As part of our ongoing look at the use of housing data by property portals we spoke to Pisos.com CEO Miguel Ángel Alemany and Director of Studies Ferran Font about how the Spanish property portal uses data as well as the property marketing landscape in Spain and how the recent buyout of a rival has actually raised the value of Pisos.com.
A new report on the state of Spanish housing seems to crop up on my newsfeed every day. How often does Pisos.com release a housing data report?
Ferran: At Pisos.com we release different types of market reports. We do monthly and quarterly reports on the evolution of sale and rent prices which go out to the media, and at the start of the year we publish our view of what has happened throughout the year as well as predictions for the upcoming year. We also have our shared accommodation portal pisocompartido.com from which we release yearly demand figures.
What are the main reasons for producing these reports? Is it a great excuse to communicate with your users and generate press mentions or is it purely to make your product better for end-users?
Ferran: We at Pisos.com have real relevance in the sector, namely: data. In a market such as Spain where historically public data has not been as accessible as it should, we see it as our responsibility to share our knowledge with the market.
This allows us to help not only those looking for a new home, but those looking to sell or rent out their homes as well. They’re able to do so thanks to direct access to these kinds of reports and the press that shares them. We add our contribution to the mix so that the market is a little more transparent which is generally appreciated by users, customers and the media.
Can you give us an idea of exactly what company resources go into producing and disseminating a housing market report from Pisos.com?
Ferran: Obtaining and sharing quality data in a simple and attractive format involves a lot of different people and departments not just to create the reports, but to share them as well. Although not everyone involved is solely dedicated to producing these reports, each report involves database administrators, research analysts, journalists to write them up as well as designers to present the graphics. Then, obviously, our communication department shares the report with the press and our users.
Ferran, as a Director of Studies, what does your job involve? Is there an element of trying to build a personal ‘brand’ around your housing market commentary as others have done?
Ferran: My job encompasses many different aspects which are all related to market evolution. As Director of Studies, my role is that of managing, verifying, and unifying the collection of all of our data and any feedback that might interest us about market trends and presenting a report from it. The other side of my tasks is the continuous following of official figures and generating our predictions.
This side of it involves being the spokesperson for the company, which is why I’m in charge of public reaction to official figures and news that the administration generates. Obviously, all of the public exposure adds up to personal brand, but this is more of a consequence of my responsibility rather than an objective.
Miguel Ángel, Pisos.com is part of Vocento, a large publishing company that includes a lot of prominent Spanish publications, is there any overlap in data use between the companies in Vocento? For example, can you see user metrics from newspapers such as ABC, and if you aren’t able to see these metrics, would they even be useful to a property portal?
Miguel Ángel: Forming part of one of the most important media groups in Spain gives us a lot of opportunities and synergies as a property portal. Being able to offer a better service to our group customers through shared data usage is a goal that we have started to take steps towards and hope to achieve as soon as possible. Offering a better service is, from our point of view, showing properties to someone looking for a new home and at the same time showing them quality content related to that new life that they might be about to start: news, audio-visual content, gastronomy...
We recently published an article from the Chairman of Juwai that suggested that portals are now more important than governments when it comes to housing data. Do you agree with that assessment?
Miguel Ángel: Both have a role to play. In Spain, we have accumulated years of experience collecting asking price data and we present it in an attractive way. This coupled with the fact that historically the administration has released piecemeal data in a cumbersome way has made us something of a reference point in the industry, not only for the administration itself but for property professionals and the house-hunting public.
In my opinion, the big difference in the information we offer is that we can instantly reflect the changing supply and demand. The official data is always subject to a delay in its release and its function is to reflect what has already happened rather than what is happening right now. A good example of this is the situation that has arisen from the Covid 19 pandemic: we have been able to detect and communicate behavioral changes in our users very quickly.
As a challenger to a fairly dominant market-leader in Idealista, how does Pisos.com sell itself? Is there a unique value proposition you can offer that others cannot?
Miguel Ángel: Firstly, being part of a big media group like Vocento sets us apart as we can count on print and digital titles that are clear leaders in their markets and which help us to compete on a level playing field with idealista in many provinces of Spain.
In relation to idealista’s market position, the reality is that Pisos.com, whose value lies in its excellent level of service complimented by a value proposition based on delivering the best return on marketing investment for its clients, has real approval and loyalty in the market.
All of our teams are focused on the client and it’s this closeness of all of our commercial teams and our corporation more broadly that makes Pisos.com a portal with its own identity. This is a focus that estate agencies, private advertisers and users value very positively.
How do you see the Spanish property portal scene changing over the next few years? What might be the impact of Idealista’s recent acquisition by EQT?
Miguel Ángel: Our vision for the future has always included the consolidation of the real estate classifieds players in Spain. That consolidation has translated into three big portals (idealista, Fotocasa and Pisos.com) that dominate the market and allows for healthy competition and choice for our customers to select the option that suits them best.
The consolidation also has the effect of raising the value of our business, you only need to look at the price paid by EQT for idealista, a direct competitor of ours that will have new opportunities within its reach now. For our part, we will continue to forge our own path in the medium to long term.
We have recently seen Zillow moving towards the transaction by becoming a brokerage (albeit for now only for transactions from its iBuying division). While this is obviously a slightly extreme step taken by a dominant market leader, is Pisos.com looking to move its business model away from pay-to-list advertising and towards the transaction in any way?
Miguel Ángel: We are conscious that changing times demand new services and that as a portal we must position ourselves as close to the transaction as possible. That means both improving our portal by adding new functionality and providing it with an platform that is capable of generating more interaction and confidence from the user but always with the aim of helping our clients and never competing with them. It’s in our DNA as a company to provide the best service to our clients who, in their majority, are estate agents, which is why we don’t have any proposition on the table to enter definitively into the transaction.
Finally, returning to the subject of housing data. One interesting trend we’ve heard about (but not necessarily seen statistics to back up) is the migration of short term Airbnb-type rentals onto the long term rental market in cities like Madrid and Barcelona. Is this something you’ve seen in the data, or just anecdotal?
Ferran: The paralysis caused by the coronavirus in the property sector, along with all others, is obvious. Lockdowns in countries that bring tourists to Spain brought tourism to a grinding halt meaning that short term rentals to these types of customers became unprofitable, especially compared to long term rentals. In fact, the occupation rate of this type of rentals this summer fell 50% across the country and with losses incurred expected to be €3 billion for 2020.
On our portal we have seen it as well. More than 20% of all listings published as tourist lettings before the pandemic have switched to long term rentals.