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Housing data is often unreliable – how to tell the good from the bad

Housing stats are fascinating to many, whether in the market or practicing, or just as a hobby, but most stats are bunk. Here’s why, and how you can spot legitimate data.

housing data

You don’t have to be an economist to be an aspiring housing data nerd, and you don’t even have to be in the market for a home. Many people are just intrigued by housing and its broader impact on the national economy. The problem with this data is that a lot of it is garbage, and opinions are formed on faulty information and disseminated across cable news outlets, either giving people false hope or needlessly panicking the nation. Let me explain.

Let’s say you’re fascinated by music, but you’re not in the industry, you’re just a fan. You want to know the hottest songs right now. You’ve dug around the top lists on Spotify, you’ve read all of the music bloggers and journalists’ take on new sounds, and while driving, you hear a local DJ proclaim they have the list of the nation’s hottest songs. Bingo – that is what you’re looking for. But when you go to his blog, there’s nothing fresh, nothing quantified, no science, just a hodge podge of songs he likes. That has merit, but it wasn’t what you were looking for.

This happens in housing all the time. I’m not anywhere near an economist, I’ve just been an observant housing writer for years (and secretly a data nerd, shh!). That said, here are just three examples of faulty stats:

    1. (a site I just made up) reports today that their data shows housing in a downward spiral, with foreclosures up 12 percent, sales down 80 percent and housing starts remaining stagnant. Scary, right? The problem is that it’s flat out wrong, but some talking heads don’t vet their information, they just see the word “report,” and opine that the sky is falling.


    1. (another site I just made up) reports that housing is improving, as home prices are up 35 percent from 2012. Unlike the first example, the information isn’t wrong, it’s just extremely limited, as most real estate search sites are reporting the home prices of houses for sale on their site. The data is not wrong, it’s just incomplete, and let’s face it, most people don’t read the methodology portion of reports to understand just how limited this data is (especially true for the very small search sites that offer data reports as economic indicators).


  1. (obviously, another made up name) reports that consumer sentiment is up 12 percent over last month, and home buyers are feeling super happy about the market and are ready to jump in. It’s not false data, but if you read the methodology, it is often a web survey placed on the University (or search portal’s) site and is based on 250 responses. The data is not wrong, but the data set is too limited to consider scientific….

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Lani is the COO and News Director at The American Genius, has co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH, Austin Digital Jobs, Remote Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.


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