Home buying in the 1990s may prove as complicated as ever, but real estate lenders are trying to simplify the finance side for borrowers, industry officials say.

Convenience and ease of use will drive changes in everything from loan forms to appraisals to home refinancing, industry officials told a recent meeting of the National Association of Real Estate Editors.

Mortgage disclosure forms -- the fine print provided at loan settlements that explains how and when payments on an adjustable-rate mortgage change or details other terms of the mortgage -- now offer little enticement for borrowers to read them.

But Countrywide Funding Corp., a nationwide lender that operates in the Washington area, said it is exploring the idea of using a children's book author or a cartoonist to write, illustrate and reproduce the materials using large print.

"The problem is not that people aren't smart enough to understand the information, it's a matter of getting people to read it," said Sidney Lenz, executive vice president for the Pasadena, Calif.-based firm.

Consequently, she said, borrowers do not appreciate "what is in store for them for the next 15 years." She said Countrywide could begin using more borrower-friendly disclosure forms as early as this fall.

Property appraisals that now add about two weeks to the loan approval process will take 24 hours to complete within a few years, said Leonard N. Druger, a vice chairman with Citicorp Mortgage in St. Louis.

Advances in high-tech data storage and retrieval systems will slash the time appraisers need to research comparable property values, he said.

With the elimination of the appraisal logjam, Druger said, lenders will begin offering "instant {loan} commitments." A quick appraisal also will enable buyers to eliminate financing contingencies in their sales offers, he said.

By the end of the decade, Druger added, technological strides made across the loan-approval process will make the 15-minute loan decision and a 10-day closing standard throughout the lending industry. Loan approval now takes about two weeks while the closing generally occurs six weeks later.

Mortgages in the future also will become expandable, thereby eliminating much of the expense of a refinancing, Druger said. In other words, lenders will approve credit lines based on the appreciated value of the house at some future point. In the interim, though, a borrower will receive only the loan money needed to purchase the home.

Citibank of New York, Druger said, already is offering expandable mortgages in the New York City area.

The lending industry also is trying to help home buyers worried about the possibility of inheriting an environmental hazard on their property, said Robert J. Engelstad, a senior vice president with the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae), a major supplier of mortgage money for lenders.

Fannie Mae, in conjunction with other lending industry groups, plans to publish a brochure, due out in August, that will identify environmental hazards and the risks associated with each. The list of pollutants, Engelstad said, includes asbestos, formaldehyde, radon, lead paint, lead in drinking water and toxic waste.

"Whether the hazard is real or imagined, the value {of a property} can be compromised," he said.

The lending industry group explored but discarded the idea of requiring the same kind of review for environmental hazards now required for multifamily properties, Engelstad said. "The incidence of environmental hazards {in single-family homes} simply is not there to warrant adding a $100 to $300 cost to every transaction."

But Druger said he believes home buyers will become even more cautious about environmental hazards in the future, predicting that toxic waste inspections will become as commonplace as termite inspections are today as part of sales transactions.

One bit of bad news in store for borrowers revolves around the mortgage insurance premium paid on conventional mortgages carrying down payments of less than 20 percent, said Sam Lyons, a senior vice president with Great Western Bank, a Beverly Hills, Calif.-based firm that lends throughout the country, including the Washington area.

The law passed last year to bail out the savings and loan industry contains a provision that will discourage mortgage insurance cancellations, Lyons said.

Some lenders do not require borrowers to continue paying the annual insurance premium once appreciation in the property pushes the borrower's equity to beyond 20 percent of the loan amount. The premium generally equals one-half of one percentage point of the remaining loan balance.

The new law penalizes lenders who drop mortgage insurance coverage unless the borrower has paid down the balance of the loan to 80 percent of the original sales price, Lyons said.

The same law, he added, also penalizes self-insured lenders such as Great Western that charge a higher interest rate to offset the risk of default in exchange for waiving the insurance coverage, which he said adds around $1,000 to the cost of a loan.

Already, Great Western has raised its mortgage interest rates by a quarter percentage point to a half percentage point to offset the added costs of doing business under the new law.

Consequently, Lyons said, his firm is now "taking a hard look" at whether to drop the self-insurance practice it began in 1984.

The growing emphasis on protecting wetlands looms as another dark cloud on the horizon, said Dorcas T. Helfant, a Virginia Beach real estate broker and a first vice president of the National Association of Realtors.

The Environmental Protection Agency, she said, has expanded the definition of wetlands so it now includes "nice, high dry stuff." A wetlands designation, she said, makes a property virtually unbuildable.

"You are going to see some areas of the country shut down in the next 24 to 36 months," she said. That, in turn, will trigger a chain of mortgage defaults, she added.