“Now is a great time to buy.” That has been the advertising mantra of the National Association of Realtors regardless of the state of the housing market. The NAR certainly has a purpose; its mission and vision is clearly displayed on the organization’s website: “The core purpose of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® is to help its members become more profitable and successful.”
The NAR looks out for its due-paying members. Notice that the mission of this non-profit organization is not to help consumers either find bargains when buying a house or to help sellers find the highest bidders. Real estate brokers, particularly those who qualify as Realtors (which according to the organization, should be represented in all uppercase letters, include the registered trademark symbol, and be pronounced in the unnatural American English combination of phonemes “REAL-TORE”) stand to be more “profitable and successful” by increasing the number of transactions they broker.
From what I understand about commissions, a 6% commission is often split between the buying agent and the selling agent, and if the agent is part of a realty company, the 3% is split with the company. A real estate agent holding out for a buyer’s asking price of $250,000 rather than $220,000, a difference of $30,000, stands to increase his income approximately $450. That seems hardly worthwhile if it takes several months before the asking price is met. The $450 is hardly an incentive for the broker; he could do better by closing the deal and moving on. On the other hand, the $28,200 (the $30,000 in price difference minus the 6% paid to the agents) is a significant difference for the seller. This just illustrates that real estate agents have little incentive to work hard for either the seller or the buyer except to create a good relationship in order to foster referrals.
That’s not the point. The point is that the National Association of Realtors’s only goal is to encourage more real estate transactions, and this is why they have been saying that, “Now is a great time to buy,” no matter what’s going on in the world around them. This is also why any data provided to the public by the NAR should be regarded as marketing rather than a true gauge of the economy.
For a well-accepted measure, media generally turn toward the Case-Shiller Price Index (CSPI), measured by Standard & Poors (a company with its own conflicts of interest as well). The CSPI shows that home prices increased for the first time in May. Other positive data include June numbers: new housing starts and existing home sales were both up 3.6% and sales of new homes were up 11%.
Is this a sign that the housing crisis is over? It must mean that there is increased confidence in the ability to find the right price as well as increased availability of loans.
There are some problems, though. Unemployment continues to rise, so consumers may find themselves in financial trouble. That could result in fewer purchases and more mortgage defaults. The increase in purchases may be due to speculators trying to snag deals rather than families moving from apartments to houses. Even if we are at a bottom, the numbers could mean that real estate is leveling without significant increase for some time.
What do you think? Are we headed for a recovery or are there still dark clouds ahead?
Looking for a Housing Recovery, Casey B. Mulligan, New York Times, July 29, 2009.