How data gave a charity the advantage in the property market

Image by Garry Knight
There’s one sector of society that has been particularly affected by the current financial climate.

With rents at an all-time high, there are many who earn too little to cover the costs of living in central London or commuting daily. At the same time, their salary puts them above the amount they need to qualify for assisted housing. These are the people for whom the term ‘squeezed middle’ was coined.

The Dolphin Square Foundation provides subsidised property for working Londoners, recognising that the capital’s economy needs workers, and those workers need homes they can afford to rent.

The Foundation acquires property within 25 minutes’ travel of central London, renovates it if necessary, and then provides access to qualifying families.

The challenge

As you’d expect, it’s important for the Dolphin Square Foundation that the property they source provides the lowest risk for their investment. And, in today’s overheated market, they need to bring to bear any advantage they can.

That’s why they asked mySociety to look at how Mapumental, combined with Zoopla’s property data, might help them to make more informed decisions on their purchases.

What we did

Mapumental, our transit-time mapping software, was explicitly designed to work with all kinds of data layers: you can add or remove them as needed, to create the data visualisation you need.

We’d already used the open data provided by Zoopla in our own Mapumental Property tool, combining travel times with Zoopla’s house price API to help people understand where they can afford to live and still have a manageable commute.

For this project, the crucial factor was the net yield— a weighted score of rental versus capital value, used frequently in the industry — for each postcode sector in greater London. Identifying those properties with the best potential net yield would give Dolphin Square the edge when it came to understanding what would offer the best return on investment.

The result

Mapumental provided us with the travel-time boundary data. Adding the net yield information in a heat-map format meant that we could furnish the Foundation with the exact information they needed, in a web application that updated in real time.

Using rental and capital valuation data from Zoopla, and combining it with transport isochrones from Mapumental we created an interactive web application showing the target search area. As a result, the Dolphin Square Foundation were able to put their money to the best possible use for that increasingly common breed, the squeezed middle.

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Image: Garry Knight (CC)