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The National Numbers Don’t Feel Your Pain

January 12, 2007 | 8:26 am | Public |

I think there has always been a real disconnect between housing statistics being presented nationally and their perception of accuracy to local markets.

On one hand, you’ve got the consumers who read, watch or listen to this information being provided everyday. They live their life and those facts are absorbed for later use.

And then there are the people that are currently trying to sell or buy a property and their personal experience does not connect with the national numbers they are reading about.

In Les Christie’s [Housing market pain not revealed by stats [CNN/Money]]( the piece explores real world feedback and how local housing situations have no real relationship with national statistics and its confusing and upsetting many as the market deteriotates in some parts of the country.

We have had a few years of handwringing about a bubble or market correction.

One one end of the spectrum, there are real estate trade groups like NAR are trying to downplay the negative implications of the latest information for their constituents (hey, thats a trade group’s job), yet it will ultimately provide the trade group with a disservice by weakening their credibility.

At the other end, there are pundits in the blogosphere who trying to call the crash and its drives traffic to their sites for Adsense dollars (hey, thats their passion and belief plus their right to make a living), yet eventually the message is said so often that it becomes white noise.

The consumer is stuck in the middle trying to figure out which way is most accurate for their situation or market, when it is often neither.

The blogoshere has made its impact by rooting out problems with the way national stats by the government, real estate trade groups and others are calculated or interpreted. Thats good. It has opened our eyes to stats like the wild deviations in [new housing starts from the Commerce Department](, [CPI calculations](, [OFHEO’s use of refinance data in their median sales price]( and many others.

[NAR](, [NAHB]( and other trade groups provide useful information for us to digest plus there is something reassuring about knowing the the whole country’s housing market is not going down the drain like a particular market may be. Thats good.

We have more information than ever to filter and absorb. The real problem is the lack of understanding as to what statistics and other information relate best to their particular market. So remember these rules in the spirit of rinse, lather, repeat.

  • Rule 1: National housing statistics DO NOT apply to your local housing market.
  • Rule 2: Restate Rule 1 to all those who are scratching their heads wondering why national statistics do not apply to their property.

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[List-o-links] 1-11-06 From The Tank: Surge and Escalation

January 11, 2007 | 9:19 am | |

Since this week is all about surges and escalation, here are a few treads from The Tank.

  • [Redfin vs.’s Allan Dalton [Trulia]](
  • [10 Good men [The St. Paul Real Estate Blog]](
  • [Economists eye housing, Wall Street [CT Post]](
  • [Housing Data Yield a False Sense of Complacency [Bloomberg]](
  • [Apple iPhone [Apple]](
  • [Failed Condos Spur Rise in Vacant Apartments [WSJ]](
  • [Resetting the DOM to sell “stale fish” [SF Chron]](
  • [UCLA Anderson Forecast Holds the Line: No Recession in National Forecast [UCLA]](
  • [Want to improve your economic forecasting? Watch the Weather Channel [Northern Trust – pdf]](
  • [US housing market may slow world economy [BW]](

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Housing Slogan Update: The Way Forward: Surge Versus Escalation

January 10, 2007 | 1:04 pm | |

I loved Floyd Norris’ recent post What’s in a Slogan? [NYT] about slogans. It hits close to home as my extended family is being directly affected by the [Ford Motor Company](’s slump through layoffs, benefit cuts and falling housing prices in Michigan.

It’s unfortunate that the current Bush administration selected the [New Way Forward]( slogan similar to the [Way Forward]( selected by [Ford]( last year. There has to be some sort of Freudian meaning here by comparing the new direction in Iraq with the last gasp effort of an auto company leveraged to the hilt. A disconnect from reality perhaps? The administration characterizes the additional troops as a surge, suggesting a temporary increase while House democratic leaders characterize the increase as an escalation suggesting we are merely digging a deeper hole.

Ok, this isn’t a post about cars and politics. It’s about real estate t-shirt slogans.

Lately within my public appearances, I have found myself stumbling a bit with assigning a slogan to the current housing market. In Manhattan, its the Housing Rebound but that doesn’t work for other parts of the country. I have been characterizing the current market as Post-Housing Boom and Period of Transition After The Extended Housing Boom but they aren’t too catchy.

