The problems with housing market data: What does it all really mean?

Housing data contradictory
Housing data contradictory

We're inundated with data on the housing market every day, and the stock market moves rapidly in either direction depending on the perception of the moment: Are things getting better or are they getting worse?

One of the problems with studying the housing market is that it's nearly impossible to draw any useful conclusions from the data. Consider the following data points:

  • The USA Today reports that existing home sales "skyrocketed" 27% in the fourth quarter of 2009 versus the prior year period, and the "national median price for an existing single-family home was $172,900, or 4.1% below the median price in fourth-quarter 2008."

  • On a more local level, Trulia reports that the "Median sales priceinBoston, MAwent up 5.55%to$532,500fromprior quarter." Furthermore, "Average price per square footinBoston, MAwent down 5.41%to$612/sq ftfromprior quarter."