Statistical Indicators

Discrepancies in Home Sales Data Illustrate Market Volatility

Posted on Wednesday, March 16, 2011

They say “it’s all in the numbers,” but what if the numbers don’t match up, in fact don’t even come close, even when comparing apples to apples – in this case nationwide homes sales to nationwide home sales?
The real estate data and analytics firm CoreLogic has released a market report in which the company claims widely reported home sales estimates from the National Association of Realtors are overstated.
According to CoreLogic’s analysis, existing home sales totaled 3.3 million in 2010, down 10.8 percent from 3.7 million in 2009.
But NAR’s data tell a different story. The trade group’s 2010 year-end count puts total existing home sales at 4.9 million, down just 5 percent from 5.2 million in 2009.
In its December release, NAR asserted that the pattern it recorded over the last six months of last year “is clearly showing a recovery” – a stark contrast to CoreLogic’s assessment that home sales last year declined to the lowest level since the collapse of the housing market.
CoreLogic claims in its report that the Realtor association’s data, which CoreLogic refers to as “the most popular measure of existing home sales,” is exaggerated by 15 percent to 20 percent.
Lucien Salvant, a spokesperson for NAR, says since CoreLogic’s report came out, they’ve “looked into CoreLogic’s methodology and we think they’re numbers are off.”
He says CoreLogic “jumped the gun” in putting such an opinion to the public, particularly since just last year, NAR and CoreLogic, along with Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA), all sat down together in the same room “to explore what would be a better methodology for the future” in terms of calculating home sales and “CoreLogic knew we were in that process,” Salvant said.
Both organizations agree that the issue lies in the methodology each uses.
Mark Fleming, CoreLogic’s chief economist, explained that his company aggregates and counts public records of deed transfers from courthouses all over the country. He says the figures are then benchmarked against all alternative sources available, including bank filings under the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA), loan source information from MBA, and statistics from the Census Bureau.
Salvant says NAR relies on MLS data in calculating its sales estimates. He explained that the trade group periodically surveys its members to assess if all their sales are fully reflected in the MLS and supplements the data with those findings. Salvant noted that NAR also benchmarks its numbers against statistics provided by the Census Bureau, but he says the dynamics of the Census information have shifted drastically over the past few years and NAR has been exploring other models for its benchmarking purposes.
Both parties concede that there can be holes in any approach used. Distressed homes don’t always show up in the MLS, HMDA and loan source information doesn’t account for all-cash buyers, and Census stats may need adjusting.
The volatility and turbulence of today’s market throws another kink into the equation.
“For all of us in the business of collecting and aggregating [home sales data], this has been one of the most challenging times because of the market conditions,” Fleming said, “no matter who you are and how you do it.”
Fleming says regardless of what the actual number is, it’s important to remember the reason behind the numbers – to illustrate movement and trends in the marketplace and help pinpoint where home prices are headed.
But therein lies perhaps the greatest disparity. As Fleming explained, the biggest determinant of home prices is the supply of homes on the market, simply put, “supply and demand 101,” he said.
CoreLogic estimates that the supply of visible inventory was 16 months in November, the highest level since February 2009 when prices were declining 20 percent on a year-over-year basis.
NAR pegged the total housing inventory at the end of November to represent a 9.5-month supply.
The Realtor association is scheduled to release its January existing-home sales report, along with estimates of the current supply of homes, on Wednesday.
The group is also expected to release revised data for the past three years in the coming weeks, but Salvant says this is routine procedure. “All data needs to be updated,” he said.
By: Carrie Bay, DSNEWS

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