Existing-home sales had a rough 2006 fourth quarter according to figures released Thursday by the National Association of Realtors.

Total existing-home sales including single-family houses, condos, townhouses, and coops were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 6.24 million units during the quarter. This is 10.1 percent off the pace of sales in the fourth quarter of 2005.

The downturn was wide-spread, affecting 40 states. Six states showed an increase of sales year-over-year, one state was unchanged, and sufficient data was not lacking from three other states.

Indiana had the biggest sales increase; existing homes sold at a pace 13.7 percent above the last quarter of 2005. Second was Arkansas which showed an 11.1 percent improvement and Texas, with sales running 6.22 percent ahead of one year ago was third.

Prices nationwide were also down. The median existing home price nationwide was $219,300, 2.7 percent lower than the median in the fourth quarter of 2005.

The largest price increase for single family houses was the Atlantic City, NJ areas where the median price of $339,800 represented an increase of 25.9 percent over the fourth quarter of 2005. Salt Lake City was second with a gain of 22.7 percent to $223,600.

Condo prices now are at a median of $220,900, 2.1 percent lower than in the fourth quarter of 2005. Prices increased in 31 metro areas and seven of those had double digit increases but in 27 metro areas prices declined.

Strong condo prices were evident in Wichita, Kansas, San Francisco/Oakland/Fremont and in much of Southern California.

On a more local level overall existing home sales and median prices were down in every region:

Region Northeast South Midwest West
Sales 10.4 million 2.49 million 1.43 million 1.23 million
% Sales Change -6.6% -8.5% -8.6% -17.8%
Median Price $274,600 $181,700 $161,800 $355,100
% Price Change -2.5 -3.7 -4.2 0.4

The best performing metro areas price-wise were (after national leaders listed above), Pittsfield, MA in the Northeast, Beaumont-Port Arthur, Texas in the South; Davenport-Moline-Rock Island, Iowa in the Midwest; and Salem, Oregon in the West.

David Lereah, NAR's chief economist stated that the fourth quarter would be the bottom for the current housing cycle. "This information confirms 2006 was the year of contraction, and hopefully the fourth quarter was the bottom of this current business cycle. Home sales are leveling at historically high levels, and examination of data within the quarter shows home prices stabilizing toward the end. When we get the figures for the spring I expect to see a discernable improvement in both sales and prices."

But did you notice a trend in the figures reported above? Not only is Lehreah's forecast typically optimistic, but while the report did say that sales were down or prices fell in this region or that, the only specific areas which were mentioned (Salt Lake, Pittsfield, Port Arthur) were where sales improved or prices were up. The report went so far as to fall back on reporting that typical sellers in metropolitan areas "experienced healthy gains on the value of their homes over the last five years in almost all 131 available areas, even in areas with recent price declines." Yeah, we know. It was called "the bubble."

If the market appears to be bad in your state, we are sorry we cannot tell you where you are vis-�-vis the overall statistics. If the situation in your area improved in terms of sales or price appreciation, NAR trumpeted that information but if your metro area or state is in trouble you will have to learn about it elsewhere. Perhaps we can tell you when the quarterly same house report from the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight is issued later this month.

NAR stands to lose credibility unless it also loses its Pollyanna approach to reporting the data for which it pretty much holds a monopoly. Realtors and by extension their customers and clients, rely on this information to price homes and set business strategy. It is time that NAR bites the bullet and get real about the full measure of statistics it collects. It is a public service to do so and even the most transparent of cover-ups eventually has drastic consequences.