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DATA: An Economic Raw Material?

Posted April 28, 2012 by Ian. Filed under Data .

According a leaked letter, the Liberal Democrat Business Secretary suggests that despite nearly 24 months into Government, the coalition has yet to figure out which sectors offer growth opportunity or may stimulate the economy. With the UK teetering close to falling back into recession, the concession that the UK Government doesn’t know how to stimulate the economy is a scary thought indeed. But perhaps one of the answers is much closer than they think. In fact they could be sitting on it.

Government 'sits' on a colossal amount of data. It collects, collates, stores and manages billions upon billions of records including Statistics, Timetables, Maps and Planning data all comprising a vast and extremely rich resource. Unfortunately much of it is isolated in data ‘silos’ and its use is often limited to those within the confines of Government.

The Right to Data

The UK Government has recognised the need to address the issue of access to Public Sector information and so created the Open Data Initiative. Whilst much of its positive impact has yet to be felt in Northern Ireland, the Open Data Initiative offers a great starting point but it must be enshrined in Public Sector policy and especially so at Stormont. Furthermore, the public sector must change its ethos to (1) adopt a culture of openness, (2) recognise that its primary role is to deliver services and (3) retract from developing commercial products or services – that’s what SME’s are for and that's who will spark economic growth.

Recently, the economic think tank, Policy Exchange, suggested that all non-personal data held by the public sector should be made available to the public for free. In a research note entitled ‘A Right to Data’, Policy Exchange advocates opening up public data so that it can be linked, analysed and made useful could provide a huge economic and social boost. Some estimates of the overall benefits of opening up all publicly held data suggest that the upside for the economy could run into the billions of pounds – exponentially more than the mere £50m per year that the Exchequer recovers.

Benefits

We want this data because of the Economic, Social and Political advantages it brings. Economic: because much of this data, such as Postcodes, Maps and Statistics, is so embedded in the fabric of modern economic life that it represents a digital infrastructure which underpins the business world and offers a wealth of opportunity for Innovation and Commercialisation. Social: because now we consume large amounts of data on a daily basis and our demands are constantly increasing, with Facebook, Twitter and Google being prime examples. This should also be true of Government data. Political: Transparency offers accountability and access to information provides improved decision making opportunities, informed choices and enables improvement.

The agility and innovation of SME’s can exploit and create products or services from this data, thereby creating a new market based on public sector data. In doing these so will contribute to - maybe even spark - the economy.

According to Tim Kelsey, Director of Transparency and Open Data for HM Government, “Sharing Data - transparency – may turn out to be the most important public policy of our time. The benefits and opportunity of Open Data outweigh any inaugural issues.”

We couldn’t agree more. Stormont, go get the keys and let’s Innovate.

Acknowledgements
Policyexchange.org.uk

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The Finance Act (2003) and The Holy Grail

Posted February 28, 2012 by Ian. Filed under Analysis.

It is generally accepted that understanding the wide variety of information impacting the Property Sector is fundamental to managing the current situation, instigating change and rebuilding confidence in what is a shattered Construction Industry. Understanding where we went wrong and why is necessary for us to deal with the legacy issues and to create a viable plan for the future.

A wide variety of data, such as information on Planning Applications or Development Status, are pivotal to managing our way out of the current malaise but nothing is more important to fully understanding the dynamics of the property market than information on property sales transactions. It’s the Holy Grail. It tells us what’s selling, where, what for and provides a unique insight into how the property sector might react. Remarkably, this information is available throughout the UK but is not available in Northern Ireland. A quick phone call and a small credit card payment later will provide a file containing data on every property transaction in Edinburgh, London or Cardiff but not in Belfast. So how come?

People have been chasing this data for years and it seems the answer lies within HMRC. All property sales within Northern Ireland are recorded and managed by HMRC. In fact, HMRC provides regular updates of residential sales transactions to Land and Property Services – a division within the Department of Finance and Personnel, to assist in their valuation process but LPS doesn’t supply this information to anyone else.

 

This is a ridiculous situation as the same information is available elsewhere in the UK and the vendor and buyer information is completely irrelevant to analysis. Notwithstanding, there are two fundamental issues arising. Firstly, UK Government policy and the policy of every political party in Northern Ireland is to engender an entrepreneurial spirit and specifically to encourage SME’s to create product from data hitherto kept within the confines of government. Secondly, there is the very valid societal argument that the release of this data into the public domain will be advantageous to ‘NI PLC’ as a whole because access to real market transactions will allow a comprehensive understanding of the market and offer a definitive rather than abstracted view of what’s really going on – something which many commentators blame for some of the lack of confidence in the Housing market.

