Friday, June 13

Debunkr Debut (or "Why Case-Shiller and RealtyTrac are evil!")

Hello world! If you've come to this blog it's likely because of a link I've made to various other news items or blogposts discussing various economic, business or financial related topics. I'm sick and tired of seeing so much mis-information being passed to the public without any informed critical thinking applied to it. The news continues to pass along data and information from sources that are biased with conflicts of interest. Consider the recent spate of press about real estate foreclosures that are basically pass-throughs of press releases by S&P/Case-Shiller or RealtyTrac.
What's the problem? Well the problem is that both of the organizations make money by selling "data services" to investors. The conflict of interest comes in the fact that they probably sell more of these services based on two things: 1. The extreme nature of the market, and 2. How much publicity they get. What's the best way to get publicity? How about publishing biased data showing that the market is going to hell in a handbasket? They get so much press from their P.R. about the real estate market that they have become the de facto sources and the entire market is using for gospel. The underinformed general public takes this stuff as the whole truth and is believing every second of it. This is creating panic in the market and hurting otherwise intelligent, solvent and informed home owners.
Unfortunately, I am not a fan of biased data. I prefer objective analysis based on sound analytical techniques and comprehensive data sets. I can argue that Case-Shiller and RealtyTrac offer neither.
I am not here to argue that everything is okay in the real-estate world. I think that prices may decline significantly in certain areas of the country. However, I do not think that real estate prices are going to fall on a wholesale basis across the country. I believe that real estate, like politics, is local. There are different factors effecting each home and lot across the country that will make the price go or go down. Just because idiots overleveraged in certain areas of the country (I'm looking at you Stockton, Miami, Phoenix, Modesto and Las Vegas!), doesn't mean that Atherton, Manhattan, Seattle or many other areas will suffer the same fate. And I'm really pissed that the media can't stop painting the entire U.S. with the same broad brush.
If you talk to people who are actually buying and selling, there are many healthy areas in the country and the reality is that most housing prices are not down 30%+. Maybe some people are a few percent down here and there, but most houses weren't bought and sold 2005-2007 with toxic financings. Most houses are owned by people who have lived in their places for years with good old fashioned 30-yr fixed mortgages. But that's not something that the sensationalist media is going to tell you about. They would rather focus on a small minority of people who are facing disaster because of very poor personal finance decisions. Extrapolating the minority to the majority is dangerous because you'll do things like cause people to spending, slow down the economy and allow regulators to create horrible regulations that make small problems larger and create problems where there were none before.
If you're thinking this will be a real estate only blog, don't fret, real-estate is only the latest in a long line of financially-related topics that I plan on discussing. Please, please, please add to the conversation in the comments. If I have data wrong or if you have additional data that supports my argument, then by all means, let us hear it!

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