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How RFS Data are Collected

Survey Design and Techniques

The 2001 Residential Finance Survey was designed to provide data about the financing of nonfarm, privately owned, residential properties.

The program was conducted by mailing questionnaires to a sample of property owners and to lenders who held mortgages on the sample properties. An option was also provided to lenders who wanted to respond electronically. Telephone and personal visit followup was done for nonresponse cases.

A sample of about 50,000 addresses was drawn from the address file for Census 2000. These addresses were limited to counties and independent cities in the 394 sampling areas used for the Census Bureau's American Housing Survey National Sample.


  1. The pre-survey contact with lenders letter, D-2903(L) [PDF - 26K] , was mailed to lenders one year before the actual survey with a threefold purpose: (1) to give lenders advance notice of the Residential Finance Survey so that they could prepare for receiving the survey one year later; (2) to ask the lenders to identify an appropriate respondent to the survey lender questionnaire; and (3) to ask the lenders whether they would prefer paper or electronic reporting of their mortgage data. Approximately 11,000 "pre-survey contact with lenders" letters were mailed.
  2. The owner seeker letter, D-2905(L) [PDF - 30K] , was mailed to units at basic street addresses having two or more housing units in order to identify the name and address of the owner or the owner's agent, and to determine if the property was a homeowner property or rental property. A homeowner property was defined as one having fewer than 5 units where the owner of the property lived in one of the units. A rental property was one with five or more units or a property of fewer than five units with none that were owner occupied. Condominium apartments were considered homeowner properties if the owner lived in the unit and rental properties if the owner did not live in the unit. If the property was determined to be a homeowner property, a homeowner questionnaire was mailed to the owner. If it was a rental property, a rental property questionnaire was mailed to the property owner or the owner's agent. To minimize the reporting burden on the public and survey costs, the mailing of owner seeker letters was limited to a maximum of seven apartments at any one multiunit address. Approximately 75,000 owner seeker letters were mailed. About another 25,000 owner seeker letters were sent to census regional offices for field interviews, primarily for larger properties.
  3. The homeowner questionnaire, D-2900 [PDF - 208K] , was initially mailed to all addresses with only one unit, and all mobile homes. In addition, properties identified on the "owner seeker" letter as having fewer than 5 units, one of which was owner occupied, were sent homeowner questionnaires. This questionnaire provided for the reporting of characteristics of the property and the property owner(s). It also requested the name and address of the owner if he/she did not live on the property. If the property was mortgaged, the respondent was asked to report the person or institution to whom the mortgage payments were made. A letter accompanying the questionnaire at mailout informed the respondent that by providing the lender's name and address he/she was granting permission for the Census Bureau to contact that lender. About 35,000 homeowner questionnaires were mailed.
  4. The rental and vacant property questionnaire, D-2901 [PDF - 208K] , was mailed to owners or agents of properties with five or more housing units or those with fewer than five units when none were owner-occupied as indicated by responses on the "owner seeker" letter and home-owner questionnaire. As with the homeowner questionnaire, if the property was mortgaged, the respondents were asked to provide information about the recipients of their mortgage payments with the understanding that the lender would then be contacted by the Census Bureau. Approximately 20,000 rental and vacant property questionnaires were mailed.
  5. The lender questionnaire, D-2902 [PDF - 109K] , was mailed to financial institutions, government agencies, firms or individuals to whom mortgage payments made, as indicated on the homeowner and rental and vacant property questionnaires. It provided for the reporting of information about the mortgage. The form was designed to collect data on both first and junior mortgages, including home equity lines of credit, reverse mortgages, and installment loans on mobile homes. About 15,000 lender questionnaires were mailed. Numerous lenders across the country wanted the option to respond electronically with mortgage data. Electronic reporting was provided for approximately 5,000 mortgages.


