Investors are constantly bombarded with statistics. Housing starts are up in the United States, housing starts are down in a particular city. Resale inventory is high, retail inventory is low, short-sales are up, short-sales are down. Don’t get me started on the “shadow inventory” that’s been poised to flood the market for years now. It’s very easy to get caught up in all these statistics. Unfortunately the numbers can be interpreted so many ways and the results skewed to fit the result you want.
One truism is that all real estate markets are local. Most of the statistical offerings are talking about the nation as a whole. What’s true of one market may be dead wrong in another and few areas will mirror any national average or trend precisely. So what’s an investor to do? Watch the people with the boots-on-the-ground – local real estate agents.
In the Trenches
No one has a better view of a market than those trying to put food on the table by selling real estate. Many agents advertise and they use ads to lure the segment of the market most likely to need their help. That means that their advertisements will be worded to attract those people. By keeping an eye on the ads you can spot changes in a market trend long before the statistics catch on.
The Las Vegas market is a prime example of this. Everyone knows the story: ground zero for foreclosures, majority of homeowners underwater, plummeting home prices, etc. A funny thing happened in the midst of all this negative news – the market turned. Those who recognized the shift were able to act quickly. Realtor ads announced the new trend long before it hit the newsstands.
More than a year ago newspaper and television ads would have realtors claiming “I can get your home sold.” Then they shifted a bit to, “I can get your bank to approve a short-sale.” Today the most common ad is directed at buyers and says, “I can get your offer accepted.” Reading between the lines of the ads showed a market with an excess of inventory, to one that was shifting to short-sales, and one that now has a severe shortage of available inventory. You didn’t need a degree in economics to see this, just a copy of your daily newspaper.
Watch for Shifts
The statistics are simply numbers. Sure they matter, but you can do well regardless of what your market is doing. Often the person quoting a statistic has some sort of agenda (especially in an election year). Real estate agents have an agenda too – they want to eat. Watch who they are aiming their advertisements at and you can see which way the real estate winds are blowing. Catching the trend before it becomes common knowledge is often a path to wealth.
There are lies, damn lies and statistics. – Mark Twain
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