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The goal of Cityscape is to bring high-quality original research on housing and community development issues to scholars, government officials, and practitioners. Cityscape is open to all relevant disciplines, including architecture, consumer research, demography, economics, engineering, ethnography, finance, geography, law, planning, political science, public policy, regional science, sociology, statistics, and urban studies.

Cityscape is published three times a year by the Office of Policy Development and Research (PD&R) of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

  • Housing Tenure and Financial Security
  • Volume 22 Number 1
  • Managing Editor: Mark D. Shroder
  • Associate Editor: Michelle P. Matuga

Mortgage Journeys: A Video Ethnography of the Homebuying and Mortgage Process

Anna Jefferson
Hannah Thomas
Abt Associates Inc.

Prior research suggests that comparison shopping for mortgages when purchasing a home helps secure a lower interest rate. In theory, the benefits of mortgage shopping should be particularly strong for lower-and moderate-income (LMI) first-time homebuyers, who may face particular underwriting challenges but who also may qualify for city- and state-level first-time homebuyer assistance programs. We have only limited data about the mortgage shopping behaviors of LMI homebuyers, however, and how those behaviors may influence mortgage outcomes. This article presents new ethnographic data about how LMI first-time homebuyers access information and how that information shapes their mortgage shopping in three phases of the homebuying process. We find that study participants’ mortgage-shopping behaviors evolved in three phases of a homebuying process, and they took steps that differed from best practices, especially during the stressful purchase phase, when mortgage shopping could have the biggest benefits. The study draws on longitudinal ethnographic video and interview data collected from 14 low-income first-time homebuyers in Boston, Massachusetts and Knoxville, Tennessee in 2015. The findings from the paper illuminate the need to improve the ease of gaining—and being able to act on—information about mortgages at all stages of the homebuying process.

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