I don't normally care what's written in the Weekend Herald. The Saturday edition generally makes the weekday paper look good, although neither of them really measure up to the sheer perfection of the Herald on Sunday. Anyway, the lead article in Saturday's paper screamed that the housing market was suddenly booming - "Auckland house sales soared 65pc in March, firm reports". The firm in question was none other than real estate firm Barfoot & Thompson, a company which definitely has no interest in the public thinking it's a great time to buy and sell houses. It's not a new thing in the Herald - ever since property prices started dropping, the Herald has been running puff pieces talking up the prospects for the real estate market.
In Saturday's piece, economist Gareth Morgan - seemingly the go-to guy for economic comment ever since his son made him rich by selling Trade Me, but also seemingly a reasonably onto-it person - said " the sales figures were not something to get excited about."
"It's a long haul this whole recession ... I don't see the data as significant in terms of signalling any turning point.That would explain, then, why the Herald led with this story, with the numbers (increased numbers of house sales over last month and last year) in giant red letters on the front page. But the Herald does warn us not to get too excited:
[...] some economists are warning sellers and buyers not to get too excited yet.
In fact, every single person quoted in the article who is not in the real estate industry warns that the data are essentially meaningless in terms of long-term trends. To be fair, and as is reasonably common in the Herald, the headlines write cheques that the article can't cash. Although the real estate agents are obviously gagging to get on the front page and tell people to leap into the market, they're not completely unreasonable. According to the chief executive of Harcourts:
"We're judging the sales numbers against historically low levels. So while
they're better than they have been, it's not time for people to jump up and down
and say we're on the cusp of another wave.
Nonetheless, there is an element of "Fishmongers declare fish is delicious" in this 'story'. Quite why this article exists in the form and place it does is an interesting question. Essentially it's not much of a story, according to almost everyone involved; it's more of an ad for real estate agents. Why would the Herald run this as a lead? Well, according to the editorial in this week's Listener - like 90% of the print media in this country, an APN stablemate of the Herald - major newspapers are heavily reliant on real estate ads, like those in the Herald Homes supplement in Saturday's paper. The terrible state of the housing market, and thence the shrinking of the real estate advertising budget, has made things worse for newspapers in a time of crisis for print journalism. But I'll be damned if I have any sympathy for the people making these decisions.