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California and the West

Realtors: `Soft Landing' Falls Short

July 21, 2006|David Streitfeld | Times Staff Writer

Leslie Appleton-Young is at a loss for words.

The chief economist of the California Assn. of Realtors has stopped using the term "soft landing" to describe the state's real estate market, saying she no longer feels comfortable with that mild label.

"Maybe we need something new. That's all I'm prepared to say," Appleton-Young said Thursday.

The shift in language comes as debate over the real estate market is intensifying. The long-awaited drop-off is happening, but there's little agreement about how brutal the landing will be.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said in congressional testimony Thursday that the national housing downturn so far appears orderly.

At about the same time, however, D.R. Horton Inc. Chief Executive Donald Tomnitz was telling analysts that the home builder's sales in June "absolutely fell off the Richter scale." Horton, the nation's largest builder of residential housing, has numerous projects in California.

For real estate optimists, the phrase "soft landing" conveyed the soothing notion that the run-up in values over the last few years would be permanent. It wasn't a bubble, it was a new plateau.

The Realtors association last month lowered its 2006 sales prediction from a 2% slip to a 16.8% drop. That was when Appleton-Young first told the San Diego Union-Tribune that she didn't feel comfortable any longer using "soft landing."

"I'm sorry I ever made that comment," she said Thursday. "When I get my new term, I'll let you know."

If there's one group in California still unreservedly bullish on real estate, it might be the throngs lining up to take the licensing exams.

The state Department of Real Estate recently reported that the total number of agents in the state passed 500,000 in May for the first time. That's one agent for every 55 adults in the state.

Appleton-Young had no qualms about predicting a hard landing here: "We're expecting a fairly significant shakeout."

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