So, because the Government refuses to release this data products, services and jobs cannot be created. We also cannot effectively manage our way out of this mess. Yet again we in Northern Ireland are being unfairly treated by the dead hand of the public sector, the search for the Holy Grail goes on…

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Congratulations Pat!

Posted November 18, 2011 by Ian. Filed under Good News.

Pat Goddard, Johnson County Assessor, wife of Tom, spatialest® client and all round good egg was recently awarded the prestigious title of ‘Assessor of the Year’ at the annual North Carolina Association of Assessing Officers in New Bern , NC. IAAO President, Mr Bruce Woodzell, presented the award to Pat at a Gala Banquet.

We’d like to add our congratulations to Pat and her wonderful team in Smithfield, NC who have been spatialest® users for the last few years. Well done Pat and we look forward to seeing you in Smithfield in the near future!

 

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House Prices and Ice Cream Vans

Posted September 22, 2011 by Ian. Filed under Analysis.

If we believe the press then it’s all ‘Doom and Gloom’ in the property market. House Prices are falling, everyone is in negative equity and Estate Agents are quieter than an ice cream van in Millisle on a cold February afternoon. The most recent House Price Index (HPI) published by Bank of Ireland, Northern Ireland Housing Executive and University of Ulster suggests that further falls are expected until the end of 2011, but is that the complete picture? Well it would be wrong to suggest that property prices are recovering ‘en masse’ but based on some year on year analysis we think there are some reasons why the HPI seems to be in constant decline and how its banner headlines should include caveats. Could there even be some tiny, green shoots of recovery in Northern Ireland?

Evidence?

The HPI suggests that property prices are still in decline however there may be some basic reasons for this. Firstly, if lower value property is the only part of the market which is transacting then it stands to reason that the average price will reduce. Secondly, significant numbers of property listed for sale may be on the instruction of lenders. These properties do not represent the real market value but in the absence of any other transactions offer the only market evidence. Consequently the ‘clear out’ of portfolios may be further mis-representing the market and actually exacerbating the situation. This is something which NAMA has considered carefully and, so far, has managed well. Lastly, it’s also useful to understand that the HPI is a regional average and therefore offers an average taken from a large and typically heterogeneous area.

Anecdotal evidence from some Agents has suggested that for the last 3-6 months or so some modest recovery is happening, certainly within some sectors of the market and in specific locations. Transactions are increasing and more properties are being listed by what’s often described as the ‘typical’ owner occupier - people who wish to move house – rather than investors, portfolio owners or perhaps even liquidators. Certainly places such as south or east Belfast have seen some encouraging signs for the Real Estate market.

Analysis

We’ve done some analysis using year on year and quarterly changes and compared various areas and sectors within Northern Ireland to see if there is any good news out there. Regional Towns are often cited as suffering more than most during the property price correction so we’ve taken a look at Comber, Portballintrae and Strabane as being roughly representative of the three sub-groups of regional towns in Northern Ireland: Comber – Commuter town to Belfast; Portballintrae – Second Home / Retirement Area; Strabane – Western Market Town. Each has seen an uplift, albeit slight, in some sectors suggesting that higher value properties are being listed for sale. The reasons for this are many and varied but the general assumption taken is that if higher value properties are being listed then there is some confidence that these properties can sell.

Interpretation

The information collated and statistics presented here are taken from residential property currently listed for sale and property listed for sale within the last 2 years. The quarterly graphs may indicate an positive or negative change in median value for listed residential property but this does not indicate a commensurate percentage change for that sector. There could be many reasons why a region or property type sees an increase or decrease. An increase may be caused by the addition of new listings with higher asking prices or a decrease in median property listings may be attributed to asking prices being reduced or less expensive property being listed during a quarter. Foreclosure sales or similar will skew the statistics, which is why we’ve used a median, and whilst these sales represent market transactions they do not accurately reflect the actual market.

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Coming to a hill near you!

Posted August 03, 2011 by Ian. Filed under Maps.

A few years ago there was outrage on the North Coast of Northern Ireland when Government asked developers to submit tenders for an offshore wind farm between Portstewart and Donegal. Residents were outraged at the potential impact some 50 turbines each 60m high would have on their views and, by association, tourism in an area recognised for its scenery. A beautiful vista ruined by an offshore wind farm? The farm didn’t go ahead but in the interim turbines did spring up all over Northern Ireland – possibly in less contentious but equally beautiful locations. Most upland areas now contain groups of turbines. Perhaps the local populations there were less vocal, weren’t sufficiently coordinated or just had no say in the matter.