I got so used to the [NAR]( assigning a slogan to each distinct housing period over these past few years that I feel somewhat lost without one now [wink].

Where is NAR now on this important issue? We demand an overly simplistic characterization of the market immediately.

After all, the Housing Boom slogan was beat into us until we were senseless and even now we are still groggy. There have been a bunch of variations on that slogan which proved to be largely inaccurate for their severity, and which frankly, I am completely sick of talking about. Ok, I am exaggerating a bit.

I guess the need for simplicity reigns in an industry that spews more data (bad and good) at consumers than they can process, piled on by flawed or significantly biased interpretation from positions of authority.

So my New Way Forward Surging Escalation Housing Market initiative is to come up with a new slogan soon before we go on to the next market period.

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Trulia Trends Report/National Heat Maps Launched Today: What Are Consumers Looking For?

January 9, 2007 | 6:37 pm | | Public |

January 2007 Trulia Trends Report

After joining the real estate party a little over a year ago, [Trulia has made great strides establishing their role as a leader in the listing search business](, working with [Realtors]( rather than against them. Trulia has working agreements with 90 of the top 100 real estate brokerage firms with more on the way. (disclosure: I am a member of [Trulia’s advisory board](

They crossed the million listing milestone last year. While impressive on that point, I think its more important to note that these are clean listings, not simply raw feeds rife with errors, duplicates, stale product or junk.

I had spoken with Trulia shortly after their initial launch with the idea of developing a market report, since I found their approach to the listing process so refreshing. The finished version now being released reflects market conditions and includes consumer search behavior.

We decided wanted to break out the market by major cities rather than as a national statistic since both Trulia and myself have serious issues with the accuracy in this type of approach, despite the fact that Trulia covers all 50 states. The list of major markets will expand and so will the metrics covered, as their service is able to build more historical content with the passing of time.

Thus the Trulia Trends Report became a reality today at 9am. Its a first step with more content and analysis to come as a collaberation between Trulia and Miller Samuel.

Download the Trulia Trends Report [PDF] here.

Download the Trulia Trends Report press release [PDF] here.

Here’s Trulia’s post about the new report.

My personal favorite section of the report is the…ahem…Matrix table on the third page. Especially the favorite neighborhoods and cities columns. Manhattan, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Boston had favorite cities in different sections of the country and were most heavily concentrated on the east and west coasts. The searches originating from the remaining cities stayed within the same state or adjacent state.

Trulia National Heat Maps

This is a dynamic resource that breaks the US up by state, county, neighborhood and zip code. Consumers can see what markets got the most traffic. This is a live resource that is continually updated.

Here’s Trulia’s post about expanded Heat Maps.

Another important announcement today (to me that is): [Apple developed an iPhone product to be released in June]( Thank goodness, I am about to throw my Treo out the window (and I am on a high floor).

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Home Prices: To Tell The Truth, The Whole Truth And Nothing But the Truth (Sort Of)

December 7, 2006 | 8:15 am | |


I got the idea for this post after trading emails with David Leonhardt of the New York Times the other day as he worked in his interesting Economix column: [The Hidden Truth About Home Prices [NYT]]( and the companion article [More on Housing Prices [NYT]](

Its very difficult for most consumers, government officials, academia and real estate professionals to get a real world gauge on how a real estate market is actually doing. Tried and true methods all seem to have some sort of flaw and when a market is in transtion, the changes become even more pronounced. And then throw in the source of the information, with the presence of spin, makes the effort even more daunting. Those covering the market, whether it be Big Media and the blogosphere tend to gravitate towards whatever is released that day.

There are two schools of thought on housing stats:

  • Price indexes– These are generally based on repeat sales of the same property over time or an aggregate analysis of housing prices, with some adjusted for seasonal changes and/or inflation.
  • Housing prices – These results are based on an aggregate summary of the sales that transferred during the period and can be skewed by the mix.

You’ve got producers of indexes telling you that prices are less meaningful, yet users of the indexes often view them as a “black box” and don’t grasp how the information was calculated (do we hear “seasonally adjusted?”) Indexes tend to be created for macro markets because the data set needs to be large. Cycnicism has been a detriment to reliance on indexes.

