Lawrence Yun confirms: Seattle is Special

Picked this up from Aubrey Cohen’s blog. Lawrence Yun, Chief Economist for the NAR and well-known real estate seer has confirmed what our local press and real estate folks have know for years: Seattle really is special! It’s about jobs and Microsoft millionaires. Why didn’t we think about that?!?!

Seattle a “superstar” market
Seattle is becoming a “superstar” market, where housing costs may never settle back into historical relationships to incomes, a national analyst declared on Tuesday.

Speaking at the annual conference of the National Association of Realtors, association Chief Economist Lawrence Yun used comparisons of mortgage payments to incomes to put much of the nation in a positive light.

“If anything, middle America appears to be under priced,” he said.

Some coastal cities where the payments and incomes are less in balance may be overpriced, Yun said.

An article in Fortune magazine recently predicted Seattle housing prices would fall 19.5 percent in five years, while rents would increase 19.2 percent, to bring prices and rents back into their historic relationship. (See this story.)

But it’s also possible that some are joining the ranks of international cities like London, Paris, San Francisco and New York, where costs are less tied to incomes, he said. “Now I’m beginning to think: Miami, Seattle, are they becoming superstar markets?”

Many wealthy baby boomers are moving to Miami, Yun said. “In Seattle, Microsoft millionaires are there.”

While the Seattle area’s job market is still strong, Yun said the affordability crunch caused by rising home costs would slow sales and cause prices to plateau.

“I feel that the Seattle market is very healthy in terms of the local job market conditions,” he said. “I don’t see any prolonged price declines.”

Now remember, this is from the guy who has provided the following forecast of Pending Sales – in which even when he possessed 9 of the 12 months of data, he still couldn’t get the annual forecast right… (Chart courtesy of Paper Economy)


Addendum by The Tim:

Elizabeth Rhodes also made sure to point out the “superstar” quote as well. It’s also worth mentioning that this “superstar” thing seems to have become a yearly ritual. The first sighting of the label came a mere month after I started the blog, in September 2005. Then it was repeated a year later in October 2006.

It’s really just a variation on the refrain that Seattle is becoming a “world class city,” a claim that we’ve addressed here before, and I still don’t buy. Seattle’s nice, but it can be both a nice city and stupidly overpriced at the same time. In fact, I contend that is exactly what it is.

(Aubrey Cohen, Seattle Real Estate News Blog, 11.13.2007)
(Elizabeth Rhodes, Seattle Times, 11.14.2007)

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  1. 1
    Affluent Bitter Renter says:

    Yun is a laugh a minute!

    How many MSFT millionaires are there? How many housing units are there in King County?

  2. 2
    B&W Nikes says:

    It’s possible Seattle = London, Paris, or New York City. I love it!

  3. 3

    I just read an article by Robert Schiller entitled ” The Myth of Superstar Cities” available at
    Schiller has SO much more credibility than Lawrence Yun.

  4. 4
    Joel says:

    I’m pretty sure MS stopped minting millionaires quite a few years ago. Six year old stereotypes must be all the NAR has left to cling to.

  5. 5
    EconE says:

    Miami? A Superstar City?

    Maybe when it comes to mortgage fraud as reported here…

  6. 6


    Mark my word. See the proof:

  7. 7
    EconE says:

    Miami seems to be “world class” when it comes to fraud as this Reuters story shows…

  8. 8
    CCG says:

    Yun makes Lereah look honest. That the mainstream media quotes him and his fellow snake-oil salesmen as though they were disinterested experts, and that the general public can’t even recognize this as the bought-and-paid-for sell-side propaganda that it is, is a national embarrassment.

    Incidentally, I’ve been at MSFT for nearly four years. I’d like my million dollars in gold bullion, please.

  9. 9
    B&W Nikes says:

    Florida seems to have no limit to squeezing every thing they can out of their boom. I saw on the tv last night… Condo Vultures are a “market intelligence company” helping buyers by taking advantage of over leveraged sellers.

  10. 10
    Brian says:

    Wow! When my wife and I moved up here from California we had no idea we were moving to a “super” city. I always thought the Justice League and the Super Friends hung out in Washington D.C., but I guess I was wrong. Who would have known The Hall was housed in Seattle?