Opponents point to the environmental impact these ‘green’ colossus create, such as the creation of access roads to the farm locations, the materials required to manufacture the equipment, the obvious visual intrusion on the landscape, the requirement of transmission lines via pylons from the farms to the grid, and the impact the massive blades have on local bird populations, many of which are already endangered. However, as directives from Europe require an increase in ‘green’ energy of at least five times the current output of around 5.7 gigawatts (GW) we suspect there will be an awful lot more wind turbines erected throughout the country.

Wind Turbines are now a big business. There have been almost 850 wind turbine planning applications lodged in NI since January 2010 covering mostly the north of the province and ranging in size from small scale ‘personal’ installations on places such as farms to 80m giants with 50m blades.

A rural idyll nestled away in the foothills might not be so attractive if planning permission for a wind farm and associated transmission lines was granted nearby. Typically a pylon in the immediate vicinity of a property can wipe up to 40% off the price. So that’s started to get people interested in exactly where these things are being located.

So if you’re interested in what’s planned near you, near your favourite forest or where you like to visit at weekends or during holidays then Pii Planning is for you. You might just be surprised.

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Coefficients in Chicago - IPTI June 2011

Posted June 20, 2011 by Ian. Filed under Events.

I recently travelled to Chicago, IL to present at the inaugural Spatial Analysis and Assessment Modelling Symposium, organised by The International Property Tax Institute, (IPTI). Essentially this was a conference dedicated to the application of advanced spatial analytics within the Assessment Industry with a general theme of ‘How to bring GIS and GeoStatistics into the equation’. As expected most of the main ‘players’ from the Computer Assisted Mass Appraisal (CAMA) Industry were in attendance and whilst the theme was general, surface response techniques were a common thread. I’m sure most people don’t know the difference between a Gaussian and Spherical Kriging option, Lags and Sills or why the Akaike Information Criterion might be important but for us GIS guys that’s interesting – at least to a point.


Simple Kriging Equation

There is no doubt that interpolated surfaces are extremely useful analytical mechanisms. For example, in countries where there is a lack of suitable property characteristics data they can prove invaluable in determining a ‘location value’. (I would argue, however, that where suitable data comprising property characteristics exists then the impact of location is implicit within the sales data, but that’s for another day and another Blog.) Surfaces may also assist with the delineation, correction or adjustment of neighbourbood boundaries and of course the generation of a sales ratio surface is probably one of the most common applications within the CAMA industry. The density, distribution and range of the variable used to create a surface will help determine which technique is most suitable and this is where some understanding of the processes and modelling parameters is required and it’s also where we start to encounter problems.

Surfaces are, however, only one way of integrating spatial information into an essentially aspatial modelling environment. Integrating geography within assessment modelling can comprise many more feature types than mere cells. Simple spatial queries can identify all parcels that border water and using an analysis toolset, such as spatialest, this ‘geo-tag’ can be added to the database and modelling process in seconds. Consequently proximity to water can be easily tested and modelled. This simple method of including geography can significantly enhance the predictive accuracy of a model and can ensure any comparables selected for waterfront properties are also on the water. A simple and effective use of geography.

So why isn’t this simple operation a common process in every assessment office? I suggest a lack of awareness is the main reason. Many appraisers are simply not aware of fundamental GIS operations and how can we expect them to be if they aren’t trained? 

In my opinion there must be a fundamental review of what is taught to appraisers and what content is offered during their continuing education programmes. For example, there are State accredited statistics classes offered to Appraisers which count towards accreditation and a licence to practice. My guess is that these statistics classes were commensurate with computerisation. The same should be true for spatial analysis. State accredited GIS courses should be offered to Appraisers that count as continuing professional development hours. The simple example in the last paragraph is only simple if you know it can be done. If you’re blissfully unaware then it might as well be rocket science.

I suggest a valid course would provide a fundamental overview of spatial analysis and techniques to make Appraisers more aware of what can be done rather than re-train them as GIS professionals. Of course this will also have the additional benefit of more people wanting to consume spatial data, which is always a good thing. Hopefully organsiations such as IPTI, URISA and IAAO can act as a conduit for these ideas and use their resources to deliver some GIS based training course content for the Appraisal Industry. You know it makes sense!

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Ulster's Gold Coast?

Posted April 22, 2011 by Ian. Filed under Maps.