Those that rely on housing prices tout that they are the real thing yet most resources for housing prices tend to be non-economist types, trade groups and real estate firms, because they tend to be easier to generate and report than an index. There are a growing number of market studies put out in the public domain by local real estate brokers and agents (and of course, appraisers) to try to bridge the gap between the national stats and local markets. However these reports are often limited by the size of the data, limited understanding of what the data really means and are clouded by their intentions.

There are generally four sources of housing stat interpretation:

  • Government – namely Commerce/Census/OFHEO
  • Economists – Chicago Mercantile Exchange (Shiller) and other “Starconomists” like Roubini, Zandi (Moody’s) and others.
  • Real estate brokerage trade groups and firms – The National Association of Realtors (NAR) is the primary source of information on national housing and local brokerage firms. Regional MLS systems and brokerage firms are the other primary provider.
  • Online services like [](, [RealtyTrac](, [ZipRealty]( release housing stats but generally don’t provide historical trends to include for perspective.
  • Real estate appraisers, consultants and analysts I would fall into this category as well as other housing stats from other markets presented on Matrix. We tend to relay on actual housing prices and interpret them without the trade group or incentivized spin, but its not without its faults either. The data is generally influenced by mix of housing stock that sells so its important that this group bridges the gap between the results and actual conditions.

Local, National and Internet:

  • National housing stats are reported religiously by nearly all national media outlets yet don’t have a link to local markets. What happens in a neighborhood may or may not comparable to national markets and if the results are consistent, its really coincidence. NAR has touted national housing stats as an argument for real estate as a good investment but it doesn’t reflect local volatility.
  • Local housing markets tend to have smaller data sets and are more affected by the mix of what sells. They can have a powerful affect on local moods but are often written by marketing departments as public relations pieces for trade groups and firms with a vested interest in the results and how it affects the bottom line.
  • Internet is an important delivery mechanism for real estate stats, but are often less thought out than traditional sources because many producers of this information don’t have direct real estate experience, but rather have online experience from other industries. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because bad habits and bias may not be developed but often, inappropriate uses of month over month stats exagerate certain market conditions.

Pitfalls and/or spins betrays most sources:

  • New home sales – Government stat quality is suspect and not necessarily unbiased. You just have to take a look at the widely quoted housing stats like [New Home Sales from the US Commerce Department [pdf]]( You just have to read an excerpt from the October release to see what I mean: This is 3.2 percent (±11.2%)* below the revised September rate of 1,037,000, and is 25.4 percent (±10.0%) below the October 2005 estimate of 1,346,000.
  • Median sales price ([National Association of Realtors]( – There is an emphasis on the national numbers in their series of reports on new and existing home sales. They do break up the country into quadrants, but all real estate is local. They have such an opportunity to gain the public trust but usually provide hard spin to the results and are very inconsistent in the commentary from month to month.
  • Sales price index ([OFHEO]( – The median sales price includes refinance data and excludes sales with non-conforming loans (mortgages greater than $400,000).
  • Housing price index ([Chicago Mercantile Exchange]( – Robert Shiller’s repeat sale index lags the market by about 4 months and is targeted towards investors, not consumers. Trading volume is growing but is still too small to really provide a sense of market direction.

Since all politics real estate is local, but reporting of larger data sets is easier but less relevant, its very difficult for the consumer of real estate market information to know what, in fact, the truth is.

At the end of the day, real estate truth is open to interpretation.

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Bubble Bloggers Clamp Down On Some Respect

November 6, 2006 | 12:01 am |

A few years ago, as the housing market was going full steam and as blogging began to catch on, the bubble blog genre was born. As [NAR]( squandered public relations capital with the consumer, the bubble bloggers pressed on. Every day, their ranks grew and so did their commitment to the mantra: There is a housing bubble.

Their content is often a one-sided argument in front of a friendly fan base, probably consisting of mainly renters, but providing an incredible rate of participation. Their intentions and concern seem real. Its good stuff. Once the hyperbole is filtered out, there is some useful insight, especially from the reader comments. NAR has not figured them out – NAR has met their match.

