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Indicating Indicators- January Lakes Region Home Sales Report

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Posted 02-17-2012 at 10:39 AM by Roy Sanborn

As I was compiling the residentail sales numbers for January for this Lakes Region report, I was a little disappointed in the totals until I looked at January of 2011 which was actually pretty abysmal. While 48 single family homes changing hands at an average sales price of $148,500 doesn’t seem like a banner month, compare that to the 37 sales last January (at an average of $185k) and it looks like things are really rocking! That’s a 30% increase in sales. The average days on market also dropped from 192 to165 this past month. There were a number of pretty quick sales at, or very close to, full price. There were also several sales that came in over the asking price. That seems like a pretty good indicator to me that things might be looking up just a bit…

There are lots of economic indicators that are tracked by everyone from way up high in the government right on down to mom and pop businesses that might be thinking about making investments in their business. Things like the gross domestic product forecasts, durable goods orders, factory orders, retail sales, construction spending, and of course new home sales to name just a few. It seems like one month the news is better and the next month it is down. Sometimes some indicators are strong and other are sucking wind. I guess it all depends on which way that wind is blowing. And it always seems like this month’s numbers are revised downward next month. That doesn’t give you a lot of faith in the guy that is cranking out the numbers. Even in the local real estate market things are up and down but overall things “feel” like they are getting a little stronger. Agents are busy right now. That’s a good indicator to me.

I did a little research to see if I could find some economic indicators that people would have a little more faith in. You know, something that means something to the average guy on the street. Who understands pork belly futures and the GDP anyway? I cranked up the old Apple II (you know, the one that had the floppy disks) and did an in depth search of the web for some little talked about indicators that you can really count on.

The first is men’s underwear. The “Undies Indicator” states that the sales of men’s underwear typically are very stable because they are considered a necessity (other than for the guys that work at Chippendales.) When the economy slows down, guys will stretch things a little and wear their undies until they’ve gotten pretty thin. Even Alan Greenspan has referred to this indicator. I’m not sure if that gives it more or less credence. Anyway, sales have been on the upswing since 2009 so that’s a good sign. If you think I’m making this stuff up, "Google" it.

Another indicator is that in tough times people sell their cemetery plots. Hey, you gotta eat, right? A cemetery manager in Florida told the Wall Street Journal that he has even had a widow sell her plot next to her spouse because she needed to pay the rent. Well, he was probably a pain in the butt anyway. I checked Craig’s list to see if I could find any plots for sale in Laconia and didn’t find one. That must mean things are going good locally, right?

They say another good indicator is how many people hike the Appalachian Trail! The theory is if the economy is bad there are more people headed into the woods. Your boss tells you to take a hike, you take it literally, and try to make the 2,180 mile trek from Georgia to Mt Katahdin in Maine. Hey, it probably beats pounding the pavement looking for a job and you might not walk as many miles either. They say the number of hikers is up on the trail so this is really not the positive indicator that I am looking for. But at least we now know where some of the 2.8 million people that stopped looking for work went. It must be crowded out there on the trail. Maybe some of the unemployed will turn into entrepreneurs and set up hot dog stands along the way?

The Hemline Index is a well known economic indicator which has been fairly accurate. When hemlines are up and mini-skirts are in vogue the economy is generally doing pretty darn well. Right after the stock market crash in 1929 hemlines dropped overnight. Hemlines are currently both up and down at the same time. So are stocks and everyone's moods.

The number of divorces are also an indicator of how well the economy is doing. Between 2006 and 2009 the number of divorces dropped about 7% nationally. With a bad economy battling spouses can’t afford the legal costs to get unhitched and they don’t have the ability to buy out each other’s interest in the family farm. I couldn’t find the divorce rate published for 2011, but several articles stated there was an uptick in the number indicating that things might be getting better on the economic front.

But the best economic indicator I can think of is the number of cement trucks you see on the road. When things were booming you couldn’t drive anywhere without seeing a half dozen cement trucks on the road. Now, not so much. But I did see one just the other going through Laconia and it was pretty exciting. There is another plausible explanation though to their rather conspicuous disappearance on our byways. It could be just possible that all the trucks could be out pouring cement walkways on the Appalachian Trail to accommodate the huge influx of unemployed hikers…

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