Real estate website today announced the launch of Zillow Mortgage Marketplace, a service that provides borrowers a place in which to anonymously request custom loan quotes directly from registered lenders. The lenders can respond to as many requests from borrowers free of charge. It also includes a lender public feedback system in which borrowers can rate the lenders they contact.

Zillow Mortgage Marketplace is accessible on the site from the "Mortgages" tab. Users then complete a loan request form to officially begin the process. They don’t need to provide any personally identifiable information, such as Social Security number, name, address or phone number. Yet, they provide enough additional information on the request form to enable lenders to create customized quotes.

Any lenders who visit the site can view outstanding requests and competing quotes offered by other lenders. By only registered lenders, who have been confirmed as mortgage professionals, can participate in the quote process.

Borrowers can receive as many quotes as they would like; and a standardized quote form enables them to compare quotes and provide ratings and feedback on lenders. Lenders must disclose all fees upfront, while Zillow estimates taxes and insurance and provides an estimated monthly payment. Identities are only revealed when a borrower contacts a lender.

Considering the mortgage crisis the U.S. is currently facing, this could be a very good time or very bad time for Zillow to launch a home mortgage lending service. With both borrowers and lenders gun-shy at this point, perhaps such an offering is a good idea. Both parties can test the waters without revealing their identities and moving too far along in the process.

As long as consumers can locate the service, this should be beneficial to them. They can, without making a commitment, see what rates are available to them before they commit to purchasing a mortgage. Since more and more consumers prefer to conduct their own research (especially online) before making a purchase, this offering should be well received and capitalize on the trend of the Internet-educated consumer.

For lenders, this is a very economical way to generate leads--and strong leads, for that matter. It's unlikely consumers not serious about securing a mortgage would spend time completing a loan request form. Lenders should undoubtedly receive quality leads from this service. Yet, with the ratings and feedback processes in place, lenders must ensure they serve Zillow customers very well--or they will quickly receive a reputation for poor service they won't be able to hide.

It's important to note, however, that the service isn't completely free. Lenders have to pay a one-time registration fee of $25. Then they can create a public profile on that will feature their contact information.

More and more, we are able to see Zillow's business model, which is to generate high traffic with high-interest free content and then enhance that with value-add services that generate revenues. It's a model that seems to be working quite well.