A record 30,000 real estate agents and brokers were sent home from their annual convention in Las Vegas last week with one important message:
Go forth upon this great land -- members of the National Association of Realtors (NAR) can never be accused of not being patriotic -- and set the record straight. Tell one and all, but especially their local media, that the housing market isn't so bad.
Certainly not as bad as the rip-and-read television networks and the national wire services portray it to be, at least not in their neck of the woods, where NAR contends that local newspapers and TV stations run with unbalanced wire reports of a dying real estate market without checking sources or looking at what's actually going on in their own particular towns and cities.
"Real estate is alive and well," proclaimed outgoing President Pat V. Combs in an amateurish, convention-opening skit that was a take-off on the popular CSI (Crime Scene Investigation) television shows and purported to uncover why housing was getting such a bad rap when, in fact, 2007 should go down as the fifth best year ever for existing home sales and 2008 should be an even better year.
The conclusion: The national media has been "seduced by a few vocal but misinformed analysts," the politically powerful trade group believes.
To the 1.36 million member NAR, it's all about perspective. The group wants reporters to go behind the national numbers and cover both sides of the story. Yes, for example, inventories of unsold homes are higher than they've ever been. But that's on a national level. In some places, houses are popping off the shelves as soon as listing agents can stack them.
And so Combs, a broker from Grand Rapids, implored the Realtor congregation to "return home and refute reports" that the sky is falling.
"Reports of real estate's demise are greatly exaggerated," she said, advising her minions to warn their local media to "steer clear of unverified sources claiming to be experts."
"There are plenty of opportunities for consumers and Realtors in the current market," she said.
NAR's new President, Long Beach, Calif., broker Richard Gaylord, picked up the torch, saying that one of his goals for 2008 is for NAR to become a comprehensive source of real estate information to help local media as well as buyers and sellers understand why their home markets may be different from what the national trends suggest.
"You stories influence whether people buy or sell homes," Gaylord said during a press briefing. "And we need to do a better job of presenting information based on facts."
Some would say NAR is looking at the market through the proverbial rose-colored glasses. But on a point-by-point basis, new chief economist Lawrence Yun makes a good case.
The high number of foreclosures and the credit crunch "are real problems," he said in his role as a lab technician during the CSI sketch. "But the market fundamentals are still strong -- interest rates are low, the economy is growing and the number of jobs is on the upswing."
Later, in an hour-long, power-point presentation that included nearly 75 slides, Yun told a room packed with the Realtor faithful that today's market is nothing like previous downturns when the economy was slumping, there were significant job losses and/or interest rates were couched in two digits, not one.
Now, he pointed out, the economy is humming right along, two million jobs have been added in the last two years, and mortgage rates are still at affordable levels and near their all-time lows.