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How to find and use housing data

By Haotian Mai

"It’s a fascinating time to be studying housing,” said Skylar Olsen, a senior economist from Zillow. On Thursday, Olsen sat on a housing data panel with Tim Henderson, a demographics writer and data analyst for Stateline, at the 2017 CAR Conference.

For companies like Zillow, housing data fuels their services. For homeowners, housing data reflects how the market is performing and how it’s affecting their real lives. But for journalists, there are stories to be told.

Although some metro areas have seen optimistic growth in housing prices, the realities vary from place to place. Some still have a long way to go for restoring the market vitality from the housing crash almost a decade ago.

Olsen explained that Jacksonville, the host city for this year’s conference, has ranked as one of the highest “negative equity rates” in the country, where mortgage homeowners are paying rates even higher than the home values.

Several other findings Olsen shared:

  • Low-value homes endure more trauma.
  • We are not building enough homes for millennials entering the market.
  • Racial divisions are persistent, and communities with black and Hispanic pluralities suffer more on housing values.

Revealing trends in housing data is one thing, but transforming them into news stories is another. Henderson also shared resources and tips for making stories out of housing data:

  • American Community Surveys, available at
  • Census building permits reflect population changes.
  • Census construction data will help you compare single-family vs multi-family homes.
  • A local Housing and Urban Development office should be able to provide summary statistics by census tract or zip code.
  • Private data wranglers like Zillow and ATTOM compile real estate records from around the country.
  • Local housing inspections can lead you to problem landlords who may be hiding behind LLCs and other obfuscated ownership.
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