Kenneth R. Harney, the author for four decades of the syndicated real estate column “The Nation’s Housing,” which explored issues faced by homeowners and home buyers, died May 23 at his home in Chevy Chase, Md. He was 75.
Distributed weekly to 90 newspapers around the country by The Washington Post Writers Group, Mr. Harney’s column was focused on unglamorous but vital issues concerning the intricacies of buying and selling property. He wrote about such topics as whether do-it-yourself home improvements were likely to increase the market value of a house, plus the perils of such undertakings where, he warned, it was easy for something to go expensively wrong.
One homeowner, Mr. Harney reported in January, “inadvertently connected the plumbing from a new bathroom to the home’s sump pump discharge in the basement,” causing raw sewage to flow into the yard.
“The message here isn’t that you should avoid DIY,” Mr. Harney wrote. “Rather you should take a sober look in advance at how your own technical and physical skills match up with what you have in mind. When the match doesn’t look all that favorable, call in a pro.”
He weighed such questions as the cost of energy-efficient “green” improvements to a home and how they might affect the selling price.
In the burgeoning “gig” economy, in which many potential buyers earn substantial portions of their incomes from part-time work — driving for Uber or Lyft, for example — Mr. Harney examined how lending institutions evaluate their loan risks and qualifications.
He cited one study that estimated “34 percent of the workforce earned money in gig pursuits and projected this could rise to 43 percent by 2020.” He noted that the mortgage financiers Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, aware that gig workers might not ordinarily qualify for loans based on traditional requirements, were starting to research how to accommodate people who pursued unconventional career paths.
Two of Mr. Harney’s columns examining inappropriate charges imposed by a lender at real estate settlements resulted in a refund of thousands of dollars to a home buyer, The Post Writers Group said. Another column led to an increase in credit ratings for borrowers who made prompt payments on student loans.
Over the years, Mr. Harney’s topics ranged from vacation getaway real estate scams to online hackers seizing control of real estate listings. He explored the impact of social trends on the market, such as how housing sales have been depressed by the tendency among millennials to marry and have children later in life than previous generations.
In a December 2018 column, Mr. Harney cast a revisionist light on one of the oldest real estate shibboleths: the commonly quoted guideline that buyers can afford homes that cost twice their gross annual income.
Not true, he opined, citing a study.
“There is no magic price-to-income rule of thumb for gauging affordability that fits everywhere,” he wrote, “although the median ratio nationwide was 3.3. As with everything in real estate, location plays a crucial role; ratios . . . ranged from an affordably modest 2.3 to a hyper-expensive 5.0.”
Kenneth Robert Harney was born in Jersey City on March 25, 1944. He graduated from Princeton University in 1966, then worked as a newspaper reporter in Camden, N.J., before serving for more than two years in the Peace Corps in India.
He came to Washington in 1970 as a program analyst with the Office of Economic Opportunity, then spent several years as the founding editor of Housing and Development Reporter, a publication of the Bureau of National Affairs.
Mr. Harney also owned and managed business, financial, educational and investment organizations and freelanced for The Post and Washington Star before he began writing his syndicated column in 1979.
He won several awards from the National Association of Real Estate Editors and the Consumer Federation of America. From 1995 to 1998, he served on the Federal Reserve Board’s Community Advisory Council. He also was the host of “Real Estate Magazine,” a television show on FNN, a forerunner of CNBC, and the author of two books.
Mr. Harney wrote his final column last week.
In 1967, he married Andrea Leon. In addition to his wife, of Chevy Chase, survivors include four children, Alexandra Harney of Shanghai, Brendan Harney of San Francisco, Timothy Harney of Brooklyn and Phurbu McAlister of Silver Spring, Md.; two brothers; a sister; and five grandchildren.
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