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Prepping for the home builders’ forecast

Real-estate watchers are hoping for an upbeat omen Thursday when a trade group releases its monthly builder sentiment report, which showed an uptick in May but then dropped in June after hitting record-breaking lows over the winter and early spring.

Why should you and your audience care about a dry-as-a-bone industry index? The National Association of Home Builders polls its members about what level of demand they expect in the near future for new houses. The results of the survey – formally known as the NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index – are considered a harbinger for the overall residential real-estate market and the ripple outward toward consumers, lenders and suppliers – not to mention appliance dealers, furniture stores, painters and other businesses that serve home builders and buyers.

In short, most of us. Any story that addresses the precarious local housing scene and its effect on just about everyone’s fortunes will grip your readers’ attention. With a little digging, you’ll find myriad options for localizing and adding color to an otherwise abstract report.

First, visit the NAHB newsroom and sign up for their e-mail delivery, so you’ll get future releases automatically. Familiarize yourself with the methodology and historical results of the poll; you’ll notice the dramatic dip into single digits late in 2008 and early this year; a five-year look-back would make an eye-catching graphic, or you might just add a link to this chart with your story.

Then delve into the impact on your audience. On the NAHB site, locate the state-by state list of local builders’ associations. Click on the URLs for local sites and you’ll get a member directory or search engine leading you not only to area builders but to industry trades and suppliers, from masonry experts to architects to electrical contractors. All of these small- and medium-sized businesses have a housing-related story to tell. And since most are privately owned, they’re not under the corporate constraints of large and publicly traded developers – meaning you’re apt to get more candid comments and even access to workers, job sites and dynamic photo/video possibilities.

Layer those anecdotes with specific data – in prose or in graphic form – about housing permits issued in your region. County governments often can provide recent stats; otherwise check out the U.S. Census’ Building Permits report – which is current through May right down to the county level for many major U.S. markets.

The NAHB also has subsets of data you can tap for quirky angles, depending on your audience demographic. For example, the 55+Housing Market Index (55+HMI) measures developments aimed at mature buyers and retirees – helpful info if you’re in snowbird territory.

Another go-to residential real-estate resource you should bookmark: The National Association of Realtors; this trade-group site offers statistics, analysts and assistance with local contacts. They’ll be releasing their monthly existing home sales report on July 23.

It’s nearly impossible to overestimate your readers’ interest in home sales trends and real-estate values. In an era of dwindling equity, a tidal wave of foreclosures and a glut of new construction, the fallow housing market still is fertile ground for enterprising reporters.

In Beats.

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