Lately, [mainstream media has taken notice and been been fascinated with the bubble bloggers [SFGate]](, especially the the big four: [Housing Bubble Blog](, [Bubble Meter]([David Lereah Watch]( and [Housing Panic]( There are also many other bubble blogs that are just as worthy. As far as I can tell, none of the big four have any special real estate or economics backgrounds or training. They are simply concerned citizens with a message to deliver. All the more interesting that their journalistic counterparts are beginning to recognize them as a media force.

But I wonder: If NAR is running an ad campaign admitting there is some market weakness, but spinning it into an opportunity play for buyers, will that change the slant of the bubble bloggers? Will they meet the Realtors halfway suggesting there will be not be a housing crash?

Are you kidding me? The NAR advertising move is going to provide more fodder to the bubble bloggers for months to come. The NAR keeps serving it up on a golden platter.

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[Matrix Vortex] Second Thoughts On The Zillow-Realtor Smackdown

October 23, 2006 | 7:56 am | |

On occasion, there is a surge of commentary on a particular topic presented as a post on Matrix that seems to warrant some additional followup. I often learned a lot from these comments as they seem to push the discussion a little deeper.

The word [Vortex]( or something regarded as drawing into its powerful current everything that surrounds it came to mind as a way to describe this sort of feedback about a particular topic. Hence, Matrix Vortex.

Topic: and
Post: [Zillow Gets Pillowed In Old School Smackdown [Matrix]](

One of the most incendiary topics of late has been anything that has included the word “Zillow” in it when the topic concerns brokers.

Last week the post [Zillow Gets Pillowed In Old School Smackdown]( stirred up a Vortex of discussion, ranging from to A lot of passion was provided in the commentary.

A few days after his appearance on the CAR panel, Allan Dalton, the president and CEO of, [was promoted to president of the Move, Inc. Real Estate Division [RISMedia]]( Honestly, I was surprised by his photo in the RISMedia story. I had pictured him as being a lot older than his old school commentary suggested and perhaps he represents the current mindset within NAR. He seems to be one of the rising stars of NAR and wouldn’t be surprised if he eventually becomes its president. His aggressive, take no prisoners style may be what NAR is favoring these days as they are being attacked on all sides, including the Department of Justice lawsuit.

At the same time, the Lloyd Frink, president of Zillow, posted a politically correct [recap of his experience at the California Association of Realtors]( conference (which was personally disappointing to me for its blandness, specifically, the heated panel discussion with Allan Dalton). What I found particularly interesting was the fact that he didn’t mention the attack by Dalton at all. Frink also backpeddled from his past experience with Expedia suggesting that the Realtor is essential to the process, unlike travel agents, which is what Expedia rendered nearly obsolete. It seems like only now Zillow is realizing how important Realtors are to their long term strategy or they underestimated the backlash.

The irony here is that []( is a cluttered, crowded web experience and []( doesn’t include listings. Why so much friction? Can’t they ever get along or is it too late?

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Zillow Gets Pillowed In Old School Smackdown

October 19, 2006 | 6:12 am |

pillow acted very bravely by [participating in a panel discussion about the future of real estate information [OCR]]( at a Realtor convention. zillow-logo The president of Zillow, Lloyd Frink, took the high road, yet was pretty candid about the future of the relationship between Realtors and their clients and customers.

“We believe the relationship between Realtors and their clients is going to change in the future,” Frink said in response to critics in the room. “As opposed to Realtors being gatekeepers of this information, they become much more of experts on what this information means.”

His is right and its already happening. 75% of buyers and sellers start with the Internet first before contacting an agent. Think about it, why would the Zillow concept, warts and all, be so popular? Is it because Realtors are accurate? Thats really not the point at all. Consumers want to gather information and digest it before they enter the sales process. The problem with Zillow, is its not consistent in its results so it promises more than it can deliver. Since the results come from a secret black box of algorithms, its a tough sell to real estate professionals.

But [ was pretty annoyed with Zillow [Telegraph]]( and went on the attack (aka the low road) which may have gotten some laughs and attention, but doesn’t help their cause at all. It paints a picture of the old guard, trying to keep things the same, which is not what the trade group needs to do.


Allan Dalton, president of the competing site, bitterly criticized, likening the site’s trademark Zestimates of home values to a carnival weight and age guesser., which is sponsored by the National Association of Realtors, provides listings of homes for sale by ZIP code from Realtor databases.

