Methodology limitations

Finding all the relevant data is being a challenge due to a lack of transparency by corporate landlords and to difficulties in getting data that are comparable across cities. Therefore, we would like the “Cities for Rent” investigation to become the start of an open collaborative effort towards more cross-border research into the crisis of housing affordability in European cities and how that affects people’s lives.

That is why on this site we are sharing our research methodology and our approach to data visualisation, and why we are making available a data catalogue of our investigation.

However, all research has limitations and we also want to be transparent about the current limitations of our investigation and the difficulties we have been encountering.

Generally speaking, aiming at covering cities and therefore at getting data at the city level is proving to be very challenging. For the most part, we’ve been finding that data from official sources aren’t reported in a systematic and accessible way, or aren’t reported at all, which means we have to find alternative sources. When the data are available, their definitions and methodology often differ from one city to another, which makes comparing and visualising the data across cities very complicated, or in some occasions simply not possible.

Despite the relevance of the topic at hand (everyone does need a home), there are no public registries of some of the key data to have a properly informed public debate, like how many homes corporate landlords own and how much money is invested by whom into housing in our cities.

All that results in lack of transparency about the way corporate landlords and other actors operate in our housing markets, and what their role and impact is on the crises of housing affordability affecting many European cities.

We believe that more collaborative research is needed to shed light on the topic of corporate landlords and other housing issues, and that our effort and the“Cities for Rent” investigation are a step in that direction.

These are some more details about the limitations we encountered during our work.

What corporate landlords to research
  • We aimed to research the most relevant corporate landlords per city and across Europe, and we assumed the biggest companies (in terms of number of homes owned and/or of invested capital), those most active (in terms of buying and selling homes), and those with a clear impact on their tenants’ lives (in terms of there having reports of corporate landlords mistreating their tenants) would be a good point to start.
  • However, while some corporate landlords are well known and very visible in some cities, others try to hide or minimise their presence, and in almost every case we didn’t know at the beginning how many homes different corporate landlords owned in different cities or what their financial dealings were, which meant we had to resort to research those companies that were most visible even if we might be missing some relevant corporate landlords.

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Data about the number of homes owned by corporate landlords, including details like addresses and date of acquisition
  • These are key data indexes to properly research and visualise the impact of corporate landlords on housing markets. However, these data turned out to be extremely difficult to get in a systematic and comparable way about all the companies and cities we have been covering in the first phase of our investigation.
  • We ended up with high quality data about some companies in some cities, and with many incomplete data and many gaps about quite a few companies across our cities. That meant that in the first phase of the investigation we were not able to publish, visualise or generally use some of the data we had worked very hard to get, which was quite frustrating.
  • Getting these data is a continuing effort.

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Data about rental and property markets
  • Indexes like the evolution of rental and property prices and household income are often not reported systematically at the city level by official sources.
  • Similarly, data about the share of tenants and of people who live in their own home, and about the share of home ownership by type of entity (individual, company, other organisation, the state) are most often not available at the city level.
  • When the data are available, across cities the definitions and methodology usually vary. Regarding rental prices, for instance, in some places the data are about “apartment prices”, in other places they are about different kinds of apartments, and in other places they are about “price per square metre”.
  • All that makes it very complicated to get comprehensive data that we could visualise in a comparative way across the cities we were covering, and we haven’t been able to publish some tables and visualisations that we initially aimed at getting.

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Data about capital flows into housing markets across Europe
  • These are key data to understand and to visualise the main actors in our housing markets, as well as their behaviour and influence. However, those data are simply not publicly accessible, as it’s only consultancy firms and real estate companies who try to compile those data and who offer them as a product to their customers.
  • In our case, in the end we were able to get data about capital flows from Real Capital Analytics (RCA), which were really useful to provide us with a general frame about the evolution of investments into housing markets and to identify relevant companies to investigate per city and overall.
  • However, some differences between the data definitions and methodologies used by RCA and those of other data indexes we had been getting also made it difficult for us to visualise and compare the data comprehensively across the cities we were covering.

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Data and information about regulations affecting corporate landlords
  • This can be very helpful to study how different regulations correlate with the different ways in which corporate landlords behave and the impact they have across cities; and we managed to get and visualise some comparative tables about general regulations across countries.
  • However, more time and work are needed to get a properly comprehensive and detailed view of what are the relevant regulations at the different city, national and EU levels, and how these regulations affect corporate landlords’ impact on housing across European cities.

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Data about corporate landlords’ financial accounts, lobbying and tax incentives
  • While offering some of the best opportunities for cross-border stories, getting these types of data and information require so much time and work that in the end we were not able to get enough to make them a key part of our research and stories during the first phase of the investigation.
  • Getting these data and information is a continuing effort, and we would like to use them in a follow-up to the first phase of our investigation.