Columnist Kenneth Harney dies at 75

  • Kenneth R. Harney. MUST CREDIT: The Washington Post

    Kenneth R. Harney. MUST CREDIT: The Washington Post

Posted5/24/2019 10:55 AM

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 homebuyers, died Thursday, May 23, at his home in Chevy Chase, Maryland. He was 75.

The cause was acute myeloid leukemia, said his wife, Andrea "Andy" Harney.


Distributed weekly to 90 newspapers around the country, including the Daily Herald, Harney's column was focused on unglamorous but vital issues concerning the intricacies of buying and selling property. He wrote about such topics 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 -- Harney examined how lending institutions evaluate their loan risks and qualifications.

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 Harney's columns examining inappropriate charges imposed by a lender at real estate settlements resulted in a refund of thousands of dollars to a homebuyer, The Washington Post Writers Group said. Another column led to an increase in credit ratings for borrowers who made prompt payments on student loans.

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Over the years, 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 real estate 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, 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, New Jersey, 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.

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.

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, Maryland; two brothers; a sister; and five grandchildren.

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