Repeat After Media: Housing Market is Stable

For real estate reporters going on vacation in August, no worries: we have a source who has been so unwavering in his pronouncements, you can write your stories now.

The rockier life gets, the more we pay homage to the ideal of stability in its many manifestations. Stable jobs. Stable earnings. Stable friendships. Stable markets. Stable quarterbacks.

And Tuesday morning, when we read the latest housing news from the National Association of Realtors (NAR), we were reminded that stability is also useful as a sound bite.

According to the NAR, the inventory of unsold homes in the United States jumped 3.8 percent to more than 3.7 million units in June — a whopping amount, which, at the current rate of sales, represents more than 6 months of supply.

So what do these grim numbers mean for anxious homeowners?

They mean stability. Yes, according to David Lereah, chief economist for the NAR, “home sales have held in a narrow range, easing to a level that is near our annual projection, which tells us the market is stabilizing.”

This seems debatable. But one thing that’s unquestionably stable, or at least regular, is the appearance of Mr. Lereah himself. Indeed, it could well be that nobody in America gets more mileage out of observing and re-observing stability in the marketplace than Lereah. The man never seems to tire of telling business reporters that the real estate market is currently undergoing a stabilizing “soft landing.”

From National Mortgage News in July: “David Lereah said the current housing market is showing signs of ‘stabilizing.’”

From the Associated Press in June: “Right now we are on course for a soft landing in housing,” said Lereah.

From the CBS Evening News in June: “Because the housing markets are cooling, we’re on course for a soft landing,” said Lereah.

From Business Wire in March: “Higher interest rates had been tapping the breaks … but we’re seeing signs of stabilization in the market now with the sales rebound,” said Lereah.

From the Montgomery Advertiser in March: “David Lereah, the National Association of Realtor’s chief economist, said the market is showing signs of stabilizing.”

From Chemical News & Intelligence in March: “This looks like we’re touching down for the soft landing we’ve been expecting,” said Lereah.

From the Buffalo News in January: “David Lereah, chief economist of the National Association of Realtors … suggests the residential market is headed for a ‘soft landing,’ instead of a collapse.”

From NBC’s Today in November 2005: “As long as mortgage rates don’t shoot up real quickly, this should be a soft landing for housing,” said Lereah.

According to its Web site, on August 23 the NAR will release its next round of data on existing-home sales. For all of those business reporters planning to be on vacation at the time of the announcement, no worries: you can go ahead and write the story now. No matter how the data comes in, things will be either stable or landing softly. We promise.

U.S. Newswire, in May, after home sales slipped in April: “[W]e see this as another sign of a soft landing for the housing sector …” said David Lereah.

AFX, February, after homes sales rose 5.2 percent: “This is a good soft-landing scenario,” said David Lereah.

We could go on, but the message is that the National Association of Realtors thinks the housing market is stable. Meanwhile, reporters wonder why their jobs are not.

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Felix Gillette writes about the media for The New York Observer.