Can we trust the data? Everyone is asking that question after the National Association of Realtors said it would revise its home sales data for the past four years. The revised data are scheduled for release this coming Wednesday with the NAR's monthly report on home sales for November.

The NAR cited several reasons for revising sales. The most notable reason was that the NAR believed it was overcompensating for sales that did not occur on the regional and local real estate listing services from which the NAR extracted data.

The bottom line is that sales and unsold inventory will be revised downward, but monthly percentage changes in sales volumes, months of outstanding inventory, and median home prices will remain unchanged.

Some media outlets have attacked the NAR's revisions from an alarmist or snarky angle. Neither is deserved; the NAR is simply admitting that it needs to be more accurate. What the NAR revisions really highlight is the difficulty in producing national numbers that are meaningful to any local market. If you think about it, is a median national sales price of $167,000 meaningful to a tony suburban enclave in Alexandria , Virginia or to an overbuilt Las Vegas ? We would argue that it isn't.

That said, we will still post and examine the national numbers, because they interest many market participants. The inputs can also be revealing. For example, Corelogic reported that total home prices were down 3.9 percent in October from a year ago, but prices were down by just 0.5 percent when distressed sales are excluded. This tells us that we have two distinct markets at work, which most of us knew anyway, but which much of the lay public doesn't know.

The national numbers can also set the mood and expectations of any one buyer or borrower. It's in our best interest then, and it's also truthful, to highlight the positives in a market dominated by negativity. To that end, we'll mention that Swiss financial services firm Credit Suisse told its clients last week that “ U.S. homes now appear fairly valued compared to median family income.” Credit Suisse's analysis also shows that shadow inventory and mortgage defaults will improve noticeably in 2012.

Mortgage rates, contrary to our expectations, will also continue to improve. Most financing options moved lower this past week, with the 30-year fixed-rate loan hitting a new low in many markets (though it's worth noting that a new low can be hit with only a couple basis-points move). Our outlook for an improving stock market, which would draw funds out of the bond market, is being negated by Europe's inability to deal with the near-bankruptcy of a few of its Mediterranean countries.

While the sense of urgency to refinance or purchase has been reduced, we still think it's best to lock and take advantage of today's rates. The fact is that most borrowers are less frustrated being locked and wishing they were floating than the reverse.

Courtesy of Jessica Regan.

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