Posted by Jonathan J. Miller -Wednesday, August 17, 2011, 5:55 PM
I was reading a good blog post over at Time: Busted Recovery: How Much is Housing to Blame? when I came across an out-of-character quote from Chris Thornberg of Beacon Economics, someone whom I normally find offers sage advice:
Still, Chris Thornberg of Beacon Economics says there is a little hyperbole when people say the economy can’t recover without the housing market. That’s because much of what we normally think of the housing market doesn’t produce a lot of economic value. “Realtors have perpetuated the fraud that selling homes back and forth between people is good for the economy,” says Thornberg. “I’m not convinced that does that much for the economy.”
His use of the word “fraud” set me off.
However I agree with what he is saying about housing and the economy – I do believe there is way too much hyperbole that housing must recover before the economy recovers. I think that the economy will likely recover before housing will and that housing will be a drag on overall economic recover. And we all know that all jobs created by the housing market during the boom quickly evaporated during the bust.
But this part…
“Realtors have perpetuated the fraud that selling homes back and forth between people is good for the economy,” says Thornberg. “I’m not convinced that does that much for the economy.”
While I’ve been very vocal about the misleading comments about the credit crunch and housing observations coming out of NAR since the days of David Lereah and now with Lawrence Yun, it’s ridiculous to call it fraud. It’s called selling and spin. Big difference although they are also distasteful.
It is the job of Realtors to sell homes for sellers and help find homes for buyers. They are in the business of sales. Realtors are represented by The National Association of Realtors who are a trade group and the function of a trade group is to help their members be more successful and represent their interests.
I’ll bet every single trade group has similar pitches specific to their client’s needs. Attend plumbing convention and you’ll be told that PVC pipes enable our country to grow. Attend a snack food convention and there will be no discussion about eating too many candy bars. Attend a dental convention and you’ll hear all the spin about brushing and how bad candy is for teeth (but good for business).
I think the part many miss with the dissemination real estate information, is that a trade group as a source should not be presented in the media as an authoritative source on a topic. Yes they can attest to a condition that helps their members but we should never see them as a neutral go-to resource. Think Mortgage Bankers Association, American Banking Association, National Association of Homebuilders, etc. Massive spin for their members. It’s not fraud.
Up until recently, I don’t think the public realized that there was any difference in credibility in the analysis of the real estate market from NAR. That realization has propped up alternatives like Case Shiller and CoreLogic (although Case Shiller has many of its own serious flaws).
So despite the easy target, let’s raise the bar on the discourse. Realtor-bashing isn’t in style anymore. Realtors are simply doing their jobs and there isn’t some sort of conspiracy – they are too busy driving clients around looking at homes.
In fact, of all people that touched the home buying process, from rating agencies, investment banks, consumers, mortgage brokers, commercial banks and appraisers during the bubble, Realtors had little to do with the run up. They were order-takers in a nation gone insane.