The "pre-survey contact with lenders" letters were mailed in mid-June, 2000. The "owner seeker" letters were mailed to addresses or sent to the regional offices for field interviewing in early April, 2001. The homeowner questionnaires were mailed in early April, 2001, with a followup mailing mid-June. The rental and vacant property questionnaires were mailed in late May, 2001, with a followup mailing in late June. The lender questionnaires were mailed in August and September, 2001, to those lenders wishing to receive paper questionnaires. Those lenders that wished to respond electronically to data files made available by the Census Bureau were sent information in three phases: in mid-August and late September, 2001, and in late March, 2002.


The 2001 Residential Finance Survey was essentially a centralized mail-out/mail-back operation conducted by the National Processing Center in Jeffersonville, Indiana. The mail enumeration of property owners occurred mainly in the months of April 2001 through March 2002, while the lenders were polled in August 2001 through March 2002.

Field interviewing for property owners was limited to cases in which the owner was either not identified or failed to respond to the original mailed questionnaire and followup letters. Followup enumeration was conducted by field representatives from the 12 census regional offices.

Field representatives were trained for the followup enumeration of property owners through an extensive home study course and a 1-day classroom training session conducted by supervisory personnel at each of the 12 census regional offices.

Followup interviews of lenders (banks, savings and loans, insurance companies, etc.) were made by the National Processing Center in Jeffersonville, Indiana. If the lenders had not received the initial mailout of questionnaires, new documents were mailed to them. Those lenders who indicated they would respond electronically but had not done so were contacted by staff at the Census Bureau's headquarters office in the Washington, DC area.

How RFS Data are Processed

Clerical Editing and Coding

The homeowner and rental and vacant property questionnaires were received in Jeffersonville, Indiana, National Processing Center. Each questionnaire was screened for completeness, mortgage status, tenure, consistency between expected and actual number of housing units, and determination of whether the property was within the scope of the survey.

After screening, a clerical edit operation was performed to ensure that the proper questionnaire (homeowner or rental) was completed by the respondent, that the answers referred to the sample address, and that all sampled addresses were associated with the correct property. Questionnaires which failed the clerical edit were referred to professional staff at headquarters in Washington for resolution. Upon completion of the clerical edit, questionnaires for nonmortgaged properties were sent to data capture, where the questionnaires were scanned. Images of the questionnaire pages were edited, based on guidelines and limits determined by the Washington staff. Those cases where there were questions which failed an edit were referred to the Washington staff for electronic review online.

Additional clerical edits were performed on questionnaires for mortgaged properties. One of the most important edits was to determine which lender held the mortgage(s) for the property. Prior to the 2001 Residential Finance Survey, a “pre-survey” contact of lenders was conducted. As a result of this survey, a database of approximately 6,000 lenders was established. If a mortgaged property questionnaire listed a lender not on the database, that lender was added to the database. After mortgaged property edits were completed, the questionnaires were forwarded to data capture, where the questionnaires were also scanned and the images of the questionnaire pages edited. The Washington staff also reviewed the mortgaged questionnaires online if the questionnaires failed preliminary edits. Once the lenders were identified for mortgaged properties, they were placed in a mortgage/lender database. This database was used to create and mail out lender questionnaires. If a lender indicated they did not want to receive a paper questionnaire, but wished to respond electronically, a separate database for electronic reporting was created.

Lender questionnaires were returned to Jeffersonville, Indiana. Each questionnaire was screened for completeness and consistency before being sent to data capture, where the questionnaire was scanned. Each questionnaire (homeowner, rental and vacant, and lender) was assigned a unique property address control number. Based on this number, a data file was created by linking the property (homeowner or rental and vacant) questionnaire to the corresponding lender questionnaire(s). After editing this file, professional staff in Washington was able to view the scanned images of the property questionnaire and corresponding lender questionnaire(s) and resolve any discrepancies. The mortgage edit was done to ensure that the property owner and mortgage lender were reporting for the same mortgage and that all mortgages on the property were accounted for.

