First read the press release issued on Tuesday by the National Association of Realtors regarding data on the sale of existing homes in December and for all of 2006 and then read the New York Times article on the same topic. We will then have a spirited discussion on the subject of reality, slant, and spin.

NAR called 2006 the third-highest sales year on record (after 2005 and 2004) while using the term "eased" to describe the 0.8 percent seasonally adjusted decline in the annual rate of home sales in December as compared to revised rates in November (6.22 million versus 6.27 million). The Times on the other hand took the view that the 2006 figures represented the sharpest year over year decline in 17 years and the December figures showed a larger decline than analysts had expected.

Well, here are the figures, draw your own conclusions.

In addition to the November to December change noted above, sales of existing homes (including single-family, town houses, condos, and co-ops) dropped from 7,075,000 for all of 2005 to 6,480,000 in 2006, a decline of 8.4 percent. This is the 17 year record cited above. Annualized sales in December 2006 were 7.9 percent lower than in December 2005.

David Lereah, NAR's chief economist, said home sales remain historically high. "Despite all of the doom-and-gloom stories and dire predictions over the last year, 2006 was the third strongest year on record for existing-home sales," he said. "It looks like we're moving beyond the low for the housing cycle last fall, and buyers are responding to historically low interest rates and competitive pricing by home sellers. In addition, a tightening inventory of homes on the market is supporting prices."

The inventory of available existing homes dropped to 3.51 million at the end of December, a 7.9 percent decline from November. This is a 6.8 month supply at the current sales pace compared to a 7.3 month backlog in November.

The median home prices for all housing types was $222,000, identical to the median price one year earlier. This was also the median price for all of 2006 which represented a slight increase from the median for 2005 of $219,000.

If only single family homes are taken into account, those sales slipped 1.3 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.44 million in December from 5.51 million in November. Sales for 2006 were down 8.1 percent to 5.68 million compared to 2005 and were, like overall sales, the third highest on record. The median price for an existing single family residence was 221,600, again unchanged from December 2005.

The Census Bureau and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development released their joint report on new residential sales for December on Friday. New home sales were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,120,000 units, an increase of 4.8 percent above the revised November figures but 11 percent below the rate in December 2005. A total of 1,061,000 new homes were sold last year, a 17.3 percent decline from the 1,283,000 sold in 2005.

The median home price in December was $235,000 and the average was $290,100. In November the median sales price was $251,700 and the average price was $294,900.

There are an estimated 537,000 new homes currently on the market, a supply of 5.9 months at the current sales rate. The revised figure for inventory backlog in November was 6.1 months.