  11. 11
    patient says:

    ( Note. this is purely fiction and not based on reality )

    Major Seattle broker firms calls Lawrence with panic in their voices:
    – Hey Lawrence, we are in a dire situation up here in Seattle, the market is slipping from our hands! I’m sure you do understand the seriousness of this! The special and immune cards will be useless forever! Please help!

    -Ok I’ll see what I can do.

    Lawrence checks the numbers and realizes that the Seattle market IS seriously overvalued and disconnected from fundamentals. Normal platitudes will not do this time. He’s lost for a moment but then remembers the little sign “For emergencies only” on the frame behind his desk. He smashes the glass and takes out a book called “The most desperate measure of all”. He opens the cover and inside is one sentence: “Claim super stardom!”

  12. 12
    NotaBull says:

    “I don’t see any prolonged price declines.”

    This seems to me to be another way of saying, “the price declines I see will likely be short”. But wait… Is any kind of price decline possible in Seattle? That’s just crazy talk!!!

    “Yun said the affordability crunch caused by rising home costs would slow sales and cause prices to plateau.”

    A “permanently high plateau” perhaps? Now where have I heard *that* before? ;)

  13. 13
    TJ_98370 says:

    Hello Ira,

    Thanx for sharing the Robert Schiller’s article. It’s definitely worth reading. I had trouble with the sites search engine (probably something I am doing wrong) so I posted a link here.

    The Myth of “Superstar Cities”
    ……Many people view the superstar city theory as confirming their hunch that, despite the current slowdown in home prices elsewhere (particularly in the United States), investors can expect to make huge long-term gains by buying homes in these cities, even though the homes there are already expensive. But, as I have said in my debates with the authors, if one reads their paper carefully and thinks about the issues, one would see that there is no reason at all to draw such a conclusion.
    Why should home values in glamour cities increase forever? Gyourko, Mayer, and Sinai justify their claim by arguing that these cities really are unique. They have only limited land, and if one assumes ever-increasing GDP and rising income inequality, there will always be more and more wealthy people to bid up prices in these scarce areas….
    …..How much might we expect a home in a famous city to outperform other real estate as a long-term investment? The answer: not much at all……
    ……According to the Coldwell Banker Home Price Comparison Index, which compares the price of a standard 2,200 square-foot four-bedroom house across cities, the most expensive city in the US is Beverly Hills (the legendary home of movie stars). The standard home there is 4.25 times as expensive as one in an average city in the US. Assuming that quadrupling of relative value occurred over a hundred years, the excess return on investment amounts to only 1.5% per year – hardly the kind of performance that real estate enthusiasts are expecting…..
    …….Most of the popular attention that the “superstar cities” theory has received merely reflects the psychology of the housing boom that we have been seeing, as well as a wishful thinking bias. People want to believe that the boom will continue, and that their investments in their favorite city are thus special and exciting. But there is no generally applicable reason to make aggressive investments in superstar cities. On the contrary, there are many reasons to worry about investing in such places.

  14. 14
    MisterBubble says:

    Uhm…maybe I’m missing something, but I don’t think that graph tells me much of anything. It gives me a plot of Yun’s predictions over time — to make the argument that he’s wrong, there would have to be another trace, containing the actual MOS values for the same time periods.

  15. 15
    MisterBubble says:

    Also…could someone please move the login link to the top of the page?

  16. 16
    declinest says:

    I see the future…

    Seattle Home Prices Decline 3.5%
    Seattle Bubble News
    Nov. 14 2008
    by Homer Loss

    Seattle- Home prices declined since Nov of 2007 in record fashion. Seattle home prices declined 3.5% and foreclosures soared 118%. Housing analyst Joe Blow said Yun’s “superstar cities” comment probably marked the top of the housing bubble in Seattle. Yun left the NAR in April of 2008 to spend more time with this family. NAR President Joe Schmoe says Yun is no longer with the company and his statements are no longer recognized by the company. “He doesn’t work for us anymore” says Joe Schmoe.

  17. 17
    SeattleHotty says:

    I saw figures an article once that estimated that Microsoft was responsible for 8,000 millionaires in the Puget Sound region. That is a lot, but not enough. Also, I started at Microsoft in 1998 and was very successful, but I never made a million by the time I left in 2004. The Microsoft millionaires now are limited to a very few at the top of the company.