“The whole notion of suggesting to people that they can find out what their home is worth without a Realtor offends me,” Dalton said.

You’ve got to admire Zillow’s attempt to bridge the gap between them and the Realtor community. They are simply providing a new tool, valuable or not, to a trade group that is seeing the world change around them. However, its going to be a tough road for Zillow despite the fact that they are one of the most popular real estate sites on the web. Because a large portion of their target advertising market is real estate agents and the parent trade organization sees Zillow threatening their relevancy and causing more market confusion, its not a lovefest and probably never will be.

Whats interesting about the whole polarization of Zillow’s popularity, is that Zillow does not provide listings, yet are viewed suspiciously by agents. The initial rollout with promises of complete market coverage by Zillow, resulting in significant inconsistencies in results, is what has got many agents upset.

Zillow has promised more than it can deliver, which I have commented on before. Some market results are amazingly accurate, while some are not even close. The problem for the reader is having some way to measure its pricing reliability before it can be taken as a serious tool. Thats why the Realtors should not feel threatened at all.

Those that I have spoken to at Zillow are a very nice, earnest bunch of people trying to do what no one else has been able to. However, at the end of the day, (Of course I am not without bias here since I provide property valuations for a living.) the black box approach to valuation will always be viewed with suspicion. I guess thats besides the point.

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Congress Gets Shakespearean: Housing To Be Normal, Or Not To Be Normal

September 14, 2006 | 12:01 am | |

[Congress set out to dig deeper into understanding whether or not we are in a housing bubble [Reuters]]( and to further understand the state of US mortgages. Late edition hat tip to [Lansner](

Democratic Senator Charles Schumer of New York mused: “To paraphrase Shakespeare: Is there a bubble or isn’t there a bubble? That is the question.”

They tapped the following experts:

Richard Brown of the [Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation](
The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) preserves and promotes public confidence in the U.S. financial system by insuring deposits in banks and thrift institutions for at least $100,000; by identifying, monitoring and addressing risks to the deposit insurance funds; and by limiting the effect on the economy and the financial system when a bank or thrift institution fails. Not a whole lot of careful mortgage underwriting going on these days.

Patrick Lawler of the [Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight](
OFHEO promotes housing and a strong economy by ensuring the safety and soundness of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and fostering the vitality of the nation’s housing finance system. They were asleep at the helm during the Fannie Mae accounting scandals.

Dave Seiders of the [National Association of Homebuilders](
NAHB is a trade association that helps promote the policies that make housing a national priority. This is a trade group so its not providing neutral insight so I would take any opinions they provide very lightly.

Tom Stevens of the [National Association of Realtors](
The core purpose of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® is to help its members become more profitable and successful. This is a trade group that has been spinning a weakening housing market until about a month ago. I would take any opinions they provide very lightly. Have you noticed that David Lereah, their chief economist, who has polarized public opinion about this, has been largely silent recently? President Tom Stevens has become the spokesman.

So now we have these four individuals testifying about the market: 2 represent government entities that have been largely dormant and 2 represent trade groups that have been the housing markets biggest cheerleaders. I am not sure anything that can be said will be useful to Congress. More of a PR op.

For a summary of comments and prepared statements:
[Mr. Bubble Goes To Washington [Lansner]](

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Real Estate Lingo, Jargon and Acronyms Are A PITA

March 3, 2006 | 12:01 am |

I believe that over time, classified advertising has caused the evolution of real estate speak. Why? If you fill up an ad with words like new kitchen, park view there is not enough space for words like [sun-drenched, fabulous and triplemint]( I think the use of acronyms is on the decline but still has a long way to go.

The brokerage community needs to communicate better with their potential clients, especially now that the market has eased and marketing and connecting with the consumer takes on more importance.

[Click to see the video clip [Matrix]](

Here’s a few points of view on real estate acronyms, lingo and jargon.

  • TCICBTTOAL – The consumer is confused by this type of abbreviated language. Its denotes a clubby, elitist and/or old-school service.

  • REAAU – Real estate acronyms are unprofessional

In other words, just spell it out.

