“Goofy Elizabeth Warren, sometimes known as Pocahontas, bought foreclosed housing and made a quick killing. Total hypocrite!”
— Donald Trump, in a tweet, May 25, 2016
Donald Trump accused Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) of being a hypocrite after Warren attacked Trump for saying, before the housing bubble burst in 2008, that he hoped to profit from a downturn in home prices because of a real estate bubble. (As our colleagues at PolitiFact noted, Trump actually failed to predict the magnitude of the financial crisis, saying he didn’t think the real estate market would “take a big hit.”)
Trump alleged that Warren herself made a “quick killing” in the real estate market by buying foreclosed housing.
Warren fired back with this tweet:
A reader was curious whether Trump actually had a case. These real estate transactions caused a brief flurry in the conservative-leaning media during Warren’s 2012 Senate run, when Warren was accused of “flipping” homes. The Boston Globe recently published a detailed look at Warren’s real estate purchases but as far as we know, no one has compiled a comprehensive list of the transactions so readers can see for themselves.
Flipping is generally defined as buying and selling a property within six months, sometimes after extensive renovations. But Warren in her tweet said she assisted her family members (primarily an older brother and a nephew) who at the time were out-of-work construction workers. Warren came from a lower-income family but has an estimated net worth of $7.5 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, largely as a result of writing best-selling books and being a tenured professor at Harvard Law School.
We located 25 real estate transactions in the Oklahoma City area related to Warren’s family and 21 mortgage loans made by Warren to her family members. We found only four transactions involving foreclosure property, two made under Warren’s name. Most of the transactions took place in the 1990s and early 2000s, with Warren’s last loan being made in 2007.
The records show that Warren in 1992 made mortgage loans to her brother and her sister-in-law, but then in 1993 and 1994 directly bought four homes herself, which her relatives apparently renovated. After 1994, she reverted to the practice of essentially acting like a banker to her family members, making 19 loans between 1994 and 2007 while purchasing no property herself. (A fifth home, purchased in 1991 by her husband, Bruce Mann, was for her parents, where they lived until they passed away, according to Warren spokeswoman Lacey Rose.)
While some conservative media have suggested she charged higher-than-average mortgage rates, that’s impossible to determine because mortgage rates vary with the creditworthiness of a borrower. Presumably if her relatives (who may not have had steady employment) could have received lower rates from a bank, they would not have relied on Warren. Over time, the mortgages were paid off; in 2014, her brother paid off a mortgage made in 2007.
In many cases, Warren advanced a loan that was worth more than the purchase price of the property, indicating that her relatives were using the additional money to purchase supplies for renovations. The costs of those supplies — and the labor involved — are not reflected in the difference between the purchase and sales prices, so the actual profits, if any, cannot be determined.
Moreover, few of these transactions were “quick.” Most of these properties were held for years. There is one case that stands out: a 1993 purchase by Warren of a house for $30,000 that was sold five months later for $145,000. The grandson of the woman who sold the house to Warren later told the National Review that his grandmother had let it “fall into disrepair.” The house was renovated by Warren’s out-of-work family members, but it’s unclear how much the materials cost or what the actual profit was. This home was not in foreclosure when Warren bought it.
As for the properties purchased while in foreclosure, Warren bought one for $4,000 and transferred it more than a decade later to her brother and sister-in-law. It was sold for $30,000 after being in the family for 13 years. Another foreclosure property was sold by Warren after 18 months for a gain of $34,000, or 55 percent. That’s a relatively fast turnaround compared with the other properties, but it doesn’t qualify as flipping.
As the following list shows, only a handful of properties were held for less than two years. Moreover, these were not Trumpian deals; these were often tiny, inexpensive homes worth only a fraction of the $500,000 limousines that Trump tools around in. The most expensive home sold for a tad more than $200,000, while many of the others were worth less than $100,000. In a period of rising real estate prices in Oklahoma City, only one property was sold at an apparent loss.
One home financed by Warren was sold within two months — for a gain, before renovation costs, of $4,500. That’s not necessarily high finance.