    Google is probably minting many more millionaires at this point, and that isn’t bolstering the bay area real estate market. Wishful thinking is fun, but I wouldn’t make financial decisions based on it.

  18. 18
    TJ_98370 says:


    The “Forecast” chart above indicates that 5,900,000 existing homes sold in Sept 07 and 6,050,000 homes sold in Aug 07.
    Actual data (see link) indicates that 5,040,000 existing homes sold in Sept 07 and 5,500,000 sold in Aug 07. The “Forecast” chart is consistantly wrong all the way back to Feb 07.
    NAR Sales data

  19. 19
    deejayoh says:

    MisterBubble said,
    on November 14th, 2007 at 3:37 pm | EDIT
    Uhm…maybe I’m missing something, but I don’t think that graph tells me much of anything. It gives me a plot of Yun’s predictions over time — to make the argument that he’s wrong, there would have to be another trace, containing the actual MOS values for the same time periods.

    Yeah, it might not be entirely clear. In context, these are Yun and Leareah’s 12 forecasts for total sales for 2007. We won’t know the real number until the end of the year, so I guess it is possible that his last forecast could indeed be correct but he would be 1 for 12 because the forecast has changed every time. And the likelihood is that all are wrong (and that next month’s forecast will be lower yet again) is very high.

    However, actual MOS has nothing to do with it – remember, his is a forecast, not a linear extrapolation (or at least it shouldn’t be if you have a shred of insight)

  20. 20
    b says:

    Anyone silly enough to believe the fundamentals of Seattle make it a super strong market need look no further than the bay area before crying themselves to sleep.

  21. 21
    Scotsman says:

    Of course Seattle is a Superstar City- plenty of sunshine, awesome winning sports teams, never-ending nightlife, and more culture than you can swat a stick at. Right.

    Hey, we have Ballard- who else has that? Lutesisk forever!!

  22. 22
    Joel says:

    …more culture than you can swat a stick at.

    When you say “culture” you mean the kind found in a petri dish right?

  23. 23
    NotaBull says:

    ” …more culture than you can swat a stick at.

    When you say “culture” you mean the kind found in a petri dish right?”

    Of course that’s what the post means. After all, we ARE a biotech hub! :)

  24. 24
    geon says:

    The good news, is my wife finally is relaxing about buying for at least 8-12 months. 6K a month going into the bank/investments, other than over-priced housing. Renting 2 years this month, going on 3. :)

  25. 25
    TJ_98370 says:

    Motley Fool article includes charts for NAR’s 07 sales forecasts.

    Charting the Housing Spin

  26. 26
    MisterBubble says:

    However, actual MOS has nothing to do with it – remember, his is a forecast, not a linear extrapolation (or at least it shouldn’t be if you have a shred of insight)

    Yeah, I meant to write “sales”, not “MOS”, sorry.

    I guess it is possible that [Yun’s] last forecast could indeed be correct but he would be 1 for 12 because the forecast has changed every time. And the likelihood is that all are wrong (and that next month’s forecast will be lower yet again) is very high.

    I’m not suggesting that Yun is right — I agree with the basic premise of your post. I’m just saying that the graph is missing a trace. TJ_98370 provided the missing information; if this were added as a trace to the same graph, the point would be absolutely clear.

    Right now, it’s just a graph of Yun’s predictions over time. You have to know that he’s wrong to know why the graph is interesting.

  27. 27
    george says:

    “Yun said there was a lending bubble and some markets might have had a bubble in home prices…”

    So now he now says there’s a bubble? I thought he blamed “the media” for “unfounded consumer concerns.”

  28. 28
    deejayoh says:

    Realtor bubble, I think is what he meant

  29. 29
    Michael Long says:

    Microsoft stock hasn’t gone up in the last 6 years? The golden years of Microsoft stock were the 90s. I used to work for MSFT and I can tell you that most of the current employees are hardly living like Microsoft millionaires.

  30. 30
    Lake Hills Renter says:

    ‘I can tell you that most of the current employees are hardly living like Microsoft millionaires.”

    Score one current employee not living like a millionaire. The salary is decent, but not fantastic, and that’s after nearly 5 years. The idea that Microsoft is full of millionaries is rediculous. There’s too many people willing to work for less for salaries to really skyrocket.

  31. 31
    Sassy says:

    Man… guys are a bitter, angry lot. Are you all suffering from seasonal affective disorder? Wow.

