Official housing market data: muddy waters

Contradictory figures for the Spanish housing market don’t inspire confidence amongst international investors.

statisticsThe property bust has been exacerbated by the lack of transparency in the housing market that makes it difficult to know what is going on.

Government departments and agencies lead the way when it comes to sending confusing and contradictory signals.

The National Institute of Statistics (INE) says that home sales fell an annualised 15.9pc in November, to 21,847, whilst the General Council of Notaries say sales fell 22pc to 26,574. It’s a big difference, though at least they both agree sales fell.

The Housing Department in the Ministry of Public Works (Fomento), the Notaries, the INE, and the Property Registrars all publish “official” figures that rarely match, and often flatly contradict each other.

Some Spanish politicians recognise there is a problem: Pere Macias, spokesman for the Catalan Nationalist CiU party in congress recently asked the Government to publish unified and reliable housing market data, in place of “contradictory statistics.”

Forty-five day delay

Part of the problem comes from the way in which the Notaries and the Registrars collect data. The Notaries publish their data based on sales they witness, whilst the Registrars use data based on inscriptions in the Property Registry. There is an average time lag of 45 days between the two events, so the figures are never the same.
However, the problem seems to go deeper than that, leading to significant discrepancies that I haven’t got to the bottom of.

Nor does it help that the source data can be unreliable due to factors such as below-the-table cash payments distorting price information.

Even when the data should be reliable, the figures can leave you scratching your head. Take, for example, the Housing Department figures on the residency of buyers. Everyone in the business knows that the vast majority of foreigners buying property in Spain do not live here, yet the Government publishes data saying that most foreign buyers are also residents of Spain.

It would be helpful if the Government published one set of reliable data, rather than two or more contradictory sets, but that’s not going to happen, however desirable it might be. The INE has made it clear that there is “no intention” of unifying housing market data. The Notaries, the Registrars, the INE, and the Housing Department, are all busy defending their own turf.

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