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Existing Home Sales: Numbers Put Realtors On Defensive

So there I was at the National Association of Realtors headquarters this morning, ready for the usual press conference on the monthly existing home sales numbers, but before the 'spiel' and the charts, the PR team passed out two interesting papers: “Fact Sheet” they each blared across the top in bold print.

One sheet explained the NAR’s research coverage, and noted how long the organization has been running each number, like “Existing single-family home sales and monthly annual rates, and median prices since 1968.” The other sheet was titled, “Housing Series and Comparisons.” It gave the NAR sample coverage of homes and then compared it the U.S. Census Bureau, Freddie Mac , OFHEO and S&P/Case Shiller, the other popular number crunchers of the housing market.

I asked: Why the papers? Well it seems they’ve been getting a lot of calls, not from the folks sitting there in the room, but from others. Who? They wouldn’t say. I asked why they seemed to be on the defensive. “Criticism of the national data, not local. The trend of inquiries has been rising,” Walt Molony of the NAR told me.

It’s no surprise that more attention is being paid to the numbers, since the numbers have been so gawd awful lately, and also since so many more crunchers are jumping into the now-popular housing game. It’s confusing, no question, when we report different numbers on prices from different sources, and many of them tell a different story. The Realtors must be getting a lot of heat about that because they obviously feel the need to defend themselves.

I’m just wondering who’s doing all the harassing? We in the mainstream real estate media are pretty used to all the different numbers. We know Case Shiller does big metro markets, and OFHEO does only conventional loans without the higher-priced properties, so the numbers will be different.

But trashing housing nowadays has become something of a sport. The proliferation of housing blogs with names like housingdoom.com,housingbubble.comand housingpanic.com, is truly unreal. The housing downturn is in entertainment, even making its way into an episode of the "Sopranos" last season, when 'Carm' was worried about selling her spec home.

I guess it’s good that the NAR is getting more inquiries; at least that means people are starting to question the facts more and more. But it also indicates that nerves are running high. When numbers are great, nobody questions them; when they’re not, well, you get the call.

Questions? Comments? RealtyCheck@cnbc.com

  • Diana Olick serves as CNBC's real estate correspondent as well as the editor of the Realty Check section on CNBC.com.

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