Newspaper readers have a trusted friend in Kenneth Harney's award-winning real estate column, ``The Nation's Housing." That's because week after week he focuses on the real issues faced by today's record number of homeowners -- complicated tax problems, the settlement fee thicket, credit scores and credit files -- and guides readers to smart solutions.
Millions of readers have saved -- and will save -- money because of Harney's undeviating attention to the American housing consumer's best interests. Sometimes the savings for individual readers are huge. For example, Harney was contacted by a reader in Los Angeles who was confused about certain charges on her home sale settlement sheet. Harney examined her loan documents and unearthed a scandal of nationwide proportions: A large lender was preying on unsuspecting borrowers by including ``equity-sharing" provisions tied to home value appreciation as part of their mortgage interest charges.
After two columns, plus additional publicity stimulated by Harney's work, the lender sent a refund check to the Los Angeles reader for more than $63,000. Even better, the country's largest mortgage investor in this form of home mortgage withdrew from the field -- a policy shift that one mortgage expert estimated saved homeowners tens of millions of dollars in overblown interest charges.
Another example of Harney's pursuit of hard news that directly helps consumers: He documented the secret decision by the country's largest student lender to withhold on-time loan payment information to the national credit bureaus. The net effect for many of the lender's 7 million-plus customers was to lower their credit scores. Young, first-time home buyers were especially harmed, and were charged needlessly high mortgage interest rates.
Harney's columns on the subject prompted corrective legislation in the U.S. Senate mandating full credit reporting. The lender, Sallie Mae, reversed its harmful policy one day before action on the bill.
Over the years, Harney's columns have contributed to several key pieces of housing reform on Capitol Hill, including cancellation of private mortgage insurance premiums, better disclosures on refinancings and prohibitions against loan transfer abuses and predatory mortgage servicing practices.
``The Nation's Housing" has won numerous professional awards, including Best Column-All Media from the National Association of Real Estate Editors. Harney is the author of two books on real estate finance and investment, and serves as managing director of the National Real Estate Development Center, a professional education and publishing organization. For three years he was a member of the Federal Reserve Board's Consumer Advisory Council, a statutory body that reviews all Fed actions on home mortgages, consumer credit and banking industry regulation. He was also a member of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Working Group on Computerized Loan Origination.
Harney also serves as vice president and member of the board of directors of the National Association of Real Estate Editors. In 2006, Inman News named him to its list of the ``100 most influential leaders in real estate."
A cum laude graduate of Princeton University, Harney lives in Chevy Chase, Md., with his wife, Andrea, and a foster child from Tibet. The couple also has three grown children who live in Hong Kong, Cairo and New York.
Under a 2008 program, auditors identified 1,326 individuals who claimed more than $10 million in credits for home purchases that occurred after the claimant's recorded date of death.