It was coincidence that I happened to be in Las Vegas during the annual convention of the National Association of Realtors (NAR) in mid-November.
I had other business to attend to - no, I don't gamble - but the sight of a record 30,000 NAR members at the Venetian Hotel & Casino in this reportedly troubled housing market made me curious enough to stop in to see what was up.
Many sessions focused on media-bashing, as well as finger-pointing at the federal government, the lending industry, and the one million or so agents or brokers who aren't association members.
When Lawrence Yun, the new chief economist, suggested that some of his organization's members might have played a role in the slower market, some asked whether he would still be in his job by the end of the day.
At one point, Yun called the media "stupid" about local real estate. NAR's public affairs office suggested to reporters later that Yun didn't really mean that we were dumber than posts. It's just that the press focuses on the national market, and everyone knows that all real estate is local, and that what's going on in other parts of the country isn't necessarily happening here.
By the way, Raleigh, N.C., is doing just fine. There were Realtors from many parts of the country, in fact, who didn't know what all this housing-downturn stuff was about because they hadn't experienced it yet.
It was simply Yun's newness, public affairs said.
The media didn't take it personally. Reporters told me that they get it from both sides at home - from housing-industry folks who complain that there is no problem, to a growing number of readers who believe that the press is actually underplaying the situation to keep advertisers or investors happy.
How should an agent - OK, a Realtor, since nonmembers helped create the problem - handle the media?
There was a session titled "Realtor Scene Investigator" - a takeoff on
, which takes place in Las Vegas - in which Yun in a white coat and others sought reasons why the current market is like the one in 2002. The usual suspects were found to be at fault.
Perhaps the media are being bashed because of some glass-half-empty types trained to look for the bad news and then write about it? In the press room, I was taken aside by an official and shown an example in which the reporter had gone down to the 12th paragraph of an official news release and then led with it, even though the release had a glass-half-full lead paragraph.
It happens. Two weeks ago, the NAR reported that two-thirds of U.S. metropolitan areas experienced increases in median sale prices of existing houses in the third quarter of 2007 over the 2006 period. Two days later, using the same information, the Associated Press reported that one-third of U.S. metro areas experienced declines in median sale prices.
I've always believed that real estate is local - as location-specific as a neighborhood, even a single block.
Ten years ago, at the NAR convention in New Orleans, however, real estate became national, even global. Realtors fell over one another signing cooperative agreements with budding real estate organizations in the former Soviet republics, among other countries.
Last year, former chief economist David Lereah, who had been pushing the wider view, narrowed it local again - I assume because the folks in booming Raleigh didn't like being lumped with collapsing Miami or Las Vegas.
"I've always looked at real estate as local," said 2008 NAR president Dick Gaylord of Long Beach, Calif., when I asked what had happened to Lereah's theory of residential real estate.
Aubrey Cohen, my counterpart at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, tried to press the issue.
"David Lereah is no longer chief economist," Cohen was told bluntly.
That we knew. We aren't