Former NAHB Chief Economist Michael Sumichrast Dies at 86
Michael Sumichrast, the former chief economist at NAHB for more than 20 years and the author of several books on housing — including “The Complete Book of Home Buying,” which, in 1979, correctly forecast the long-term housing boom fueled by the baby boomers — died of respiratory failure in Potomac, Md. on Sept. 4. He was 86.
“Respected by Fed chairmen and other prominent policy makers, Michael served with distinction and style as NAHB’s chief economist during the go-go days of the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s when the housing cycles were steep and frequent,” said Jerry Howard, NAHB’s CEO and executive vice president. “He was a colorful and perceptive housing analyst who gave prominence to our association and the industry it represents.”
Sumichrast served as the chief economist at NAHB from 1965 to 1986, when he retired. Highly regarded for his credibility, he is credited with helping make NAHB one of the most influential trade groups in Washington, D.C. Last year, Fortune magazine rated NAHB the 11th most effective lobbying organization in the nation’s capital.
Influential in his own right, Sumichrast consulted with presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. As the NAHB chief economist he also worked closely with Fed chairmen Arthur Burns, Paul Volker and Alan Greenspan and frequently testified before Congress.
Sumichrast was born in Trencin, Czechoslovakia. A college student at the onset of World War II, he joined the underground to fight the Nazis and was captured in Bratislava in 1944. He was able to avoid being shot when a Gestapo officer mispronounced his name when calling out the names of prisoners to be executed.
Sumichrast eventually escaped from the prison camp, made his way to Austria and emigrated to Australia, where he began working for home builders.
In 1955, Sumichrast emigrated to the United States and started working for a home builder in Morristown, Pa. A year later, he moved to Columbus, Ohio. In 1962, he earned his doctorate in economics from Ohio State University. He then moved to Washington, D.C. where he began work as an economist for NAHB.
After retiring from NAHB and after the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, Sumichrast traveled to Czechoslovakia to preach free enterprise. He also started a company, Czech Industries Inc., based in Rockville, Md., to foster investing in real estate in the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
He is survived by his wife, Eva, of 16 years; three sons; a stepdaughter; and nine grandchildren. His first wife, Marika, who he met and married in an Austrian displaced-persons camp immediately after WW II, died in 1986.