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Knowing Limits of Housing Data Is Key

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By Ellen Yan

RISMEDIA, August 22, 2008-(MCT)-For buyers and sellers alike, the cornucopia of housing and mortgage reports released regularly from the industry groups can be overwhelming.

Experts caution that such data should only be used as a guide when deciding whether the time is right to buy, sell or refinance.

“It has a powerful impact, on the supply side and the demand side,” Robert Campbell, a Hofstra University real estate finance professor, said of the reports. “A lot of people have withdrawn properties from the market.”

Housing and mortgage reports are barometers of the market, but may not necessarily portray a complete picture. For example, one report may have higher numbers while another might not cover certain sales.

The key to using them is knowing the data’s limits, experts said. With lag times, quarterly reports may not reflect current trends, and national trends might not apply locally.

“There’s an issue of what kind of impression are you creating here,” said Gary Simon, a statistics professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business. “People are nervously looking at everything right now.”

One of the most watched reports comes from California-based RealtyTrac, which looks at foreclosure-related filings, from default notices to sales.

In its last report, Suffolk had a dramatic increase in default, auction and other foreclosure-related filings last month compared with a year ago-685 in July and 44 the same month last year, according to RealtyTrac. But the jump is based on incomplete data because RealtyTrac had problems getting county figures last summer.

The respected Case-Shiller home price index, from Standard & Poor’s credit rating agency, tracks home values over time for 20 major cities. But it does not cover co-ops and condos, and the data for the New York City region includes not just Long Island, but also parts of Pennsylvania, Connecticut and New Jersey.

For-sale-by-owner transactions, done without agents, are often not reflected in reports, such as those from the Multiple Listing Service of Long Island. It’s unclear whether such closings would make a difference to changes in monthly median prices if they were factored in.

At times, figures for the same region may differ among reports. For example, some Long Island businesses that offer data-gathering services have people tallying foreclosure auction notices, ensuring they’re not counted more than once in reports.

“We scan 150 or so different papers,” said Susan Vincennie, a consultant for Long Island Profiles, which gathers data for clients. “I don’t know of another way of getting them.”

But with homes considered the biggest investment of their lives, consumers want instant information and want it often, not realizing some of it may be out of date or incomplete.

Manhattan-based appraiser Jonathan Miller bases his quarterly sales reports on numbers from the MLS, but he said he noticed a year ago that the records were a few thousand sales shorter for Queens than those in New York City’s property records.

The Long Island Board of Realtors disputed the discrepancy, saying it compiles data recorded by brokers.

Miller said his calculations and MLS ones are accurate, but they’re only a subset of the entire market.

“Gallup uses 2,000 telephone interviews to represent the entire country,” said the president of Miller Samuel, referring to the market researcher.

This fall, he’ll break Queens from the Long Island report, using MLS and city data.

“Everybody is thirsty for a sort of on-the-ground take of what’s going on,” Miller said.

Copyright © 2008, Newsday, Melville, N.Y.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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