With few exceptions, Super Bowl 50 was chock full of head-scratching advertisements that made people wonder did they really spend $5 million on those 30 seconds?
One such ad, by mortgage lender Quicken Loans, wanted to clue consumers in about its new "Rocket Mortgage" service, which supposedly makes it super easy—and fast—for buyers to get a mortgage. As the voiceover explains, the service promises that securing a mortgage could be just like buying a pair of shoes online, and could take less than 10 minutes:
"What if we did for mortgages what the Internet did for buying music and plane tickets and shoes? You would turn an intimidating process into an easy one. You could get a mortgage on your phone. And if it could be that easy, wouldn't more people buy homes?"
If such an idea sounds dangerous—perhaps evocative of some of the attitudes that contributed to the 2008 housing collapse—you're not alone. Immediately after the advertisement aired, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) warned consumers that they may want to take pause before they dive into an "eight-minute mortgage."
"Rocket Mortgage" is a program launched in December by Quicken, third-largest mortgage lender in the U.S., that promises potential home buyers they can qualify for a mortgage online in under 10 minutes. The service cuts out the middle man—in this case, a loan officer—and analyzes your financial and credit history to determine your loan eligibility.
Beyond the CFPB, Twitter users responded to the ad in real-time, with many seeing in it echoes of the real estate frenzy that led up to the crisis:
More than anything else, the critics seem to be accusing Quicken of tone deafness, and it's hard to argue with that.
Still, it's worth acknowledging a few things. Buying a home is a big decision, and one that should never be rushed. But Quicken's program doesn't actually purport to sell you a mortgage, let alone a home, in 10 minutes. The key feature of the service is that it allows potential homebuyers to quickly qualify for a loan and lock in an interest rate. This doesn't necessarily speed up the home buying process; it condenses the first step by letting would-be borrowers skip a lot of the initial paperwork by authorizing Quicken to communicate with their bank and other financial institutions directly.
Nor is Quicken's program designed to offer mortgages to people who don't qualify for one. “These are qualified mortgages, fully underwritten loans. Nothing that we’re doing is shifting or changing that," says Quicken Loans CEO Bill Emerson. "The reality is, we’re doing nothing but safe lending."
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So Rocket Mortgages isn't likely to feature in a sequel to "The Big Short." On the other hand, it's probably not a good idea to suggest that buying a home can or should be as fast and simple as buying a new pair of shoes from Zappos.