Doesn’t it sometimes seem that people in the property industry have a crystal ball? Those that know what they’re talking about mention yields and ROIs and seem to know a lot about the areas they are investing in. It might feel like magic, but it’s a result of good, solid, research.
If your job doesn’t require frequent study, you’d be forgiven for not flexing your research muscles up until this point. But, if you want to invest in property, and you want your investment to thrive and grow, you’ll need to add research to your list of ever-growing skills.
In this post we’re going to share our professional tips. Get familiar with these and you’ll have mastered the foundations of research!
It’s not unusual to have only a vague idea of what you’re looking for when you start. To begin with, find more general articles. These will reference some of the deeper themes you are looking for. This is a great way to slowly introduce yourself to jargon and industry specific terms. As you get to grips with the language around your topic, you’ll be able to refine your search and get more specific results.
For example, you might know you want to raise the rent on one of your properties, but you don’t know what all the implications of that are. You search ‘raise rents’ online and find articles saying that rents have to be raised in line with market rates. You now look up market rates and find an article telling you how to work that out.
This also applies if, for example, you want to buy a property. The UK is your oyster, but you aren’t sure where you should be focussing your attention. Start broad, which towns and cities have the best average rental yield? Short list them. Then look for average rental yields in smaller areas within those towns and cities. As you narrow the list down you start to get an idea for areas that are worth further investigation and areas you should stay away from.
Don’t narrow your search too much
While you want to start broad and get narrower as you go, it’s so easy to disappear into a rabbit hole, especially when you are researching online. If you go too narrow, you’ll start to lose perspective on the wider question or the reason why you’re looking this up in the first place.
The best way to keep yourself on track with this is to write a list of questions you want to answer as part of your research, this helps to keep your research goal front of mind.
If at first you don’t succeed…
Online is where most research starts. It doesn’t matter what your search engine of choice is, every search engine knows they aren’t totally the best at matching what you type in with what you actually want. Even Google has acknowledged this recently by launching a new algorithm that will do better in this regard (the update is called BERT if you’re interested).
Until the search engines do better at matching your query to the results, you may have to phrase your search terms differently a few times to find what you’re looking for. Try semantic differences like eliminating stop words (e.g.: the, is, at, which, on). If you don’t find what you are looking for on the first try, re-phrase your query differently and try again.
Use Search Operators
Search operators sound fancy but they’re an easy way to refine your search. They give your search more context, helping you to get the most relevant results faster. They are mostly mentioned in marketing circles, so if you look these up online, you’re likely to find a lot of ‘search engine optimisation’ content.
Using search operators involves adding an extra word or symbol to your search. This Moz article will give you a brief but good introduction to Google search operators and there’s a cheat sheet on this page explaining what each one does and how to use it.
As Google owns over 90% of the search engine market share world-wide, I’ve linked the Google search operators in the paragraph above. It’s worth noting though that the operators may vary if you’re using a different search engine. If you use a different search engine look up search operators for that search engine to make sure you’re using the right ones.
Filters are useful!
Don’t forget that online search results can be filtered by date, you can choose from pre-set times or enter your own custom dates in most instances.
If you’re feeling brave you can try Google’s advanced search which lets you filter by language, region, last update and more. This advanced search applies some of the Google operators we discussed in the previous point. To filter by date, click on tools. To get to Google’s advanced search click on ‘settings’ and then ‘advanced search’.
Many search engines have useful features like this, read up on your favourite search engine to see other ways they can help you get more relevant and useful results.
There is more than one page of search results
Most searches online tend to deliver hundreds if not thousands of pages of results. If you get relevant results on the first page it’s likely you’ll also find some on the 2nd, 3rd and maybe even 4th page of results too.
Roughly 75% of Google searches never make it past the first page, but there is still useful information to be found there. So, don’t stop at one page, keep reading and comparing what you find. The ideas that come up frequently are more likely to be accurate or tried and tested.
To make this easier you can change your search engine settings to display more than 10 results per page. How you do this depends on what search engine you are using, so research the engine you’re using to find out how 😉.
Tips for finding statistics
Now and again you’ll need to find statistics, for instance if you’re researching your market or putting together a property business plan. Data like this can be difficult to find, but there are a few tips that will make it easier to find what you’re looking for.
Search on websites where you’re likely to find statistics. For instance, the government website, the ONS website and Statista are great places to start, especially if you’re looking for something broad. If you’re looking for something more specific include it in your search query, for instance: “% of landlords who have full time jobs”, this kind of search should return more relevant results, but they will come from a mix of sources.
Be mindful of your sources
If you’re researching statistics be mindful of the source, the date the data was collected and the sample size of the data. Sometimes sources can be biased, for instance, if you find statistics from a letting agent claiming that 99% of landlords use letting agents, there’s a chance that data is biased favourably towards the letting agent. The older the data is the less reliable it may now be, things change all the time. The smaller the sample size the less reliable and representative it is. If you find a survey that says 1 in 7 tenants have had a terrible time with their landlord, but only 20 tenants were asked the question you’d be right to think that this data isn’t indicative of all tenants.
The same is true of any research, the older the publication date the greater the risk that the information is no longer valid. Compare multiple sources on the same subject and you’ll soon spot what is agreed on and what the discrepancies are between sources.
Books are a tried and tested source of research. With millions of reviews available online it’s easy to see which books have helped others and which ones people think are a waste of time. Amazon is the easiest place to find book reviews, but Good Reads has them as well.
Books can be expensive, especially non-fiction ones, but most areas have a library which is free to use. Many think libraries only contain out of date books, but this isn’t true. Libraries update their catalogues frequently. Most libraries allow you to request books from other libraries in the area and have them delivered to your local library for free too. Some libraries also offer e-books, DVDs, audio books and more. If it’s information you’re after a library is a good place to start.
Google Scholar can help you find scholarly articles, journals and books, (incidentally it’s the place to be for looking up case law) if you really want to get into the weeds of a topic.
Read trade publications
Magazines and trade publications are a great way to keep up with industry specific news and trends. The NLA has a great magazine that’s packed full of useful information.
If you aren’t made of money check out your local library, most of them offer free electronic access to newspapers and other trade publications, the library website will usually tell you if they do. My local library offers free access to an app called Press Reader. Through this app I can get free access to: The Daily Telegraph Property, Homes and Property magazine, Homes and Living magazine and a wide range of local property newspapers and supplements.
Talk to people
Talk to others who know about the topic you want to research. I’m not talking about your mate who has no credentials to his name, but someone who genuinely knows what they’re talking about and who’s advice you’d trust. If they’ve had success and demonstrable results then they’re a good person to talk to, if they’re up to their eyes in debt and always moaning about their properties they aren’t a good role model to follow.
Make notes as you go
There is no one perfect way to keep research notes. Everyone works differently. I like to brain dump into a word document, I type my thoughts and throw in screenshots or notes as I come across them or paste in links to sites I want to remember. Some prefer to work in ordered spreadsheets with categories. Many swear by Evernote as it’s a free to use programme, cloud based and very versatile in terms of adding screenshots, drawings, lists etc. Some are fond of paper, e-notebooks are also a thing now, it doesn’t really matter how you record your research but do it as you go along.
Experiment until you find a method that works well for you. Don’t discard this research, you can come back to it later, add to it or just re-visit what you found out and where you took your information from.
If you’re a newsletter subscriber don’t forget to get this month’s exclusive resource: “A Guide to Property Research” from the newsletter. The guide is packed full of useful free resources that will help you find out average yields, rents, house prices, up and coming areas, crime statistics, demographic data and so much more. If you aren’t a newsletter subscriber this guide will be published on the website in December.
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