Monday, January 12, 2009

Realtors' Former Top Economist Says Don't Blame the Messenger

--Maybe no experts can last long. --Once an icon of booming housing expert now is seeing his reputation wither in the bust. By NANCY KEATES FAIRFAX STATION, VA. -- On a recent weekday, David Lereah sat in the sunroom of his five-bedroom colonial house. The only sound was the yapping of his dog Maisy. Once one of the world's most-visible housing experts, Mr. Lereah is disconnected from his old life. The former chief economist for the National Association of Realtors says the group's top executives won't return his phone calls. He says he wasn't invited to the association's 100th birthday bash last May. Associated Press David Lereah, at Realtors conference in Boston in 2006. Mr. Lereah, 55 years old, is one of many prognosticators who won professional accolades during the housing boom, only to see their reputations wither in the bust. Throughout 2005, when home prices in the U.S. hit their fifth consecutive annual record, Mr. Lereah was on television so often his wife, Wendy, would catch him by accident. He flew first-class to meetings and speeches in places like Hawaii and Aspen, Colo., staying in suites at expensive resorts. His bosses awarded him more responsibility. That year, he published his second book, "Are You Missing the Real Estate Boom?" Mr. Lereah continued to make rosy statements amid growing signs of a housing downturn -- like this declaration in January 2007: "It appears we have established a bottom." A few months later, NAR announced that existing-home sales fell 2.6% in April from a month earlier and 10.7% from a year earlier. Related Links Housing blog: Read Mr. Lereah's statements and see how they compared to the market.See Mr. Lereah's newsletter at reeconadvisoryreport.comWatch an interview with Mr. Lereah from 2005Some critics pummeled Mr. Lereah for his optimism. Bloggers nicknamed him "Baghdad Dave," after the Iraqi information minister Mohammed al-Sahaf, called "Baghdad Bob," known for his pro-Iraq press briefings at the time of the U.S. invasion. Mr. Lereah, who says he left NAR voluntarily, says he was pressured by executives to issue optimistic forecasts -- then was left to shoulder the blame when things went sour. "I was there for seven years doing everything they wanted me to," he said, looking out his window to his tree-filled yard in this Washington suburb. Mr. Lereah now works at home, trying to rebuild his career and saddled with a sagging portfolio of real-estate investments. ....

No comments: