Not so ago, national reporters covering housing relied on four or five chief economists in the housing sector to help to understand and interpret real estate economic data for their readers. These gurus were on everyone’s Rolodex because they worked for big organizations like NAR, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, the National Association of Home Builders and megabanks.
With the housing boom and bust ten years ago, the real estate economy became big news and housing chief economists were in great demand. ector to help to understand and interpret real estate economic data for their readers. Clever PR people realized that making news was easier with a chief economist on the payroll. Chief economists multiplied like bunny rabbits until no self-respecting website, trade group, aggregator, data provider, consumer advocacy organization or mortgage lender could be without one.
While chief economists employed by well-known employers and pitched by pricey PR firms still dominate the Rolodexes at CNBC or Fox Business News, some of the junior members of this up-and-coming calling will be tomorrow’s major leaguers.
Here are four of my favorites. Their pluck, vision, talent, style and brains merit the attention of anyone seeking more than the conventual wisdom.
Issi Romem, BuildZoom. Armed with a Ph.D. in economics from UC Berkeley, he quickly demonstrated great ability to make news with studies that explore otherwise hidden aspects of the nation’s real estate stock. His research led him to divide America by expensive cities, like coastal cities with no room to grow who expend their energy on raising prices and those, mostly in the south, have continued to expand with gusto, and thus have experienced tremendous population growth while maintaining housing prices at affordable levels. The quality of his work, the breadth of his vision and the impact of his findings on the residential landscape of the future are earning him frequent citations in the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg.
Selma Hepp, Pacific Union. A one-time Century 21 agent and Ph.D. from the University of Maryland, Selma is a graduate of NAR’s formidable Research Division, Selma carved out as role as an expert on the public policy impact of demographic and economic housing trends. Five years ago she was at the forefront of those who defined the potential impact of the largest generation of America’s housing future. Her interest in the confluence of demographics, public policy, and housing took her to the California Association of Realtors, where she had a front-row seat at the nation’s most fascinating state housing association. After a brief stint at Trulia following its acquisition by Zillow, she moved on to Pacific Union, an extraordinary brokerage in an extraordinary market where she is studying and defining the forces that are changing California real estate today and rest of the nation tomorrow.
Sam Khater, CoreLogic. Technically Sam shouldn’t be on this list because he’s deputy chief economist, not chief economist, at CoreLogic, serving under chief economists Mark Fleming and more recently, Frank Nothaft. I make an exception because more than any other economist, Sam identified, tracked and quantified what may be the most important phenomenon generated by the housing crash—the explosion of single-family rentals, which today provides families an option between multifamily living and homeownership. Sam identified SFRs to be the fastest growing rental category. His research helped to ignite the SFR mini-industry and the subsequent invasion and retreat of Wall Street hedge funds. Sam is a veteran of Fannie Mae and the National Association of Realtors.
Laurie Goodman, Urban Institute. As the Trump Era begins, the most prominent and most effective gadfly opposing the new administration’s housing and housing finance policies in the years to come may Laurie Goodman, Center Director for the Housing Finance Policy Center at the Urban Institute. Her defense of FHA’s mission and the efficacy of homeownership education alarms over affordability and housing inequality, questioning of mortgage lenders’ complaints about Dodd-Frank’s QM Rule and TRJD and similar analyses have been based on quantifiable research and hard numbers, not politics or dogma. Before joining Urban in 2013, Goodman spent 30 years as an analyst and research department manager at a number of Wall Street firms and earned a Ph.D. in Economics at Stanford.
No doubt there are another four, or more, worthy chief economists working hard to carve a name for themselves and a niche for their work, often working with little on the way of resources and support. In the comment box below, please add your suggestions for candidates who deserve more recognition.