Wait Just One Minute… Did NAR Just Concede Its Data Sucks?

So CoreLogic releases a report in which it claims that NAR’s widely used Existing Home Sales stats are total garbage:

CoreLogic reported sales totaled only 3.6 million in 2010, down 12 percent from 2009. By comparison, NAR reported sales fell only 5 percent in 2010 after rising in 2009, and were flat relative to 2008. CoreLogic said sales did not actually rise in 2009.

In data/stats terms, a 7 percent difference is pretty much the same thing as saying “yer dead wrong, pal”. And saying uh, no, sales did not rise in 2009 is more or less saying, your dataset is garbage. And from Agent Genius, we get:

According to CoreLogic’s Housing and Market Trends Report, the National Association of Realtors’ existing home sale reports for the past ten years have been “overstated,” and that in 2010, NAR overstated sales 15% to 20% higher than actual sales.

15 to 20 percent higher than actual. Wow. Them’s some harsh words.

And NAR’s response? Well, they released this Q&A in which NAR says things like:

Q: How can NAR sales data drift away from true measure?
A: It is not definitive if NAR data has a measurable drift other than normal small statistical noise that may arise from not using all MLSs and from any data entry error or local MLSs sending wrong data to NAR. In statistics, one just assumes the positive and negative noises cancel each other out. However, it is possible for this statistical noise to drift mostly in one direction and hence cumulatively add up over many years. In our last benchmark in year 2000, we found the reported home sales had a 13 percent upward drift compared to what Census data implied. NAR then revised the past 1990s data to match up with the Census data. (Emphasis added)

Uh, so in other words, CoreLogic is right that NAR data is completely unreliable by the end of the decade? Or how about this:

Q: How accurate is CoreLogic data?
A: Its data comes from courthouse recordings. It makes some assumptions about non-covered areas. Because of improved electronic recordings, it claims to capture more data and more quickly than in the past. Right now, CoreLogic and NAR data differ. However, it is unclear which is more accurate. Only a new benchmarking with 2010 Census can resolve the issue.

But you just got finished saying that in 2000, your reported home sales data was off by 13%. Has CoreLogic had to revise their data every ten years like you did?

Q: When will the new benchmarking take place?
A: In 2010 Census, a long-form questionnaire was not used. Therefore, the Census no longer asked about whether people moved and bought a home. So another brand new benchmarking process is needed. NAR has already been in contact with all key housing economists in the industry and government agencies and a few in the academia about finding a new benchmarking process. We expect a new clean, agreed-upon benchmark figure by the summer of this year.

In addition, we will be determining a new way to re-benchmark on a more frequent basis, possibly annually to lessen any drift that can accumulate over time. This frequent re-benchmarking, rather than wait every 10 years, is needed since the Census no longer collects the long-form questionnaire. As with all benchmarking, we will be working with various outside housing economists to develop a new-agreed upon method.

Is it me or does this sound a whole lot like, “Well, see, actually right now, we have no way of benchmarking our data to know if it’s any good or not, and since the 2010 Census doesn’t actually collect home buying information, we’re kinda screwed. We’re talking to a lot of really smart people to see what we can do, but that will take a few months.”

Unless I’m very, very mistaken, this is essentially an admission that while CoreLogic has some factual basis for its data claims — those courthouse records — NAR has nothing right now to know if its data and conclusions are connected to the real world.

All I can say at the moment is… wow.


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Rob Hahn

Managing Partner of 7DS Associates, and the grand poobah of this here blog. Once called "a revolutionary in a really nice suit", people often wonder what I do for a living because I have the temerity to not talk about my clients and my work for clients. Suffice to say that I do strategy work for some of the largest organizations and companies in real estate, as well as some of the smallest startups and agent teams, but usually only on projects that interest me with big implications for reforming this wonderful, crazy, lovable yet frustrating real estate industry of ours.

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4 thoughts on “Wait Just One Minute… Did NAR Just Concede Its Data Sucks?”

  1. Gahhh. Come on. In this day and age, it all comes out. You gotta get out in front of stuff, instead of getting called out. Goes for everyone. Stay tuned I guess.

  2. Rob, good post (and mighty brave of you I might add!). The news is not a shocker to me though. NAR does not collect (or create) the public record (PR) data themselves, rather they aggregate it from many sources. There are not a whole lot of players in the PR collection arena, so the few that are understand exactly what is going on here (and probably giggling about it).
    My company began to collect it’s own PR data long ago when we realized you can’t rely on second hand data. You’ll never get “the good stuff”.
    1st generation PR data is King…and always will be.
    Thanks for your time.
    Bill Rovillo

  3. NAR sucks! Blowing money on a spot at the Grammys? They are so screwed up. Maybe I don’t want to be known as a Realtor anyway. Broker works for me!

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