  32. 32
    Mr. Stock Market says:

    Enjoyed “Charting the Housing Spin”, and learned a lot:
    1. Professional stock pusher sneers at professional real estate pushers.

    2. 13% error in one year sales forecast for real estate sales is egregious. (Wonder what the forecast error for one quarter’s earnings on major financial stocks was this quarter?)

    New question. With hundreds of billions (trillions?) of 401K money going into the stock market this past 7 years, why are we only minimally above the 2000 high?….and why doesn’t stock expert Seth take a look at that one?

  33. 33
    deejayoh says:

    2. 13% error in one year sales forecast for real estate sales is egregious. (Wonder what the forecast error for one quarter’s earnings on major financial stocks was this quarter?)

    Well, lets see…
    – he’s forecasting sales – not stock price. Quite a bit easier to task, IMO.
    – 10 downward adjustments? Notice a trend? Yun obviously doesn’t!
    -13% off? We don’t know how much the were off until the year is done, but they started at 6.42mm, now down to 5.5mm. that’s a 28% reduction and I still don’t think they’ve found the bottom

  34. 34
    Mr. Stock Market says:

    Looking at Seth’s chart, the forcast is 5.9mm. Also according to Seth’s chart the difference from the Jan prediction is 11.68%, so I’ll cop to being wrong at 13%.

    Back to your first point, I was comparing a 12 month look at sales to a 3 month look at earnings (not stock price). Anyone can have an opinion, but generally forecasting longer is harder than forecasting shorter.

    I also doubt the NAR has the resources to put into forecasting that the big brokerage houses do.

    Shall I assume my unchallenged points are, well, unchallenged? (of course I know better)

  35. 35
    Jon says:

    “A “permanently high plateau” perhaps?”

    Yeah. Best bet for a permanently high plateau would be buying a piece of the Montana Rockies.

  36. 36
    deejayoh says:

    Mr Stock Market

    Ah Seth. Missed the reference, he and I aren’t on a first name basis. I’m not in the business of defending his columns. Full disclosure, I was eyeballing the numbers off the chart which seems to misstate the latest forecast.

    As to the difficulty of forecasting – I’d agree that yes, shorter is generally easier – but forecasting stocks and home sales seem apples to oranges in comparison. In any case I am primarily being critical of Yun and the NAR. Calculated Risk produced a pretty accurate forecast (of 5.6-5.8mm homes) way back in December 2006 but the NAR just can’t, even though it’s their job. I think the difference is not being in the Realtor’s pocket.

  37. 37
    Bitterrenter says:

    What does it say when a culture celebrates the inequities that puts home ownership out of range for so many while the very top own multiple dwellings, one in every “superstar” city?

    That attitude makes me want to see real estate people hurt BAD.

  38. 38
    The Tim says:

    Sassy said,

    Man… guys are a bitter, angry lot. Are you all suffering from seasonal affective disorder? Wow.

    Hmm. Don’t know where you’re getting the bitter, angry vibe from, “Sassy.” That is a pretty funny comment though, coming from the Director of Public Relations for a major local real estate company. I’m surprised you have the time to troll a blog like this.

  39. 39
    Lake Hills Renter says:

    Aww, c’mon Tim. At least tell us which company, so I can add them to my blacklist. Nice callout, though. That’s hilarious!

  40. 40
    Mark L says:

    Seattle can never become a world-class city without a world-class transportation system. That is one thing the other “superstar” cities have and we don’t, and judging by the past few years of transportation props, never will. Those with homes want more regulations on land-use and no transportation expansion in order to restrict the housing supply.

  41. 41
    johnnybigspenda says:

    Another article that the bubble heads will appreciate… looks like the stuff you guys have been saying for the past couple of years is finally going mainstream:

    What Will Your Home Be Worth in Five Years?

    Cut through the fog of whipsawing values and vacillating views with the most reliable indicator of all — rental rates. Plus, the areas where prices will tumble the most…

    …But once the fervor fades, prices must fall to restore their normal, long-term relationship with rents. Rents exercise a kind of inevitable gravitational pull on prices. The ratio of prices to rents “behaves much like price/earnings ratios for stocks,” says Yale economist Robert Shiller. “Like P/Es, price-to-rent ratios are mean-reverting.” In other words, while prices soar from time to time, sending the ratio to exceptional heights, sooner or later the relationship is bound to return to its historical average….,-Sell,-or-Hold;_ylt=AqQ7KBOK8yqkz0gaSa1OpOu7YWsA

  42. 42
    Mike2 says:

    This settles it. How can we all disagree with someone bearing the credentials and market savvy of Lawrence Yun?