Indeed, photographs of the homes and floor plans on the Oklahoma property-assessment website show that most are simple, one-story structures. Some of the homes were used by family members; others were managed as rental properties. Rose said Warren did not profit or intend to profit off the arrangement she had with her family. Any profits — after taking into account materials and labor — were reinvested in other properties or used to repay Warren immediately, she said.
“Senator Warren and her husband Bruce are fortunate to be in a position where they have been able to help relatives buy their homes and in some cases make a living by fixing up houses and managing rental properties,” Rose said.
The Trump campaign, as usual, did not respond to a request for comment.
Here are the details, in order of purchase, with links to the relevant documents. We have included photographs of the four homes purchased by Warren.
- Purchased Sept. 1, 1983: price unknown (Carol Herring)
- Sold Sept. 29, 2003: $170,000 (David Herring)
- Owned 20 years, unknown gain
- Purchased April 12, 1991: $50,000 (Bruce Mann, Warren’s husband)
- Sold Nov. 30, 1998: $109,500
- Owned 7 years, 7 months: $59,500 gain
Aug. 13, 1992: Warren mortgage loan of $55,000 to John and Barbara Herring
500 NW 18th St., Oklahoma City (bought in foreclosure)
- Purchased Aug, 19, 1992: $51,500 (John Herring)
- Sold May 29, 1998: $140,000
- Owned 5 years, 9 months: $88,500 gain
Aug. 19, 1992: Warren mortgage loan of $55,000 to John and Barbara Herring
- Purchased Oct. 14, 1992: no sale price listed. (John and Mark Herring)
- Not yet sold. Current market value: $125,000
2123 NW 14th St., Oklahoma City (bought in foreclosure)
- Purchased March 8, 1993: $4,000 (Elizabeth Warren)
- Transferred Feb. 24, 2004 to John and Barbara Herring
- Sold Feb. 27, 2006: $30,000
- Owned 13 years: $26,000 gain
2725 W. Wilshire Blvd., Oklahoma City (bought in foreclosure)
- Purchased June 10, 1993: $61,000 (Elizabeth Warren)
- Sold Dec. 14, 1994: $95,000
- Owned 1 year, 6 months: $34,000 gain
- Purchased July 27, 1993; no sale price listed (Don Herring)
- Not yet sold. Current market value: $245,000.
- Purchased Aug. 12, 1993: $30,000 (Elizabeth Warren)
- Sold Jan. 18, 1994: $145,000
- Owned 5 months: $115,000 gain
- Purchased June 6, 1994: $72,000 (Elizabeth Warren)
- Sold Jan. 26, 1998: $104,500
- Owned 3 years, 7 months: $32,500 gain
Oct. 12, 1994: Warren mortgage loan of $75,000 to John and Barbara Herring
Nov. 16, 1994: Warren mortage loan of $75,000 to John and Barbara Herring
- Purchased Nov. 18, 1994: $25,000 (John and Barbara Herring)
- Sold Nov. 24, 1998: $42,000
- Owned 4 years: $17,000 gain
April 28, 1995: Warren mortgage loan of $75,000 to John and Barbara Herring
- Purchased May 3, 1995: $17,500 (John and Barbara Herring)
- Sold Sept. 13, 2002: $46,500
- Owned 7 years, 4 months: $29,000 gain
Aug. 9, 1995: Warren mortgage loan of $75,000 to John and Barbara Herring
- Purchased Aug. 10, 1995: $27,500 (John and Barbara Herring)
- Sold April 19, 2004: $63,500
- Owned 8 years, 8 months: $36,000 gain
- Purchased Oct. 18, 1995: $20,000 (John and Barbara Herring, apparently for son Don Herring)
- Sold March 9, 1999: $28,500
- Owned 3 years, 5 months: $8,500 gain
Oct. 19, 1995: Warren mortgage loan of $75,000 to John and Barbara Herring
March 15, 1996: Warren mortgage loan of $50,000 to John Herring
Aug. 8, 1996: Warren mortgage loan of $75,000 to Barbara Herring
