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Seek out spreadsheets behind reports for deeper analysis

Photo by Wikimedia Commons

Instead of rewriting national reports on unemployment and home prices, why not craft something that’s different and more relevant to your readers?

Jon Lansner, The Orange County Register’s prolific real estate writer, demonstrates that in a recent blog about home builders’ confidence.  Rather than rehash the national stats released by National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index, he instead focused on numbers for the Western region, which was more helpful to his California readers.

The blog explains that Western builder optimism in January climbed to its highest level since the middle of 2007.  After some analysis, Lansner discovers it may not be time for the building industry to celebrate yet.

Lansner writes:

…For the West in January was 21 — that is up 5 vs. December and up 6 vs. a year ago. It ties October for the highest level since August 2007. Now, let’s state the caveat: The NAHB/Wells index comes from a builder survey that tabulates “a seasonally adjusted index where any number over 50 indicates that more builders view sales conditions as good than poor.” So, by this math — things are better but by no means giddy!

So how was Lansner able to get that more localized numbers?

Today’s tip: Find the spreadsheet behind the report.

Sometimes, data service companies give you the data up-front. Other times, you may have to ask for it. Once you get the spreadsheets, do your own analysis to “add some value,” Lansner said. For example, find out how your market compares to the nation and other cities.

Don’t be afraid to use the numbers and draw your own conclusions. But make sure you understand the data. If you don’t get it, then ask.

Having data available also helps:

  • Your graphic designers, who can now chart whatever your story is about.
  • Your story ideas. A blog based on spreadsheet data could evolve into an in-depth story.

Lansner typically finds information from real estate service provider DataQuick, a local broker and other stories. If he sees an interesting headline that’s tied to a study, he’ll try to find the information.

If you’re tracking something in particular,  say, home prices, keep a historical spreadsheet. Every time you get new numbers, you can add them to the existing spreadsheet.

To read more of Lansner’s work, check out his blog.

About the Author

Lily is on the business desk, covering residential real estate at The San Diego Union-Tribune. Previously, she worked at The Arizona Republic covering local government. She is a Northwestern University graduate.

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