I collected several master lists of acronyms and jargon and I find it amazing that they are even necessary to reference:

  • [A Short Guide to Real Estate Lingo and Acronyms [NAR]](

  • [Real Estate Acronyms: For Realtors, Mortgage Brokers, and Other Real Estate Professionals [Acronym-Guide]](

  • [Real Estate Acronyms and Abbreviations []](

  • [How to read a home listing [Lending Tree]](

Here R some fab favs 4 U:

Some basics
1. frplc, fplc, FP = fireplace
2. gar = garage
3. HDW, HWF, Hdwd = hardwood floors
4. hi ceils = high ceilings
5. MLS = Multiple Listing Service
6. vw, vu, vws, vus = view(s)
7. FDR = formal dining room
8. HVAC = Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning

Is it really worth abbreviating?
1. expansion pot’l = expansion potential
2. grmet kit = gourmet kitchen
3. assum. fin. = assumable financing
4. nr bst schls = near the best schools
5. fab pentrm = fabulous pentroom
6. q pos= quick possession

1. Wow! = better check this one out.
2. lo dues = low dues
3. FROG = finished room over garage
4. OWC = owner will compromise

1. close to or convenient to = a lot closer than you would want
2. compact = tiny
3. mature garden = needs an industrial weeder
4. intimate = claustrophobics
5. TLC = wreck
6. interesting or unique = shag carpeting and a floor plan designed by Dr. Seuss

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Real Estate’s Technology Boom Goes Beta

February 13, 2006 | 12:02 am | |

Real estate technology has come of age, aided by the housing boom combined the American obsession with real estate ans technology. The ability to find and match properties with consumers, to research and investigate properties are among the most logical extensions of new web technologies.

New web sites such as [Trulia]( and [Zillow]( are launched, have deep pockets, yet remain in beta, probably to difuse criticism of the vast promises they seem to be making to the consumer (and may fullfill those promises within a few years if they can last that long). Zillow provides property values and Trulia provides listings with very easy to follow interfaces.

Real estate blogs have evolved into the goto daily resources with a slew of ever changing real estate related topics. The king of real estate blogs, [Curbed](( who has been around just about the longest, is going national with localized market coverage areas. Curbed started out in New York, and has expanded to [Los Angeles]( with about a half dozen other major markets coming down the pike. Big Media has begun to join the blog fray but is at a disadvantage since they cannot have the same edge to them that independent bloggers have. The New York Times blog [The Walk-Through]( and Businessweek’s [Hot Properties]( are among the best of them.

[Craigslist](, with its primitive interface, has proved that you don’t have to be pretty to be effective, has cost classified advertisers millions of dollars and continues to grow.

Earlier forays into online real estate services such as []( and []( remain oldschool and seem stuck in cluttered screen cram-down that overwhelms consumers with irrelevant information.

This whole technology movement is exciting and the possibilities are endless, as soon as we get out of Beta.

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With Oil In The Mix, Asset Prices Are Expected To Simmer Down

August 28, 2005 | 12:18 am | |


Greenspan said today that the US housing boom is sure to end eventually and there should be a drop in home prices.

[Webmaster’s Note: I’m am fairly certain most people do not believe the housing boom will go on forever so tell us something we don’t know.]

A weakened housing market would take the punch out of an inflation threat and therefore the pressure off the Fed to keep raising short term rates. Consumer spending is reported to account for 70% of the US economy and this driven largely by the ability to tap home equity.


To date, some US economists believe the [“wealth effect” of housing]( are offsetting the [negative influence of rising oil prices. [Note: Paid Subcr.]]( [The ability to pull equity out of the housing sector has helped consumers maintain discretionary spending despite rising oil prices.](

[Besides rising oil prices, labor costs are expected to rise]( keeping pressure on the Fed to raise short term rates.

The Fed believes that home prices will continue at their brisk pace through the third quarter, [before easing in the final quarter of the year.](

[Here’s a great article written last May called “Don’t Buy Housing Bubble Propaganda”]( by the webmaster of one of the best economic blogs out there: [Big Picture](

The author discusses mortgage rates and changing demographics better than any article I have read on this topic. One item of particular interest: More than 80% of all stock purchases are speculative. [According to the NAR](, housing is currently at 23% which seems to pale in comparison, doesn’t it?

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