I get about 16 emails a week from my local public school outlining my two kids' performance in each of their 8 subjects. I like it, or at least I did, in the beginning.
It was great being able to tie a statistic to actual performance so we had some ammunition during our nightly conversations about homework. Over time, we learned that the day-to-day performance statistics — whether my son was tardy or aced a quiz — had little to do with the grades we saw on the report card at the end of the quarter.
Fortunately, my wife and I know that you can't just automatically take an action anytime you notice a slight movement in a metric, unless you're in the stock market. And even then it often has catastrophic results.
But what about when the metrics move more than slightly? All across the nation in the month of July, home sales plummeted to a level we haven’t seen in over a decade. Between June and July, sales of previously owned homes dropped a massive 27.2%, bringing the seasonally adjusted annual rate to 3.83 million. It was the National Association of Realtors
that reported the market was freezing up and sent a panic wave through the market.
But this was no huge surprise, right? The period of qualifying for the home-buyer tax credit ended. The people who moved their kids into new school districts in the spring had already bought their homes. Investor guidelines are such that if you don't have a driving need to burn cash right now, you're not in the market for real estate. So, the numbers fell. That's a data point. It doesn't mean you should sell all your stock in the industry.
Of course, there's no end to people talking about what this data point means to our future. Some are saying they never thought it would be this bad. Some are saying we’re in for another dip in housing prices after finally stabilizing last year. Some are saying this could turn out to be another nasty blow to an already suffering economy.
Here’s what I’m saying: whatever.
This single piece of statistical data is just that: one more piece of statistical data. Checking the thermometer to find out how cool it is outside is not supposed to throw you into a panic – it's not a predictor of the next ice age. React to it if you want — wear a sweater — but don’t assume that you’re going to die of hypothermia tomorrow.
I love data analytics and will tell you that the boys with the best toys will win the game in the end, but analytics were never meant to be incendiary. They provide ammunition for conversations. No single statistic can tell us what we need to know to prepare adequately for tomorrow, so it pains me to see so much ink spent on explaining the impact of each one. And it's not just home sales, take a look at the recent foreclosure stats. We'll see the same thing in about six months on the REO side when the next wave of that flows into the market.
With so many people paying such close attention to the performance of our industry, information overload is unavoidable; we're blinded by a blizzard of data and if we aren't careful we'll lose our way. We need to take care not to get caught up counting snowflakes and stick to measuring the snow drifts we'll have to dig out of. Then, regardless of what the numbers say at any given time, if you want to stay in this business, you have to keep digging.
Rick Grant is veteran journalist covering mortgage technology and the financial industry.
Follow him on Twitter: @NYRickGrant