- Purchased Aug. 8, 1996: $31,000 (Barbara Herring)
- Sold July 30, 1999: $45,000
- Owned 3 years: $14,000 gain
Sept. 24, 1996: Warren mortgage loan of $50,000 to John and Barbara Herring
- Purchased Sept. 25, 1996: $12,000 (John Herring)
- Sold May 13, 2011: $7,000
- Owned 14 years, 7 months: $5,000 loss
Dec. 4, 1996: Warren mortgage loan $24,618 to Don Herring for property on Minnie Lane
Feb. 28, 1997: Warren mortgage loan of $30,000 to John and Barbara Herring
- Purchased March 4, 1997: $15,500 (John and Mark Herring)
- Not yet sold. Current market value: $34,848
June 6, 1997: Warren mortgage loan of $50,000 to John and Barbara Herring
June 9, 1997: Warren mortgage loan of $50,000 to John and Barbara Herring
- Purchased June 9, 1997: $26,000 (John and Barbara Herring)
- Sold Feb. 23, 2007: $45,000
- Owned 9 years, 8 months: $19,000 gain
- Purchased June 13, 1997: $24,000 (John Herring)
- Sold Oct. 7, 2004: $27,500
- Owned 7 years, 4 months: $7,500 gain
June 13, 1997: Warren mortgage loan of $50,000 to John and Barbara Herring
Oct. 30, 1997: Warren mortgage loan of $100,000 to John and Barbara Herring
Oct. 31, 1997: Warren mortgage loan of $100,000 to John and Barbara Herring
- Purchased Nov. 3, 1997: $73,000 (John and Mark Herring)
- July 2, 2008: $205,000
- Owned 10 years, 8 months: $132,000 gain
- Purchased Nov. 5, 1997: $90,000 (John Herring)
- Sold May 28, 1999: $106,000
- Owned 1 year, 7 months: $16,000 gain
May 20, 1999: Warren mortgage loan of $65,000 to John and Barbara Herring
- Purchased May 20, 1999: $55,000 (John Herring)
- Sold Feb. 12, 2004: $64,000
- Owned 4 years, 9 months: $9,000 gain
Aug, 3, 2000: Warren mortgage loan of $35,000 to John and Barbara Herring
- Purchased Aug. 3, 2000: $35,000 (John and Barbara Herring)
- Sold Oct. 17, 2000: $39,500
- Owned 2 months: $4,500 gain
Oct. 30, 2001: Warren mortgage loan of $150,000 to David and Carol Herring
Sept. 7, 2007: Warren mortgage loan of $148,331.26 to John Herring
- Purchased Sept. 7, 2007: $149,500 (John Herring)
- Sold Aug. 15, 2014: $180,000
- Owned 7 years: $30,500 gain
- Purchased May 5, 2008: $14,000 (John Herring)
- Sold Jan. 14, 2011: $27,500
- Owned 2 years, 8 months: $13,500 gain
2901 Elmwood Ave., Oklahoma City (bought in foreclosure)
- Purchased April 20, 2010: $74,500 (Mark Herring)
- Not yet sold. Current market value: $65,000
The Pinocchio Test
As usual, Trump greatly exaggerates. Warren twice bought homes in foreclosure, but she did not make a “quick killing.” One home that had been purchased in foreclosure was held in her family for 13 years. One home bought by Warren was resold within five months — but it was not purchased in foreclosure. The overall pattern demonstrated in the 25 real estate transactions does not support Trump’s claim that she made a “quick killing” out of foreclosed homes.
Instead, Warren mainly helped family members by purchasing or financing homes that were then held for years. Her family members did appear to profit from some transactions, but only modestly. This is not a portfolio of a savvy real estate investor but fits the profile that has been portrayed by Warren and her aides — a sister helping out her brothers and other relatives, mainly through loans. There’s nothing hypocritical about that.
We wavered between Three and Four Pinocchios, as his claim is essentially worth 3½ Pinocchios. But we don’t do half-Pinocchios.
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