Days Before Halloween, NBC Treats Real Estate Like Dawn of the Dead

     If NBC’s Carl Quintanilla is in a bind about what to wear to the NBC News Halloween party, he could always go as a “housing bubble.”


     With only five days until Halloween, NBC “Today” show sought to spook viewers with yet another negative story on the housing market. But Quintanilla dressed up his attack on the economy with the same disguise The New York Times used a day earlier: a look at how hardware retailer Home Depot  (NYSE: HD) is changing its business model to retain customers during a cooling housing market.


     “There’s even more bad news for the housing market,” anchor Matt Lauer told viewers of the October 26 morning news program. “Last month, home prices fell by 2.5 percent, that’s the biggest drop ever,” he proclaimed, turning to Carl Quintanilla to look at how “now, even Home Depot is feeling the crunch.”


     Quintanilla began his story with typical media bluster about the housing market’s woes, forgetting to tell viewers that both of the last two years have been all-time highs, so a decline from that number typically still reflects a huge increase.


     “Seeking shelter from the economic storm. Home Depot, in the face of a massive slowdown in housing this year, is selling not just lumber, but candy, Halloween decorations, coffee, gasoline, anything to draw in customers,” the correspondent began his story.


     A day earlier, New York Times reporters Michael Barbaro and Claudia H. Deutsch dressed up their story on Home Depot with the same premise.


      “How does the nation’s largest home improvement retailer weather the worst housing market in a decade,” they asked in the first paragraph of their October 25 article “A Cappuccino with the 2x4’s?”


    But the “worst housing market” premise is misleading and confusing for the viewers at home, who aren’t being given the full story.


    According to the president of the group that calculates the existing home sales numbers, the market’s performance is fundamentally sound even as it is cooling down from earlier record highs.


     “It appears we have passed a cyclical peak in terms of the number of homes on the market,” said Thomas Stevens of the National Association of Realtors (NAR).


     “The good news is that fewer new listings are coming online.  A stable sales pace is expected to draw down the number of listings to a supply balance that will support positive price growth within a few months,” the real estate trade group president added.


     “Taking the long view is always the best way to approach housing decisions, and right now, buyers are in a very favorable market,” Stevens cautioned.


     The Business & Media has previously reported on the ongoing media meme about the “housing bubble.”


     Reporting on a press release by the NAR on a cooling housing market on July 25, NBC “Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams presented a 1.3 percent decline in home sales as “a housing market that’s really on the bubble.”


     In July, NAR president Stevens insisted that “Relative to the five-year housing boom, this year is a buyer’s market” with “historically favorable” interest rates such that “it’s a good time to buy a home.”


     Nearly three months later, NBC picked up on just how strong a buyer’s market the real estate sector is shifting into, but Williams spun the news negatively.


    “‘In Depth’ tonight, what some desperate house sellers have become willing to do these days just to find a buyer,” said Williams as he introduced an October 23 story by correspondent Kerry Sanders on “some very motivated sellers in a housing market that’s decidedly on the bubble.