Leadership

We Salute The Life Of A Housing Economics Icon: Frank Nothaft

For more than three decades, Nothaft stood at the nexus of housing data and action, a singular source of simple, elegant, and profound intelligence into one of the economy's most complex, dynamic, and impactful systems.

Leadership

We Salute The Life Of A Housing Economics Icon: Frank Nothaft

For more than three decades, Nothaft stood at the nexus of housing data and action, a singular source of simple, elegant, and profound intelligence into one of the economy's most complex, dynamic, and impactful systems.

June 8th, 2022
We Salute The Life Of A Housing Economics Icon: Frank Nothaft
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One of housing's economics icons, the dapper, gentle-souled, even-keeled Frank Nothaft died unexpectedly earlier this week at the age of 66.

Dr. Frank Nothaft's passing – as-yet unreported as to a cause of death – comes as a sharp, sorely-felt reminder that housing -- its leaders, its heartbeat, its lodestar of applied brilliance and routine tedious effort -- is always and forever the work and the lives of people, as individuals and as collectives.

The housing community -- less Frank Nothaft in our ranks – is a place suddenly and tragically missing a champion, one whose work embraced both the dynamism of market forces and the potential of housing as a core policy solution. While Nothaft did not literally build housing, literally hundreds of thousands of homes and thousands of neighborhoods and communities built up on pathways that began with his insight into the data as fuel for action. Countless people call home places built and developed on Nothaft's font of knowledge and intelligence.

So many of us, too – whose paths crossed with Frank's over the years he served housing's business and policy ecosystem – met with a man who knew clearly as well as anyone what housing's infinitely-deep interrelated data stack indicated, and who'd served, in his time, as a human fulcrum of housing's flood of economic inputs, ideas, trends, and blips. We'd meet with a man who felt full-force the nuance and power of those numbers to impact people. We'd meet with a man who thought constantly and freshly about what could be learned from the data, and how to bring its numbing complexity down to earth.

We'd meet with a man who had time for us; time to stand there and allow us to witness his brain at work. He'd make time because – it seemed – his calling involved building bridges to span the space between his knowledge and fluency and that of someone who'd need things dumbed down a bit.

In a tribute piece in the Orange County Register, longtime real estate correspondent Jeff Collins writes:

“He knew housing data better than anyone. He was also among the most decent human beings I have ever known,” said USC Professor Richard Green, director of the Lusk Center for Real Estate. Green said he worked with Nothaft for about 16 months at Freddie Mac. “He knew how to be at once exacting and kind. That is a rare combination.”
Leslie Appleton-Young, the California Association of Realtors’ chief economist from the early 1980s through 2020, said she was devastated by the news.
“He was always engaging, informative, generous with his time and expertise and generally made us all better economists,” Appleton-Young said in a text. “His integrity was impeccable — a straight-shooter who welcomed any opportunity to educate on the importance of housing, the value of homeownership as well as lessons learned in the wake of the Great Recession.”

Housing Wire staffer Georgia Kromrei writes in a salute to Nothaft:

Richard Koss, a former Fannie Mae official, said Nothaft “was devoted to accuracy and saying what he saw, not sugar-coating or making things look worse than they appear.
“You always knew that when you heard or saw what he wrote that you got his best view on something, you never had to think of it in the context of where he was working,” Koss said.
In 2021, more than a decade after observing the Great Recession from his perch at Freddie Mac, Nothaft spoke of lessons learned in that time, during an interview with an undergraduate student at Duke University.
“You want to have good, responsible underwriting conditions at play,” Nothaft said. “That’s one problem that occurred in 2005 and 2006 with the deterioration of underwriting standards.
“I think also important is having, whether it’s with external groups or internally, more of a healthy dialogue and culture to voice different opinions,” Nothaft said. “Not everyone’s going to agree, but you need to be, with staff internally, and in dialogue with external groups, to [be able to] feel like you can express what you see and what you believe in.”

For the past seven-plus years, from January 2015 until his death this week, Frank was executive and chief economist at CoreLogic. Prior, from November 1986 until the time he joined CoreLogic, Frank served as a researcher, senior economist, deputy chief economist, and chief economist at Freddie Mac.

CoreLogic's remembrance of Nothaft notes:

He was a prodigious purveyor of data, the go-to expert for trends and forecasting and a trusted colleague and friend to many at CoreLogic and the broader housing industry. Dr. Nothaft was a brilliant spokesperson and brand ambassador, often seen and quoted on Bloomberg News, CNBC and the Wall Street Journal.
Dr. Nothaft was active in his local community through his volunteer commitments. He served on the Board of Directors of the non-profit Falls Church Housing Corporation, which owns Section 8 housing in northern Virginia, received the Freddie Mac Community Service Award and was also the recipient of the 2020 HousingWire Vanguard Award. Dr. Nothaft also served as an economist on the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System.

By reputation, Frank Nothaft become a household name in housing, one that stood for real data, rigorous work at understanding it, and the simple, elegant, and profound work that could be done on its back.

Frank Nothaft, the Jersey boy, who wanted to excel in his studies, learn from the best at how housing economic knowledge and data can drive action and improve lives, and appeared in every way to love what he was doing – standing there, allowing you to see his brain at work, sharing housing economics' story – is that stark reminder that residential real estate and its solutions always and forever come down to people.

RIP to a never-dismal scientist, Frank Nothaft.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

John McManus

John McManus

President and Founder

John McManus, founder and president of The Builder’s Daily, is an award-winning editorial, programming, and digital content strategist. TBD's purpose is a community capable of constant improvement.

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John McManus, founder and president of The Builder’s Daily, is an award-winning editorial, programming, and digital content strategist. TBD's purpose is a community capable of constant improvement.

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