly mortgage payment amounts,

Search local MLS property listings in select markets enabled by Bank of America Preferred Real Estate Brokers,

Estimate home values, and

Search bank-owned property listings. Other services such as builder listings are underway.

Bank of America has more than 11 million online banking customers, averages 16 million unique visitors each month to its Web site and was ranked No. 1 by Vividence for best overall online banking experience. The Bank of America Internet property has the highest number of unique visitors among U.S. financial institutions, according to comScore Media Metrix. Because of the number of links unrelated to real estate, such as car loan information, Bank of America was unable to give a break-out of its real estate traffic at this time.

However, the available data put Bank of America into an excellent position to offer leads to partners, but Steve Ozonian, Bank of America National Homeownership Services executive, says the bank won't be charging referral fees, lead management fees, or other fees to "Preferred Partner" Realtors.

"The overall vision here is to leverage the franchise of Bank of America and enable the partners who have business alliances with the bank to benefit from the eyeballs we attract to the website," explains Ozonian. "Prior to launching this, we are getting 16 million unique users - those numbers dwarf a lot of sites, and the home and loan center is a frequently visited part of BankofAmerica.com."

Translation - Bank of America doesn't need listings to build traffic. It has traffic. What the corporation wants to do is serve customers and partners with the traffic it already has and build more partnerships.

"We get the eyeballs from current customers who come to the site," says Ozonian. "So what we decided is working with builders and Realtors, we have the unique opportunity that we know consumers are interested in real estate. How could we take that interest and convey it to business alliance partners and give them the opportunity to let them tell consumers about their capabilities? We capture the consumers and allow them to know we have these relationships, and if they want to look at listings, we allow them to look at listings. They can drill down, and then when they click on buttons to look at listings, they get a notice telling them they are leaving the Bank of America site and going to the brokers' site. We are not hosting the listings. We are offering our customers the opportunity to go to our partner's site.

So how do real estate brokers get to be Preferred Partners?

"We are setting up a preferred broker network and taking applications," explains Ozonian, "and allowing them to describe to us who they are, what their capabilities are and what they can offer in terms of substance to consumers as far as tools, uptime of their site, customer service - all that assures us that when we put a broker up on this platform, it is someone the bank will be happy to do a transfer of their customer, so quality is important.

"Bank of America is known for its focus on higher standards, we are going to focus on quality firms," continues Ozonian. "Besides quality, we are saying the brokers need to be a business alliance partner of Bank of America where we are a commercial lender to their operation, or doing a mortgage joint venture with them, or where we have a desk rental relationship, or Homefocus settlement service business relationship, or something like that. There is no delivery of X amount of money so you can be a business partner, there are no referral fees."

Bank of America had engaged Realtor.com at one time to provide listings to its Website, but politics put a stop to the partnership.

"Because of politics, this is a way that works within the rules and regulations with direct partnership with local brokers who have an interest in doing this," says Ozonian. "We tried to create a national relationship with Realtor.com, but we believe that linking to the broker where the broker has control at the local level is the better way to do this business. This is an appropriate and responsible way to do this in concert with local brokerage operations."

The site, promises Ozonian, will be Realtor-friendly.

"The center will have tools and content which promotes the value of a Realtor," says Ozonian, "and we will be working with Realty Times and the NAR on some of those elements to make sure we have appropriate material that supports working with licensed Realtors and programs and services that are offered by the Realtor community and contain substance that relates to the importance of using a Realtor and the characteristics of Realtors and why they make a difference. We can say we believe that the core capabilities of Bank of America, its brand and operations, capital base, and the image it portrays to consumers is a great advantage for Realtors to be in alliance in joint venture, and we respect the core capabilities of the Realtor community to have high quality agents and services. This will bring the best of both worlds in step with Realtors to provide a better experience for consumers. Consumers don't care about the phases of the transaction, all the consumer wants to do is get a simplified cost effective transaction.

"We are trying to say this is about homeownership," he concludes. "The bank has been in the business for 100 years, and loaning money to people to buy homes forever, and it's time we worked in closer partnership with the Realtor and builder communities to provide a higher service level. We want to fulfill home ownership dreams, and those are the people we will do business with who want to do the same in a high-quality manner."

The Real Estate Center currently includes MLS property listings in Las Vegas, San Diego and Tucson, Arizona. Plans are underway to expand the listings on the Real Estate Center to other cities. Many more functions and resources are under development and will be introduced at a later date.

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