Property Research Helps Homebuyers by Heather Hilder on April 27, 2021 “Property Research Helps Homebuyers” Research Matters To say that the major online property portals have revolutionised the estate agency business would still be underplaying their impact. From relying on photos in branch office windows or glossy printed brochures as the main marketing tools, the whole industry has had to come to terms with presenting properties in their best light online. Research is one of my favourite topics. So I can’t wait to find out from my guest today how property research helps homebuyers. The major searchable property listings sites are now the first point of call for many prospective buyers. So it is my pleasure to talk to Grainne Gilmore, Head of Research at Zoopla, on my radio show ‘Let’s Talk Property’. Zoopla Research With 50 million users every month, Zoopla is one of the biggest UK property websites. Much of the portal’s success is down to the focus on providing users with access to accurate information. Sold house prices, area trends and various other statistics are all available, as are current value estimates. Data is gathered through various open sources such as the Royal Mail’s postcode database, HM Land Registry and Google maps. However, it is the innovative way that Zoopla uses and presents the information that I ask Grainne to tell us about. “I’ve been working in the research sector within housing for about nine years,” she begins, “and the breadth of data that’s available at Zoopla is unrivalled.” “We’re looking on a more macro level at the interplay between the different sectors. If there’s something happening locally in a rental market, what does that mean? What’s the knock-on impact for the sales market in that area? If you’ve got a new development coming in, what does that mean?” Grainne asks. Datasets I ask Grainne what it is that she loves about her work? “I’d say it’s a mixture of both information and writing reports – I hope that’s not a cop out!” she answers. “The datasets we have are unrivalled. And I have to say some of the moments of joy come from seeing some of my super talented colleagues get to grips with that data and watch what they can do with it. I just ask a very kind of offbeat question perhaps, or somebody else does, and then somehow this data comes together and works in such a way that it can really tell us something quite new about the market.” “The second part is writing and sharing it with everyone,” Grainne continues. “We’ve just put our latest House Price Index out this morning. As a result, and having just shared this, we’re getting responses from people seeing the data that we’ve got in a slightly different way. We’ve talked about how much the market speeds up, how fast things are moving, how fast flats are selling, how fast houses are selling right across the country, regional breakdown. So hopefully, this is useful information for all of our buyers, sellers, investors and agents.” Homebuyers’ Information in the Covid age “What we saw at the beginning of the first lockdown is the rise in demand for homes. We saw it within weeks. We could see this demand building at that stage, and the industry was still shut down,” Grainne recalls. “So as soon as it opened up, we knew there was going to be a surge in activity.” “And then once we unpicked the data we could see that it was more than pent up demand and it has continued at that high level. We then got the stamp duty holiday, which of course gave it another boost” she tells me. The powerful datasets she has access to are one thing, but sharing information is what Grainne also enjoys: “I like speaking to our consumers, speaking to our customers and that includes agents and new build developers too. There are regular forums where I’m sharing our data with them and then hearing their questions.” “They might email me afterwards just to see if we can help them in some regard. That’s always lovely and exciting to do. Hopefully though, if I’ve got it right, I will have answered all the questions before they ask them. That’s something I really enjoy doing.” Changes I ask Grainne how she thinks the last year has affected the lifestyles of buyers? “This reassessment of home and what it’s used for typically sees lots of busy office-based workers (or shop-based if they’re in retail or hospitality) view home as a sort of refuge when they’re not at work. And if it works for the weekends and evenings, that’s great,” she explains. “But that’s turned on its head as loads of people have been using home as their bases to do their work and to school their children. And so it’s really caused a real reassessment in many regards. Home is just as valuable and just as loved but, in some cases, we think that this search for space has been kind of precipitated by people saying ‘I want to be somewhere else or I want to live in a slightly different space’,” Grainne points out. “The rise in searches that we see now for home offices or a study suggest that (even through the end of the pandemic, and as the vaccine’s rolled out, and please God, we get back to some form of normality by the end of the year) people are still thinking about that kind of working-from-home element. Perhaps this wasn’t present at the beginning of 2020.” Research Tools I’ve moved home 22 times in my lifetime. I know that a tool that tells you how quickly you can find out whether the property price has increased or decreased would have been of great use. “On Zoopla we have a house price estimate tool that’s basically live all the time. So if you register with us and claim your home, tell us that’s where you live, you can then keep a running tally on it, and check in regularly to see how it’s going,” Grainne tells me. “I think agents and consumers and everyone would want to see a little bit more simplification, seeing things run smoother or seeing everything very transparently. So I think we’re part of that conversation to see if we can all work together to make that smoother journey because it benefits everyone in the end.” So where do estate agents fit in? With all the tools available, I asked why we need agents if we can get all this information online? Grainne says: “Agents can come in and tell you their knowledge about what’s sold locally, they can give you advice. I mean, we can do advice on the website about what might increase the value of your property. But an agent would come in, look at your home and tell you actually if you painted the ceiling white and did a red front door, doing that worked really well for the property two doors down.” “So agents offer real-time intelligence on what’s going on in your local market, and that’s invaluable.” Where next? I ask Grainne what would she improve or change about the industry if she could wave a magic wand? “I think I would come back to that point about the ease of the process and the transparency for everyone through the process,” she says. “Recently, because we’ve seen so much activity in the market, that period between ‘Sale Agreed’ and ‘Sale Completed’ has just extended. Everyone’s working flat out, the size of the conveyancing sector and the council searches, is seeing so much activity that things are just taking longer.” “So if that whole process could be even more transparent to make it easier for everyone to see what’s happening in real time, I think that would be a real benefit to everyone.” Future developments at Zoopla also involve more powerful tools to help homebuyers with their research. “A tool which allows you to remember your searches and then go back to them and compare them – what you would do in your shopping basket on Amazon for example, to go back rather than having to start from scratch every time you go in,” is something that Grainne sees as a next step development. “I think one of the really good tools that Zoopla already has is heat maps. These show people the activity in the market in the area they’re looking at,” she expands. “That works for investors, not just people looking to buy a house, but also people who are looking to see the demand of the house.” Positive feedback is something that Grainne welcomes as Head of Research: “I feel that people are always challenging us in a constructive way about the latest APP or the latest tool to use to get the most out of it,” she says. Zoopla specifics I think Grainne has some great ideas that will really make a difference. In the meantime, I ask her to tell us how we can find out more about what Zoopla does right now? “On the website there are stories you can find under Discover or News and Guides. There are houses, properties, flats, flats with gardens, flats near the sea, houses near the sea, any type of property you might want to have a look at for yourself. All the search terms are in there,” she explains. The benefits are there for both sellers and buyers too, as Grainne explains: “There are tools to help you decide what you should be looking at and where. And if you’re a homeowner and you’re thinking, is it time for me to move? Go to the homeowner’s page, check out our estimate, get in touch with your local agent, get a valuation, and take your journey from there.” It’s true how property research helps homebuyers from the start. You can hear me talking to a wide range of industry experts on my Radio Reverb show ‘Let’s Talk Property’ broadcasting on 97.2FM, DAB+ and online both ‘live’ and ‘listen again‘.