Previously we explained how we use maps to convey information, explain patterns and trends or better understand our locality or environment. This month we have selected 'Residential Property Values for North Down, N Ireland' as the map of the month. High value residential property areas will be coloured red whilst lower value propery areas are shown in blue. Check it out.

North Down, situated due east of Belfast, is known as Northern Ireland's "Gold Coast". It is home to some of the most exclusive and expensive real estate in the country with residential property in places such as Holywood, Cultra and Helen's Bay all commanding serious asking prices. So whilst there has been a dramatic correction in residential property prices over the past few years, North Down still appears in the top percentile in the Country. However, it's not all 'have and have yachts'. Bangor, the largest town in the Borough, sees the complete property value spectrum, although in most sectors is still above the national average.

 

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Why a recurrent property tax is a good thing

Posted April 12, 2011 by Ian. Filed under Analysis.

Taxes levied on land and property are a common part of balanced revenue systems throughout the world but especially so in N American and Europe. The theoretical stability of such a tax makes it attractive as a process whilst the immovable nature of land or property makes tax avoidance difficult and the market value of such assets suggests an ability to pay. The application of a property tax at a transactional level, such as Stamp Duty in the UK, suffers from market fluctuations and is therefore difficult to predict and thus plan against, as has been seen recently in Ireland. The optimum property tax is a recurrent one.

Property Tax Man

Each year Council Tax is collected in England via property value bands established in 1991. There has been a significant change in property values since the early 90's, notwithstanding the bubble of 2007 and consequently these value bands are disproportionately low and a priori tax revenue collected is also lower than it should be.

During the mid 2000's the then Government did consider a domestic reappraisal but an absence of core data, such as size of the property, number of rooms, condition and so forth, combined with a Government with little appetite to proceed meant that the project was quietly mothballed. The financial landscape has changed significantly since then.

By performing a domestic revaluation and realigning the Council Tax bands to be more reflective would be a highly efficient way of increasing tax revenues without overburdening those least able to pay.

A recurrent property tax is reasonably easy to administer, is difficult to avoid, provides a transparency in ability to pay and offers a stable taxation process for governments. It just needs the political will.

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Hot & Not Spots

Posted March 22, 2011 by Ian. Filed under Maps.

We use maps to help us understand and explain things, such as property prices, land values, the viability of a construction development or the impact of planning schemes. Mapping information lets us better understand distribution, patterns or trends. It allows us to recognise geographic relationships, such as clusters of behavior, and gain an insight into why they are there. This process is called 'Geographic Analysis'. We provide geographic solutions and analysis to help our clients better understand and manage their data.

This month we are publishing a map of asking prices for residential houses in South Dublin, Ireland. We call it a heat map which shows the ‘hot’ and ‘not’ spots based on property value for the South Dublin area. Visualising data on a map shows how property values change based on location and allows the user to gain a unique insight into the area. This is just a small piece of what Pii Analytics can provide. Contact us for more information.

 

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Life of Pii

Posted March 11, 2011 by Ian. Filed under Releases.

Life of Pii is a commentary on geopii, our new organisation. We're not quite a 'start up' per se having had 10 years of success operating within the international CAMA (Computer Assisted Mass Appraisal market) but a realignment of the company focus offered us the opportunity to completely re-brand and so because we’re moving into a new market it does feel like a startup again. Invigorating! So out went the old (CDC Ltd) and in came the new (geopii). Life of Pii was started.

As CDC Ltd we provided thought leadership and innovation for a decade within the GIS based Property Analysis sector. As geopii we will extend that remit to include  the Financial, Land & Property and Planning sectors.

The name Geopii is a hybrid of geographic and mathematic terminology designed to reflect the new market of ‘GeoFinancial Analysis’ in which we now operate. The name provides a quirky yet contemporary tag.

What do we do at geopii? We develop spatial solutions, create applications, offer web services, write COTS  (Commercial Off The Shelf) or bespoke software, algorithms, research, consultancy and much, much more. We help Local and National Governments, Banks, Financial Institutions and many more organizations analyse information and rationalize their decision making processes. Our software solutions help generate Billions of $’s annually in tax receipts or property valuations and help save Millions of $’s in efficiency savings. We do lots of cool stuff using a variety of spatial technologies.

Our Team comprises a series of peer-recognised Industry experts from sectors including Financial Analytics, Technology Development and Innovation. Our Consultancy operation has a combined total of over 100 years of providing assistance to Public and Private sector organisations through NI, RoI, UK, US and beyond. Our background, as a University spin-out company, provides academic rigour and innovative thinking whilst our staff includes Professors, Doctors and Masters graduates.

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