It was a blustery Autumnal day when Dealmakerz sat down outside a coffee house in Kings Cross to talk house price data with Sandra Jones, the MD of Dataloft, arguably the leader in this market for estate agents.
The London-based company and its competitors are all thriving because they offer smaller agents and developers the kind of house price report and management information that until relatively recently, only the big corporates had access to.
“I think there is a growing expectation among vendors, developers, investors and landlords that an agent will be able to provide hard evidence and not just opinion and speculation,” says Jones.
The venue for our interview was to accommodate Jones, who was about to jump on a train to Celtic Manor in Wales for the Resi Conference 2019 where freshly-minted housing minister Esther McVey was due to speak.
Unlike the minister, Jones has been in residential for some time.
“I did a lot of development consultancy in the City and London including the area around Kings Cross looking at demand for office space in the early days, working for small investment agencies and later as a freelance consultant,” says Jones.
“And then the commercial players became interested in residential because of the ‘office to resi’ permitted development rights boom and the opportunities that it created.
“I was involved in helping write GLA policy around the commercial market including looking at how much space was being lost to residential.”
And she also worked for Westminster City Council looking at the impact of prime residential on communities.
One of her other clients was Dataloft and, after the founder Harriet Black died in 2017, she stepped in to run the company having already worked with it for several years.
“Dataloft came out of the Savills research team and was started up by both Harriet and four of her research colleagues that she took with her in order to offer white label research to agents and developers,” says Jones.
“I wanted to ensure that everything she had achieved wasn’t lost and that the platform she had been building most recently made it to market,” she says.
That product was Inform, the company’s self-service housing market and house price suite that enables agents to create reports and other material to present to clients, buy-to-let investors, landlords and vendors.
“We offer a range of templated reports for local areas that mainly multi-branch agents use to take to a pitch or an appraisal, but because it also uses infographics it’s also very useful as social media content.
“The appeal for them is that, if you’re a 50-200 branch chain, for example, you can’t have its head office writing that many local market reports every month,” she says.
The company also offers a consultancy service for a wide range of property industry companies including bigger players such as Foxtons and developers such as Galliard who don’t have research teams.
“Foxtons is big but they don’t have that in-house capability and that’s what we’re good at and what we specialise in,” she says.
“For example, we write a quarterly report on the lettings market for Foxtons and they are also increasingly involved in the build-to-rent sector, so we’re working with them on that too.
“We use their internal data to do the reporting and it’s incredibly tidy because their internal protocols on collection are so watertight.
“With other clients, and in particular franchise groups, that tends not to be the case.”
But all this begs one huge question; why do agents and developers need data; why spend the money with Dataloft? Jones makes the point that companies like hers don’t just sell data; they offer insight and that’s critical.
“For example, a lot of agents’ websites feature raw Land Registry data and consequently the number are all ‘over the place’,” she says
“Average prices in a very small geography can vary hugely from month to month so you need to clean the data, smooth out anomalies and constantly check and watch what’s going on,” says Jones.
“You’ve got to use data responsibly and if you do, then you can make a story out of it because, ultimately, you’re trying to begin a conversation; agents don’t use our data for valuations.
“It’s all about nurture marketing; keeping your company front of mind by telling them something interesting.”
Dataloft is not all about house prices, though. It also offers a unique and, frankly, mind boggling platform that holds huge data on the rental sector going back five years including rent paid, and demographic details of age and profession taken from referencing company-supplied data sets.
“If for example a build-to-rent developer is looking at a location with a target rent of ‘x’, we can help them determine whether the data supports that and, if it doesn’t, where else they need to look,” says Jones.
“It’s information that’s not available anywhere else.”
On that note, it’s time for Jones to set off for a few days of networking and meetings in Wales. Perhaps after it finishes tonight, a few more agents will realise how important data is rapidly becoming in the housing market.