Revised realtor.com data paints less rosy inventory picture

April's double-digit growth was data 'anomaly,' listings down 5.8 percent in May

There may have been fewer homes on the market nationwide during this year’s spring buying season than last, according to revised figures from realtor.com that paint a much different picture of inventory trends than previously provided by the listing portal.

online poll by Opinion Stage

In May, realtor.com reported that the inventory of homes for sale in April was up 14.2 percent from the same time a year ago. According to the revised data, inventory actually declined a hair in April, falling 0.06 percent from a year ago.

Home search image via Shutterstock.
Home search image via Shutterstock.

An “anomaly” with realtor.com’s back-end reporting system “caused some listings to be counted as for-sale inventory after they had been taken off the market,” said realtor.com spokeswoman Lexie Puckett.

Consumers searching realtor.com did not see those properties as listed for sale, Puckett said — those homes were correctly identified as being off-market.

Having addressed the problem in its monthly reporting system, realtor.com now says the latest data show the number of for-sale listings on realtor.com fell 5.8 percent in May from a year ago, to 1.74 million.

Realtor.com previously reported annual increases in inventory of 1 percent in December 2013, 3.1 percent in January 2014, 10.1 percent in February and 9.5 percent in March.

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The revised data show a 4.45 percent annual decrease in December 2013, a 4 percent decrease in January, no change in February, and a 1.97 percent decrease in March.

The revisions appear to undermine the message in realtor.com’s monthly housing summary reports — that inventory was showing stronger growth in the runup to the crucial spring buying season this year than last. Inventory shortages have been blamed for a slowdown in sales, but have also helped prop up prices in many markets.

The latest numbers from realtor.com show median list prices were up 8 percent nationwide in May from a year ago, to $214,900. Homes had been on the market for an average of 78 days, unchanged from a year ago but down 4.9 percent from April.

Discrepancies in statistics released by different organizations tracking the real estate market make it difficult to pin down how inventory has behaved in recent months.

Zillow has also revised previous estimates of listing inventory. While Zillow previously reported that for-sale listings were up 11.1 percent from a year ago in January and 5.5 percent in February, it now says that growth during the runup to the spring buying season was more modest — 2.3 percent in January and 1.8 percent in February.

More recently, however, Zillow’s revised numbers show annual inventory growth of 3.3 percent in March, 7 percent in April and 11.8 percent in May.

Zillow had previously reported that inventory was essentially unchanged from a year ago in March and April. A spokeswoman said she was looking into why Zillow made the revisions.

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) reported a 6 percent annual increase in inventory in May.

Zillow, realtor.com and NAR’s stats on total inventory — as opposed to annual or monthly changes to inventory — are even more discordant. Zillow reported 1.39 million listings in April compared with realtor.com’s 1.75 million and NAR’s 2.29 million.

The source of the disagreement isn’t obvious. Both realtor.com and Zillow base their monthly inventory figures on the number of listings in their databases – the vast majority of which originate on multiple listings services.

NAR generates its inventory figures based on the same sample of MLS data that it uses to calculate its estimates of existing-home sales. The MLS data represents 40 percent of closed transactions, according to NAR spokesman Adam DeSanctis, and is adjusted to generate an estimate for the nation as a whole.

At the end of 2011, NAR said an adjustment it makes to account for sales that take place outside of MLSs had drifted out of whack, causing the trade group to overestimate home sales going back to 2007 by more than 14 percent. NAR said it had fixed the problem and “rebenchmarked” statistics going back to 2007, when the adjustment began to diverge from previous assumptions about how many sales take place outside of MLSs.

Mike Simonsen, CEO of housing research firm Altos Research, has speculated that NAR overstates total inventory because it may count properties in a pending state as for-sale.

Puckett said that, while some metrics changed, the revisions to realtor.com’s data have not altered realtor.com’s “overall analysis of a localized market recovery moving towards more generalized stabilization.”

Nonetheless, the revisions won’t help the portal make its case that it offers fresher and more accurate data than its competitors — a message that it has made the centerpiece of its national advertising.

Change in listing count, top 10 realtor.com markets, May 2014

Market Change from year ago
Number of listings
Chicago -5.0% 57,536
Atlanta -15% 34,782
Philadelphia, Pa.-N.J. -7.0% 27,263
Phoenix-Mesa, Ariz. 39.0% 21,908
Minneapolis-St. Paul Minn.-Wis. 64.0% 21,331
Boston-Worcester-Lawrence-Lowell-Brockton, Mass.-N.H. 0.0% 20,254
Riverside-San Bernardino, Calif. 20.0% 18,010
Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, Fla. 6.0% 17,882
Los Angeles-Long Beach, Calif. 2.0% 17,160
Miami 20.0% 16,970

Source: realtor.com

Top 10 markets with greatest annual increase in realtor.com inventory, May 2014

Market Change from year ago Number of listings
Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn.-Wis. 64.0% 21,331
Phoenix-Mesa, Ariz. 39.0% 21,908
Ventura, Calif. 32.0% 2,860
Boise City, Idaho 31.0% 4,076
Bakersfield, Calif. 30.0% 2,452
Oakland, Calif. 27.0% 3,358
Orlando, Fla. 26.0% 12,367
Fresno, Calif. 25.0% 2,538
Miami, Fla. 20.0% 16,970
Riverside-San Bernardino, Calif. 20.0% 18,010

Source: realtor.com

Top 10 markets with the greatest annual decrease in realtor.com inventory, May 2014

Market Change from year ago
Number of listings
Stockton-Lodi, Calif. -38.0% 1,291
Boulder-Longmont, Colo. -34.0% 1,569
Houston -32.0% 16,687
Las Vegas, Nev.-Ariz. -28.0% 12,564
New York, N.Y. -27.0% 14,712
Sacramento, Calif. -27.0% 6,110
Oklahoma City, Okla. -26.0% 5,160
Louisville, Ky.-Ind. -26.0% 3,625
San Francisco -26.0% 2,205
Wichita, Kan. -26.0% 2,431

Source: realtor.com


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