The Associated Press's report on existing home sales carries Derek Kravitz's byline today. Apparently the byline withholding temper tantrum thrown by the wire service's U.S. reporters which began last week has ended (further evidence here).
What Kravitz's story doesn't carry is the word "existing." How odd, since the National Association of Realtors (NAR) which produces the report, calls it "Existing-Home Sales" at the report's home web page, and labels the data "Existing Home Sales" in two different places in the detailed data.
It would be one thing if Kravitz were, as he may be, "merely" trying to keep his bad-news report from being found by search engine users looking for related sales news; a search on "existing" at the AP's home site does not return Kravitz's report. But his dispatch's headline is unclear as to which type of sales are even involved (new or existing?), and his repeated use of the term "previously occupied homes" instead of "existing" might lead some readers to believe that the data involved exclude homes which have been vacant for some time, which is not the case.
Here are excerpts from Kravitz's crummy job, which also contains something that is more predictable than the weather, i.e., a weather-related excuse:
Home sales fell 9.6 pct. in February
Fewer Americans bought previously occupied homes in February and those who did purchased them at steep discounts. The weak sales and rise in foreclosures pushed home prices down to their lowest level in nearly 9 years.
The National Association of Realtors said Monday that sales of previously occupied homes fell last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.88 million. That's down 9.6 percent from 5.4 million in January. The pace is far below the 6 million homes a year that economists say represents a healthy market.
... Winter storms also hampered sales in many parts of the country, including five inches of snow in Dallas-Fort Worth area just before this year's Super Bowl. That was nearly twice the metro area's annual average.
Still, housing has been weak for some time. Millions of foreclosures have forced down home prices and more are expected this year. Tight credit has made mortgage loans tough to come by. And some potential buyers who could qualify for loans are hesitant to enter the market, worried that prices will fall further. High unemployment is also deterring buyers. Job growth, while expected to pick up this year, will not likely raise home sales to healthier levels.
The median price of a new home is now 45 percent higher than the median price for a previously occupied home, the Realtors group said. A more normal difference is about 15 percent, an indication that old homes on the market are being sold at comparatively cheap, and affordable, levels.
As is the case with so many other business beat reporters from the AP and others, Kravitz didn't compare, and should have compared, the raw sales numbers for February 2011 to February 2010. February 2011, at 293,000 came in 2.3% lower (7,000 units) than February 2010.
All told, Kravitz used the term "previously occupied" three times, and had about a half-dozen opportunities to employ the word "existing," resisting each time. This is especially odd, because the wire service examples (examples here, here, and here) hasn't demonstrated any noticeable allergy to the word. Excuse me for suggesting that Kravitz's word avoidance during a month that "just so happens" to be the worst in almost nine years might be about more than variety in vocabulary.
Looking ahead, actual sales of existing homes in March 2010 were 429,000. I hope I'm wrong, but it seems that the market will be hard-pressed to replicate or exceed that result in March 2011, given current conditions.
Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.