Friday, June 08, 2007

Um, no.

This is pretty funny.

Some economists did a pretty rigorous comparison of the price of homes sold using a for-sale-by-owner website to the price sold using a real estate agent. They find that owners who sell their own homes receive the same price, on average, as owners who sold comparable homes using real estate agents. This suggests that if owners value their time and effort at less than the value of a commission (which can be a lot of money), they should strongly consider selling without the help of a real estate agent (at least in Madison where the study was conducted).

The National Association of Realtors apparently does not like this conclusion (although it is not obvious why). They prefer their own "study" which shows that sellers who use real estate professionals receive a 27% premium over those who sell on their own. Of course:

Those studies had their own asterisks. The 2005 survey was based on buyers’ written responses, rather than actual records of transactions, and included data only from people who chose to reply — 7,813 responses out of 145,000 questionnaires mailed out.

The association also did not disclose data on house size, lot size and some other factors that could affect price differences between the sales techniques. The association does not consider that a weakness of the study, though.

“When you’re looking at this large of a survey, the aggregate numbers smooth those things out,” Mr. Molony said. “We feel it’s representative.”

Yes, kids, sample bias and omitted variables bias are not problems if your sample is large enough. I wish I'd had Walter Molony in graduate school. Life would have been so much easier.

[Note -- It is disappointing that, in an otherwise reasonably good article, the author let's Mr. Molony's quote stand. He sets up the key issues in the previous two paragraphs, but drops them after letting Mr. Molony speak -- even though the response offered by Molony is totally wrong. Thus, readers not well versed in statistics might finish the article thinking that the NAR study used a valid method and provides useful information -- when it does not.

Sadly, this practice of letting obviously wrong statements go unchallenged is common practice among journalists indoctrinated to be "objective", and it leads me to join Brad Delong in asking, "why oh why can't we have a better press corps?"]

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Recent Travels

Photos from my recent excursions are available here.

Here are some samples:


Uluru (Ayers Rock)

Sydney Harbor

Table Rock, Oregon

Helena, Montana

Near Missoula, Montana

Grants Pass, OR (from the mountain I played on when I was a kid):

I also went to Boise and Sacramento, but didn't take any pictures while there.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

15 pictures = many thousand words

Click this link and scroll through the nice pictures of families and the food that they eat in a week.

As you do, look closely at the relative amounts of fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, and breads across different places in the world. In particular, notice how prominent these are in most places except the US. Almost all of the food in the US pictures is processed and packaged. Sad.

I find it particularly sad given that we spend billions subsidizing farms -- but we spend almost all of that supporting farmers who produce 5 commodities -- feed grains, wheat, rice, cotton, and soy. While I not familiar enough with agriculture markets to know whether or not any amount of farm subsidies are necessary -- much less what the right level of subsidy might be, I don't think it makes much sense to favor the production of high fructose corn syrup (and other processed foods) over the marvelous, fresh, local strawberries I bought at the farmer's market last Saturday.

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