Since housing bust began, Condo Vultures has led the way with distressed new development information on Miami, a housing market that became branded for foreclosures and stalled new development activity after the mid-decade crash. Their name suggests someone who is picking over the dead carcasses of stalled condos built during the boom and no one has marketed themselves more thoroughly in this segment.

They seem to perform a lot of analysis through public record and have the inside track on data from developers not in public record. Good for them. It’s a niche they own. But with that dominance comes responsibility.

Their regular email press releases are chocked full of information hyperbole (as most newsletters are) but there is often a disconnect between the headline and the content (just like we see with the monthly NAR releases). Recently I observed that they stopped the dated approach of marketing properties as a percentage discount from original pricing. I do find the releases interesting to read but I worry about the accuracy of the messaging for the uninitiated. I found the latest one grating so I thought I’d break it down because it symbolizes the challenges and responsibilities of analyzing a market segment with limited transparency.

Here’s the headline:

600 New South Beach Condos Unsold As Sales Slow Dramatically In Q4 2012

That’s sounds quite dire, right?

Not really. In a pool of 600 units, 10 sold in 4Q12, down from 20 sales in 4Q11. Let’s delve into the rules of market trends:

Misuse of percentages – The results suggest a 50% drop in sales. And to use my favorite example of this technique, a market whose sales rise from 1 to 2 experienced a 100% increase in sales. Better to say 10 fewer sales or 1 more sale than last year when the numbers are so small.

Number generalization – There are no precise numbers being provided anywhere in this release yet the results are numbers-based …less than 10 sold in 4Q12 and more than 20 sales sold in 4Q11. If you are burning calories on providing approximate metrics worthy of a screaming headline, why not provide the actual numbers? If it was 9 and 21 or 1 and 29, the same logic would apply so why omit it?

Data set size – Based on the release, there were “about 600” unsold from boom, new development condo listings in 4Q12, the same size as the prior quarter. However the release doesn’t provide the year ago quarter total. What if it was 1,200?…then the drop was proportional. Why not be transparent and just provide the actual numbers – they must have them to provide such “precise estimating.” The 10 sales or less total represents 1.7% of the inventory or even less depending on how many sales there actually were.

When I first read through this release I did some quick math – I took the 10 sales (or less) which represented 1.7% of the 600 unit market and wild guessed, based on general market activity, that this shadow inventory was at least 700 last year. So at this level, the 20 sales (or more) in 4Q11 would indicate a 2.9% share. With this logic, the sales market share of the shadow inventory fell from 2.9% to 1.7% over the year, a 1.2% drop in market share.

Should a 1.2% decline be described as a dramatic slow down? No, based on the info presented, the decline was more like a rounding error.