Is TREB Getting it Wrong?

It’s a sensitive time in Toronto real estate. Some buyers are just starting to come back to the market, while others are still waiting for those prices to drop the forecasted 10-15 per cent. Meanwhile, sellers are on edge wondering if they should sell their home, and just what the market reaction will be to it if they do. Everyone’s watching the numbers with a sharply critical eye, and analyzing them repeatedly once they’re released. Recently though, one such analysis of this month’s Toronto numbers have put the Toronto Real Estate Board, and their data crunching systems, under the microscope.

It was last week that TREB issued a press release suggesting that Toronto January sales were actually up from last January, reaching a total of 1,469 from the prior 1,435 – suggesting a 2.4 per cent increase. They also stated that along with sales, prices were also up (something few would debate,) and that the average price of a Toronto home is now $459,728.

Even if their statement, they exuded optimism with TREB president Ann Hannah saying, “The new year started off on a positive note with residential sales slightly above last year’s levels.”

But while no one’s arguing about the prices, Garth Turner, former MP and an analyst with a notoriously bearish view of the market, says that TREB really shouldn’t be so hopeful for the rest of the year – or even for January. He points to other stats that actually dispute the ones released by TREB.

In fact the stats he used to dispute TREB’s recent release were other stats provided from TREB. He says that the total number of sales reported in January 2012 were actually 1,506 – nearly one hundred more than what they said just last month. That would actually make for a drop of 2.5 per cent, instead of an increase equaling about the same amount.

But Mary Gallagher, TREB spokesperson, says there’s a simple explanation for the discrepancy. She says that this year’s stats included home sales that never actually went through, as some deals always inevitably fall apart in their final moments. Last year’s stats, she says, are based only on actual sales.

“We’ve chosen in the past couple of years to revise our figures going forward,” she says. “We’re not hiding it.”

No they’re not hiding it. TREB does include a footnote with all stats explaining how they collect their data. But while no one’s accusing them of hiding it, some are saying that these data collection measures simply aren’t enough, because they don’t compare apples to apples.

What do you think? Are the current measures used to collect housing data by TREB faulty? Or do you think it’s one bear making too much of something so small?