    The only remaining question is which houses fall officially within the “superstar” boundaries. It’s pretty safe to say that neighborhoods located in Tacoma, Everett and Bremerton are not “superstar” class, but what about Kent, Mountlake Terrace or Juanita?

    I think The Tim should give up on the whole bubble argument and instead focus on figuring out where the thin red line between “superstar” ends and mediocrity begins. Then we can finally understand how this market really works.

  43. 43
    redmondjp says:

    Listening to KOMO AM 1000 last night on the way home, they were interviewing the president or CEO of, and the propaganda he was pushing was simply unbelievable.

    He said that Seattle was different from other places in the country, with the RE market fundamentals here being OK while in other markets they are out of whack (What???).

    He also said that prices here are still cheaper than California, which I have a really hard time believing (unless you are comparing San Francisco to Spokane).

    I simply can’t believe that reporters aren’t challenging any of these fallacies — whatever happened to investigative journalism?

  44. 44
    Lake Hills Renter says:

    There’s a big difference between a “reporter” and a “journalist”. The media is 99.9% reporters these days — just write down what other people say and call it done. Actual journalism would require them to actually know something about the subject they are reporting.

  45. 45
    patient says:

    Sassy said,

    “Man… guys are a bitter, angry lot. Are you all suffering from seasonal affective disorder? Wow.”

    If you ever wondered what the saying “The pot is calling the kettle black” means this is an excellent example.

  46. 46
    NostraDamnUs says:

    Come on guys – who wants to buy but can’t and who is selling but isn’t getting an offer? Let’s all get specific. If you are here only to bitch about Mr Yun – then do yourself a favor – get a part time job or something, channel your energies elsewhere.

    I don’t resent this blog – but I don’t see it as exactly being useful in any way!

    Now let’s get on with the specifics – shall we? I recently sold a home, bought a new one, closer in! Didn’t get as much on the sale, and while I was selling I came across this blog … What’s your true story?

  47. 47
    patient says:

    Nostra, why don’t you start your own “useful” blog instead of bitching about this one?

  48. 48
    TJ_98370 says:

    MisterBubble said:

    ….Right now, it’s just a graph of Yun’s predictions over time. You have to know that he’s wrong to know why the graph is interesting…..

    As DJO pointed out, the chart Tim posted above doesn’t make it really clear that the charted numbers are annualized predictions per month. The graph by itself is significant because of the downward trend. NAR keeps adjusting annual sales forecasts downward as the year progresses.
    An anomaly also noted is that the graph posted above does not match the actual numbers for Existing Home Sales posted at the NAR site. (the point I was trying to make in a previous post) Using those numbers would put a more negative slope on the graph.

  49. 49
    DudeMyHELOC Reset says:

    Well, Seattle is a nice city but hardly classifies as a Super Star city? Take San Francisco for instance…now that is a super star city. Great restaurants, nice weather…., thousands of aggressive bums, the stench of feces and urine on Market Street in the mornings……Man, I really miss the stench of urine and feces on market street in the mornings. Come to think of it, Belltown might classify as a super star citylet.

    Why the hell would Seattle ever aspire to be a super star city. It’s great the way it is and that is the primary reason I chose to move here from down south.

  50. 50
    Alan says:

    I’ve told my story here many times.

    I owned a house and then a condo in two different cities for 9 years prior to moving here. I moved from less expensive RE markets and saw very little appreciation in the properties I owned. I can’t afford to buy anything here I am willing to live in long term without using a significant portion of the capital I’ve spent a decade saving and investing as a down payment. I spent about six months trying to understand why housing prices are so much higher here than the last two places I lived and eventually came to the conclusion that the RE market here is in a bubble. I’m not going to put a large percentage of my savings into an asset that I think will a) lose value and b) increase in value only at the rate of inflation after losing said value. I admit that it is possible that I am wrong and always open to evidence that explains current valuations without the need for a bubble. I have also set a deadline by which prices must have fallen to a level I can afford (or my income has risen) or I will move to a less expensive part of the country.

