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Realtors' upbeat economist, Lereah, steps down

WASHINGTON, April 30 (Reuters) - The economist who prodded investors into the U.S. housing boom and has been skewered by bloggers during the bust is leaving a top real estate trade association, the group said Monday.

David Lereah, the author of ‘Are You Missing the Real Estate Boom?’, will leave the the National Association of Realtors’ by the middle of next month after serving as the head economist for seven years, a spokesman said.

Lereah was the Realtors’ analyst through the five-year run-up in home values that ended in 2005 and has continued to deliver the group’s outlook through the current downturn.

After leaving NAR, Lereah will become a senior executive at Move Inc., an online real estate service, said Lucien Salvant of the real estate agent trade group.

“David has been an expert in the field, is widely respected and has been an excellent spokesman for NAR,” Salvant said.

Still, others excoriate the former bank regulator and economist with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. for maintaining a rosy outlook on the home market even while the demand for homes has evaporated.

One blog, David Lereah Watch, cites passages from Lereah’s books and his encouraging words about the housing market and asks him to “admit he cheerleaded this destructive housing bubble.”

In October, Lereah said that he expected “sales activity to pick up early next year.” In recent months, Lereah has pushed his expectations for recovery deeper into 2007 and has trimmed his forecast for home sales for the year.

Salvant said Lereah was traveling Monday and could not be reached but noted that the economist “works for the Realtors’ association and people should not be surprised that he would take a Realtors’ point of view.”

Blanche Evans, the editor of Realty Times, an online magazine for real estate professionals, said Lereah’s outlook for the market is a reflection of his sunny disposition.

“That is part of his personality. He is one of the most bright and energetic people but that does not mean that he’s a Pollyanna,” said Evans, author of “Bubbles, Booms and Busts: Make Money in ANY Real Estate Market.”