Obtaining financing is a tricky, tense, and unpredictable aspect of the home buying process. Six separate divisions of Shea Financial Services, the lending arm of Shea Homes, scored top ratings in leading prospective home buyers through the financing process, according to a recent survey of 100,000 home buyers in 500 communities built by 88 builder divisions nationwide.

"We ask our buyers up front what their expectations are, because they come to us with vastly different experiences," says Karyl Gately, SFS president. "We emphasize that if at any time we're not meeting their expectations, to keep us informed." Included in the training program of Shea Financial personnel is Steven Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, says Gately. That has led to asking customers, for instance, how often each wants to hear from a financial officer. "Some want to receive mortgage rates every day over the nine-month escrow period. Others just want you to call once in a while to say 'hello.'" Shea Financial Services recently centralized its operations in Aliso Viejo, Calif.

The survey, conducted by Eliant, in Irvine, Calif., asked customers to rank whether loan officers acted with courtesy and respect; kept the customer informed throughout the process; obtained the best loan for the customer; were flexible in scheduling appointments; and provided loan documents that were consistent with the terms described by the agent, with reasonable closing costs. Finally, people were asked whether they would use the lender again.

The six units were Shea Mortgage branches in North Carolina, Colorado, San Diego, California-Livermore, and Arizona (Scottsdale) and its active-adult branch.