Real estate brokers, mortgage lenders, economists and home buyers and sellers will be among those paying close attention tomorrow when the National Association of Realtors releases its February 2003 home sales figures.

Although local and regional numbers tend to be far more telling than national numbers, the national numbers still are an important gauge for the industry, according to Chris Cagan, an economist for First American Title.

“People kind of hang on these numbers,” he said.

The audience for housing market numbers is quite broad, so the information likely is used for a wide variety of needs, such as real estate investment, economic forecasts and the like.

The NAR data, which is roughly a 35 percent sample of 6 million home sales, is closely watched by the industry, the media and the overall population, according to Walt Molony, a senior associate for NAR.

“We’re reaching probably 70 percent of the adult population,” he said.

The Census Bureau, along with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, also release housing data. Several times last year the federal agencies’ jointly released their data on the same day that NAR released its data, so NAR now schedules its releases around the federal agencies’ schedule, according to Malony.

He said the federal agencies and NAR track and report different data that can be confusing if compared.

Steven Berman, a survey statistician for the U.S. Census Bureau, said the government agency’s housing numbers also grab the attention of the public and federal economists. The Census Bureau is a division of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

The federal agencies track new residential sales, and specifically signings for houses that are completed, under construction, not yet started or in a pre-permit stage. The data typically counts homes that are under construction, he said.

Government figures for housing starts and building permits are also closely watched as leading economic indicators.

Cagan expects NAR’s numbers to reflect a continuing strength in the real estate market.

“I don’t think there is or was any bubble,” he said.

Send tips or feedback to glenn@inman.com; (510) 658-9252, ext. 137.

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