Research: Another Agency Battleground

The announcement of a new two-person residential research team at Hamptons International is the latest evidence that resi data production is a busy marketplace.

A decade ago there were relatively few sources of info about the housing market: Knight Frank and Savills were the only estate agents doing anything like serious research, with the Nationwide, Halifax, Hometrack and RICS producing monthly data too.

Now we are spoilt for choice and not only with a plethora of house price indices (there were 11 of those at my last count).

A range of top-end agencies including Strutt & Parker, Chesterton Humberts, Cluttons and Carter Jonas today have their own researchers, typically concentrating on core high value markets, while other agency/consultancies like Jones Lang LaSalle and CB Richard Ellis produce more specialist ad hoc research.

Several specialist research bodies like EG’s London Residential Research have appeared in recent years too while business consultancies such as Capital Economics - long-time doomsters eventually proved right about the market - are now major research voices.

Although most of these research teams exist to bolster their own firms, markets and clients, or create an income stream by undertaking commercial research for other industry players, a by-product is that some of the research is issued to the wider public and media.

It works in terms of publicity: roughly 50 per cent of last weekend’s hard-copy property press reports cited research of some kind. A few stories had data as the main peg while the large majority invoked authoritative statistics in support of a wider angle.

But this glut of hard data produces a few hidden issues, too.

Firstly, much of the data given to the public is high-end and London- and south of England-centric - because that is the most competitive part of the house selling market where fees and agent bonuses are highest, and where journalistic interest remains strong. (Notable exceptions include LSL data, as well as Halifax, Nationwide, Rightmove and Hometrack).

Secondly, any ‘back of an envelope’ data (in other words, half-baked ‘sentiment’ surveys or flakey research of the kind often produced by PRs for short-lived online firms) will look pretty lame when compared to the high quality material from professionals.

Thirdly, while research about prices inevitably grabs the headlines, arguably more valuable and interesting research is going on with less attention. For example, I was very impressed recently to hear of Savills’ ongoing and long-term study of the implementation of the Community Infrastructure Levy.

Residential research appears never to have been in a healthier condition. Just in time, it seems, for a possible recovery in the UK’s housing market.

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