Specifically, mortgage edit comprised the following activities:

  1. The reduction of the number of “No reports.” In this volume no attempt was made to eliminate the “Not reported” category unless it could be done on the basis of other information provided by the property owner or mortgage lender. For example, if the owner failed to report the year the property was acquired, and also did not report that the mortgage was made at the time of acquisition, but the lender reported the year the mortgage was made, this was assumed also to be the year of acquisition. It was possible to eliminate the “Not reported” category for most mortgage items for two reasons. First, there were two sources of information (the property owner and the mortgage lender). Second, if a few facts are known about a mortgage, it is frequently possible to compute the missing loan information.
  2. The interpretation of respondents’ notes, which were numerous and frequently complex. To cite a few examples:
    • Asked the interest rate, the respondent replied “prime rate plus 2 points.”
    • Asked the type of mortgage (fixed-rate, adjustable rate, etc.), the lender marked the “Other” box and explained “cash flow mortgage.”
    • The owner reported a first and second mortgage, but the lender indicated a first mortgage and a home equity line of credit.
    • The owner reported three mortgages (a first, second, and third mortgage), all with different lenders. One lender reports holding the first mortgage, another holds the second, and the remaining lender answers that it holds a loan not secured by the property.
  3. Proration. This occurred when an owner reported his/her project as a single property, but the lender’s response indicated more than one property was involved with the holding. By definition, a property is what is covered by a single first mortgage. It was necessary to prorate the owner’s data on various property items; that is, number of units, value, expenses. Proration was usually done on the basis of the face amounts of the mortgages and/or the number of housing units on the property.
  4. Consistency checks. The editors made a number of consistency checks. For example:
    • Only one item on the lender questionnaire could have multiple entries. All other items should have only one entry.
    • The control number on the property questionnaire must agree with the control number of the lender questionnaire(s).
    • There must be a lender questionnaire for each mortgage listed on the property questionnaire.
    • Mortgage payment information must be corrected to monthly if reported weekly, quarterly, annually, etc.
    • Balloon payment mortgages cannot be fully amortized.
    • A junior mortgage cannot be placed before a first mortgage.
  5. Allocation of mortgage information. Numerous steps were taken to ensure as complete a response to the 2001 Residential Finance Survey as possible. Despite these efforts, lender reports for a significant number of mortgages were not received. This occurred for several reasons:
    • Mortgages are frequently bought, sold, or transferred from one lender to another. In many situations, the time frame for data collection expired before the current lender could be located.
    • A small number of lenders, citing confidentiality requirements, refused to cooperate.

The property owner and mortgage lender were asked a certain number of similar questions about the mortgage on the property. This was done to ensure that both were reporting on the same property and the same mortgage. Cases where the property owner made a complete report about the property, but where the mortgage lender did not report, became eligible for allocation of lender information.

In most cases the allocation of lender information was done by trained and experienced headquarters staff. In a small number of cases involving interest only loans, a computer program was written and the allocation done by computer. In all cases, the allocation of lender information was based on information provided by the property owner. Allocated lender records are identified as such on the computer file.

Computer Processing

Three distinct computer edits were performed on the survey data. The first edit made a recheck of selected “key” items to ensure that they were answered. It also made consistency checks for each data record (for example, if the property had two mortgages, there must be two mortgage documents for that property). This edit also checked for duplicate records for the same property. All cases which “failed edit” were reviewed and corrected by professional staff.

The second edit was the allocation edit. In a small number of cases as described above, a lender record was allocated by computer based on information reported by the property owner.

The third computer edit made a final check for internal consistency between items within a data record. For a few individual items, response allocations were made based on this check. In addition, this edit performed a “clean-up” function propr to data tabulation (for example, blanking items which should not have been answered based on the questinnaire “skip” pattern).

The weighting of data (including nonresponse adjustment and ratio estimation) along with the calculation of standard errors, medians, means, and all ratios, and the final tabulation of the data were performed by computer.

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Source: U.S. Census Bureau | Residential Finance Survey |  Last Revised: 2012-08-27T13:33:22.646-04:00