Itzhak Ben-David is a Ph.D. candidate in finance at the University of Chicago’s Graduate School of Business. (Levitt is one of his dissertation advisors.) While pursuing his original research idea — the degree to which housing prices efficiently incorporate anticipated tax increases — Ben-David stumbled upon a slightly juicier topic: a real-estate sleight of hand known as the “cashback transaction,” in which the seller gives the buyer a clandestine rebate that the lending bank never finds out about.
Yes, it’s illegal.
Our current New York Times Magazine column is about Ben-David’s research. Here is his paper on the subject. Not only is the subject matter interesting, but the detective work he employed — a sort of mashup of the methodologies in the Levitt/Syverson real-estate paper and the Duggan/Levitt sumo paper — is really impressive.