Despite an economy affected by a stagnant housing market, decreasing home values and upheaval among lenders, overall customer satisfaction with the home equity line of credit/loan origination process has improved since 2007, according to a study released Thursday by J.D. Power and Associates. Overall customer satisfaction in 2008 averaged 780 on a 1,000-point scale, increasing by 14 points from 766 in 2007 -- surprising results, given the number of lenders that have been pulling back on even existing lines of credit from borrowers who are seeing their available home equity vanish amid a record drop in prices. Tim Ryan, senior research director of the finance and insurance practice at J.D. Power, said the results likely prove the old adage of "under promise, over deliver." Consumers are now operating with a different baseline than in the past. "Ongoing troubles in the housing and mortgage lending markets have had the effect of lowering customer expectations around the home equity loan and line of credit origination process," Ryan said. "Since homeowners may have feelings of uncertainty toward property values and lenders, they may associate the loan application process with hassle and frustration." The result is that those getting a home equity loan or line of credit of all might be pleasantly surprised that they got the loan at all, leading to improved perception of satisfaction -- although J.D. Powers' study found that key measures of service remained flat year over year. The study found that for consumers shopping for a home equity loan or line of credit lender, closing costs and price -- including interest rates and fees -- are particularly important considerations. The best of the best Bank of America Corp. (BAC) ranked highest in satisfying customers who recently obtained a home equity product, receiving an overall index score of 811 and performing particularly well in the application/approval process factor, J.D. Powers said. SunTrust Banks Inc. (STI) -- scoring 809 -- and Wachovia Corp. (WB), with an 807 score, followed Bank of America in the rankings. SunTrust performed particularly well in the loan officer/representative or banker factor, while Wachovia performed well in the closing factor, according to the study. "Bank of America, SunTrust and Wachovia all perform well in specific areas that are important to customers, including having problem incidence rates and application approval times that are better than the industry average," said Ryan. Disclosure: The author held no positions BAC, STI, or WB when this story was originally published. HW reporters and writers follow a strict disclosure policy, the first in the mortgage trade.