  51. 51
    explorer says:

    I am mildly surprised that no one has articulated the connection between the “superstar” label and unrestrained boosterism. I know y’all reailze that. And I am not even from Texas or the South.

    It may be obvious, but still needed to be said, for those who are not aware. Yes, without efficent public transport no medium to large city can claim to be more than mediocre, IMO.

  52. 52


    You want true stories on Seattle area real estate?

    My best friend has a friend who’s had his MountlakeTerrace home on the market for over a year now. Its one one of those small Seattle shacks built on a cement floor [ya know, the kind when you need plumbing done the pipes are buried in cement and you need a jack hammer]….probably worth $180K in my book tops, even before the bubble. But its assessed at $325K, so it was on the market for months unsold, its down to $275K….still no takers. My friend’s friend will lose money with more price decreases (he paid $245K plus closing costs and $$$tons$$$ of fix up maintenance ever since to get it on the market years ago); but he’s tempted to just bite the bullet and lower it to $225K to perhaps sell, before it gets even worse.

    Another true story of Seattle Pink Pony land. He has a business cohort (medical PhD with years of experience) who works for his company, that just bought a larger Seattle old fashion “2 x 4 construction”, that leaks heat like a cracked barn…she bought the larger $600K home with another high paid professional. Not only are the two professionals barely paying the house payments, last winter the heating bills nearl bankrupt the two of them [they almost broke out in a fist fight over the bills].

    My bubble brain friend tried to talk her out of it, she wouldn’t listen, now she’s in denial and won’t talk about it any more.

    The recent home buyers in Seattle are all in denial.

  53. 53
    NostraDamnUs says:

    patient – make me.

  54. 54
    NostraDamnUs says:

    softie – what’s your friend’s MLS #?

  55. 55
    patient says:

    Calm Nostra, since you seem to like to tell people here what they should post and not I was just checking how you would react to people telling you what to do…

  56. 56
    NostraDamnUs says:

    patient – that’s very telling of you :)… but thanks for the observation.

  57. 57
    johnnybigspenda says:

    nostra… i think a lot of the comments you make are tongue in cheek, but in a place like this (where like minded individuals are praised and outliers are roasted) I think that some of the comments you make are atleast enough to solicit a factual / data based rebuttal… most that actually take the time to respond to your comments resort to their own version of the mantras that have been re-iteraterated here for months.

    i hope people can atleast pause to consider the flipside to every arguement that is raised here whether pro or con bubble.

    A few predict 80% drops, some predict no drops… most believe somewhere in between …. I like your extreme comments and hope you take the time to make them as constructive as possible (with the audience of bubble heads in mind…. hint: they need small spoonfuls at a time to diverge from the path they (unquestionably) believe in.

  58. 58
    what goes up comes down says:

    wow Johnny you sure is a smart one, you must be one of those so called Rocket Scientist.

    I read this blog because many people actually post DATA to back up their PREDICTIONS concerning a market. If you or anyone else believes there is no bubble and housing prices in Seattle will increase in the next two years why not just say so and then add some data which supports said arguement. I am sure there is data out there that does support that arguement, then people can judge the data and not you.

    Calling a place a supercity means nothing. I mean what type of economics is that? Are people trying to equate Supersize to Supercity? It is true if you order a Supersize meal at McD’s it costs more but where is the parrallel to SuperCity?

  59. 59
    johnnybigspenda says:

    All i’m saying is that there are extreme view points here and obviously those predicting 80% drops and those predicting zero % drops are at the opposite ends of the spectrum. This board is not useful if everyone just sits around and agrees with eachother.

    Someone else said it, but I’ll say it too: we need to change the focus to answer the questions being asked here. its not a questions of ‘if’….its a question of ‘how much?’ ‘where?’ ‘when?’ …

    lets get back to the facts and try to position ourselves to take advantage of the down cycle… ie. buying low, selling high… which would mean: buy when the herd is selling… everyone here talks a big game, but at the end of the day no one has the nuts to actually buy.

  60. 60

    […] As Deejayoh pointed out the last time Yun began shooting his mouth about Seattle, Mr. Yun and the NAR don’t exactly have a very good recent track record when it comes to predic…. Housing sales have scaled back to normal levels from the “excessive boom” of 2003 […]

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