Wednesday, October 01, 2008

The Arlington Artifice: August 2008

This recurring monthly post tracks the latest results of the housing market seen in Arlington Massachusetts.

I choose Arlington as a result of the Boston Globe’s recently published and absurdly anecdotal and ludicrous farce about the town’s “hot” housing market.

The ridiculous tone and outright mishandling of the housing data by the Boston Globe “reporter” would almost be comical if it weren’t for the fact that the Globe’s editor, Martin Baron, ALSO blundered seriously when he responded to my email about the discrepancies.

Baron attempted to justify the articles contents and in so doing, he disclosed his disgracefully poor and obviously unsophisticated abilities with even the most basic economic data.

The August results again confirm that Arlington is by no means a “stand out” amongst its neighboring towns as Baron suggested in his email and, in fact, is following along on a path wholly consistent with the trend seen in the county, state, region and nation.

Why would an editor of a nationally recognized newspaper think that a single town would continue to function as an isolated bubble amongst a backdrop of the most significant nationwide housing recession since the Great Depression?

As I have shown in my prior posts, this data when charted and compared to other towns in the region proves there are absolutely no grounds to call Arlington’s market exceptional.

The most notable feature of the recent results is unquestionably the low number of home sales with only 187 sales for the entire year to date, the lowest readings since the recessionary period of 1991.

Another important point to remember is that when sales decline dramatically the median selling price can jump wildly up or down since the small number of sales provides a small set with which to determine the “middle” selling price.

The following chart (click for much larger version) shows a history of Arlington’s July median sales price since 1988 along with the annual outcome.

Regular readers will notice that the “year-to-date” median selling price, a more accurate median indicator, has either declined or remained flat through the typically strong spring and summer selling season as the number of home sales have slowly accumulated and now stands at $485,000.

My expectation, now that we are in the weakest season for home sales, is for the median selling price to slide well below $470,000 by the end of the year.

The next chart (click for much larger version) shows that home sales in Arlington have been essentially flat during the last 15 years, a result that is generally to be expected when looking only at the sales of one town in isolation.

That being said though, Arlington has seen only 187 home sales this year, the lowest result on record since 1991.

The final chart shows how the year-to-date median sales price and combined sale count for Arlington, Bedford, Belmont, Cambridge and Lexington has changed since 1988. Notice again that because of the low sales count the current median price data is very volatile jumping radically up or down for each of town.

In review, the data shows that there is nothing exceptional about Arlington’s housing market proving clearly that the claims made in the Boston Globe article and later endorsed by its editor Martin Baron were entirely erroneous.