The Great Showdown

The numbers are in and the state of the State of the South Florida Housing Market is ... sputtering along.

It's interesting how the Big Three handled the data released yesterday by the Florida Association of Realtors. The Herald's Mathew Haggman led with the bad news: sales are at historic lows and the market is flooded with unsold houses and condos. In the next graf, though, he points out that home prices, amazingly, rose in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, albeit by only seven and two percent, respectively.

The banner headline over the Palm Beach Post's Linda Rawls' very solid and sober front-page story on the newly released numbers was decidedly negative: "Home sales dive as inventory soars." But she noted that prices have seen only a "neglible" decrease during the so-called slide.

And the Sun-Sentinel? Well, they had it both ways. In business reporter Paul Owers' first article, posted yesterday on the Web at 3:49 p.m., the news was bad: "South Florida home prices continue fall." But, of course, prices haven't fallen much, it's sales that have taken a dive as inventory has dramatically risen. By this morning's newspaper, Owers had a decidedly different

take. "Is Broward housing market rebounding?" was the lead headline on the front page. He focused strictly on the December numbers:

"The median price of an existing home last month was $367,600, only a slight drop from the $369,000 in December 2005, the Florida Association of Realtors said Thursday. There were 618 sales, a 7 percent drop from 666 in December 2005."

It wasn't until the jump page that Owers dropped an even more important number: 35,362. That's the number of homes and condos on the market -- and it's twice what was on the market last December. All you need is a high school economics course to see that this is no "rebound" -- it's a showdown.

You feel like the sellers are fending off the buyers, holding their ground. Damn, they've been so tenacious you can't help but slightly admire their greedy little souls. But how long can they hold out? It's only a matter of time before the buyers start pushing them back and they start falling like flies. I still don't think we're talking about a crash in the market, but prices are going to drop at least 10 to 20 percent before it's over. It's inevitable, no matter what spin you put on the numbers.

And so what? Newspapers need to take a more balanced approach to these stories. If prices fall a bit, that will only mean that a lot of their readers might have a chance at buying a home. But the papers, especially the Sentinel, are so in bed with realtors and developers that their POV is often indistinguishable from the housing industry's.

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