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U.S Housing Market Conditions Online

An image of a graph showing private housing units permits by region. Longtime readers of the Office of Policy Development and Research’s (PD&R’s) well-respected U.S. Housing Market Conditions (USHMC) quarterly report will find a lot to like when it transitions this April from a print-based report to a more dynamic — and more accessible — online resource. The new digital format features all the content readers have come to expect from USHMC but with substantial improvements in organization, ease of use, and access to the information.

Kevin Kane, PD&R’s chief housing market analyst, describes a number of significant enhancements that readers can expect in the digital version of USHMC. “We want to present the data and accompanying analysis in a much more user-friendly format. Whereas a typical issue of USHMC runs to roughly 100 pages, many readers are really only interested in finding information about the city, town, or region where they live and work. In the past, that’s meant leafing through the printed version or searching the electronic [PDF] version by keyword or page number. Going forward, the navigation — getting to what you need — will be much simpler.” Another enhancement will be the ability to locate related content found in other PD&R publications through a single web page.

As noted in the 4th Quarter 2012 USHMC, the final print issue, “From the USHMC home page, readers will be able to access several other PD&R publications pertaining to regional and local housing market conditions, including the Comprehensive Housing Market Analysis (CHMA) and Market at a Glance (MAAG) reports. [R]eaders will have the option to search by report type or select a particular geography of interest and see all of the available reports for that particular geography.” The ability to assemble subject-specific content from what had previously been disparate sources will not only save time but also offer greater subject depth and a broader market perspective. Visitors will also be able to access archived content on the same or similar subjects in one convenient place.

“One of the really useful features is that [data set] content will be presented in the form of charts and graphs — much more readily comprehensible than what you see in the current table format,” says Kane. “Another interesting aspect is that the user will be able to select the specific information they want to work with. A chart or graph appears within the text, and data are provided reflecting activity from, say, 1980 to 2000. But if you only want to view and work with data from 1990 to 2000, you can select that content. The graphic is then redrawn right on the page, showing just the data you’re looking for.” This change reflects a conscious departure from the static approach to presenting content in favor of a more dynamic and interactive level of engagement with the reader.

PD&R’s field economists perform much of the data gathering and analysis at the regional and local levels, balancing the quarterly’s national perspective. Kane says that the field staff are responding positively to the news of USHMC’s evolving format. “They’re all excited about it, especially the changes we’ll see in the regional reports and Spotlights. Whereas the current versions have been mostly text, the new format will include maps, graphs, and tables. Their work will be significantly more accessible, in keeping with the ongoing shift toward more visual depiction of data.” The USHMC landing page will feature links to webcasts of past PD&R Quarterly Briefings (which summarize and clarify USHMC content), providing yet another opportunity for users to improve their understanding of current conditions and trends in the housing market.

The transition to more engaging online format is consistent with PD&R’s ongoing efforts to make its research more accessible and useful in real-world applications.