In Mexico the average age is 19; in the United States it's 33. What's more, residents south of the border form households and purchase homes much earlier in life than U.S. residents do.

A significantly younger pool of borrowers is just one of the unfamiliar facts American investors and lenders will encounter every day in Latin America, representatives from six countries explained at a Mortgage Bankers Association conference here.

Some countries have highly developed mortgage markets, complete with securitization regulations. In others, government subsidies fund the bulk of housing.

But there are two constants: loans are smaller than in the United States, and interest rates are considerably higher - ranging from 11% to 20%.

Argentina is furthest along the securitization road. This month it will become the first Latin American country to put mortgage-backed securities on the New York Stock Exchange, said Luiz Carlos Cerolini, vice president of Banco Hipotecario Nacional there.

The country already has a flourishing secondary market for mortgage loans among pension funds, he said.

Brazil has been concentrating on finding new sources of funding for housing since an inflationary boom in the '80s almost destroyed its housing finance system, said Luiz Eduardo Pinto Lima, vice president of Associacao Das Entidades de Credito Imobiliar.

Currently, mortgages are available through 27 private and 21 public institutions in the nation, as well as through state governments. To fund mortgages, financial institutions rely on savings deposits, which have skyrocketed in the country in the last five years.

The creation of a Brazi Mae or Brazi Mac is being studied.

In Columbia, mortgage funding is provided almost exclusively by savings and mortgage corporations, called CAVs. These 10 corporations originate both construction and residential loans, which have a current outstanding value of $9 billion. Housing loans here carry an average interest rate of more than 25%.

Costa Rica relies on payroll and sales taxes along with national budget allotments to fund its National Financial Center for Housing, which is responsible for mortgage lending. Most homes are state subsidized, said Dennis Melendez Howell, general manager of the Banco Hipotecario de la Vivienda there.

"The majority of families here are concerned with keeping their credit in good standing, especially because the loans are small compared to the value of the homes," he added.

Securitization in Costa Rica is expected in 1997, Mr. Howell said.

American investors looking for a mortgage market that looks like their own are sure to be disappointed, said Octavio Fernandez de Teresa, vice president at Financiera Inmobiliaria, one of Mexico's 12 mortgage companies.

"To make investments in these mortgage markets," he said "you have to think a little bit Latin."

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