Where cheaper homes are best sellers and why 'beige' matters

real estate signsYou like beige? The color beige. I guess I don't consider beige a real color. I mean, not like, say, red or blue or bright yellow. Those are colors. Beige is, well, beige! For reasons known only to a select few in Washington -- let's call them for the sake of discussion, "the beige crowd" -- the Federal Reserve Board's periodic summary of economic conditions around the nation is referred to as "The Beige Book." You can probably see why the government will probably never produce a best seller.

Before you turn blue with exasperation about my reflections upon the Fed's "Beige Book," let me tell you why I am even bringing this whole matter to your attention: The newest Beige Book tells us that "home sales and construction activity improved across much of the nation," but it also reports to us that "prices were generally said to be flat or still declining somewhat." Now, " declining somewhat" doesn't exactly have the ring of precision that I would like, but it does paint in a broad stroke the state of the real estate market in these United States.

Apparently, according to "The Beige Book," the lower end of the housing market is outperforming the higher end in many key places such as New York, Philadelphia, Richmond, Atlanta, Minneapolis and Kansas City.

Why would this be you ask? Seems that the now extended home-buyer tax credit is being credited with getting folks to grab the cheaper, more affordable houses off the exhausted market.

Increases in sales are being reported, says "The Beige Book," in Boston, Cleveland, Dallas and San Francisco, among other places, but generally in the lower-priced segment of the housing market.

If some of the news about residential real estate is giving you a buzz of excitement, "The Beige Book" is quick to douse those fires of expectations by describing a downright depressing (depressed?) commercial real estate market.

"Market conditions were reported to have weakened in virtually all Districts, with rising vacancy rates, downward pressure on rents and little, if any, new development," says the Federal Reserve document (Yes, our blessed "Beige Book" once again!)

Getting back to the color beige, wonder why the government can't assign a more sexy color to these economic summary books? Wouldn't you just automatically feel better about things if you heard some newscaster refer to the Federal Reserve's "Orange Book," or "Lime Green Book?" Of course you would. Maybe the nation's economic plight would brighten faster if the government selected a brighter color for its economic report card. I mean, beige is so ... beige.

Charles Feldman is a journalist,media consultant and co-author of the book, "No Time To Think-The Menace of Media Speed and the 24-hour News Cycle."

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