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Bye Bye Bob Toll

Tuesday, 18 May 2010 | 3:36 PM ET

Toll Brothers CEO Bob Toll was the first home builder I ever interviewed, and he was tough on me. I'll never forget standing at a J.P. Morgan housing conference in New York City, asking Mr. Toll if he thought there were any red flags in the housing market, given how fast and how high prices were rising.

George Widman

He talked about visiting every one of his home sites and talking one-on-one with his sales staff.

He said the high end wouldn't suffer. But he also said builders were overbuilding, no question, and the euphoria would come back to bite them all, him included.

That was around 2005.

Bob Toll is probably the most forthright CEO of a public home builder I've ever met, and I've met most of them.

Most builders stopped talking to the media when the housing market turned for the worse; not Bob Toll. He often made headlines with his sometimes crass honesty, and other home builder CEO's told me off the record that Toll was hurting the market by making such remarks publicly.

Yesterday the National Association of Home Builders reported a big jump up in home builder confidence, and today we saw housing starts for single family homes rise over 10 percent from last month. I think the bump up is inflated by the tax credit that expired last month. The building permits number, down nearly 11 percent, would seem to prove that, since it's a forward-looking indicator.

But in an interview with CNBC's Maria Bartiromo yesterday, announcing his successor, Bob Toll fired yet another shot across the bow of the critics' sinking ship.

He called the housing market "pretty strong" compared to the past five years and even said that buyers weren't scared away when Toll raised some of its prices.

He talked about "empty nesters" growing into the new homes.

This as I did a story today on how the "Active Adult" market is being hurt by a steep drop in migration among baby boomers, who lost their retirement savings or can't sell their current homes.

Throughout the years I've found my opinions often at odds with Bob Toll's, found him a little too optimistic amid so many headwinds, but I've always admired his ability to put it all out there, no regrets.

Questions? Comments? RealtyCheck@cnbc.com

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  • 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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