Top 13 free housing data sites
For audiences ranging from academic researchers to ordinary homebuyers, housing market data suiting everyone is available free on the Internet.
Twenty years ago, real estate agents provided value simply because they had access to the secret list of houses for sale. Anyone who wanted to buy a house needed to use a real estate agent just to find out what was for sale. Data alone had value. Not anymore.
The Internet excels at dissemination data. From the beginning, individuals and organizations that wanted to attract people to their site learned that giving away data and information was a good technique. The competition for traffic drives website owners to provide better content, including more data. As data becomes more widely available, the value of data declines, and webmasters must provide more and more data to sustain their traffic. The end result is that the value of data will eventually fall to zero.
The next step in this evolution is to provide data and analysis. Since baseline data has no value, using algorithms to analyze and present data is the next frontier. The housing market reports I publish provide an algorithmic analysis of data. Demonstrating that the median house price is $500,000 is interesting but not particularly useful. Stating that the current median is 20% under the historic norm is actionable analysis, and that has value.
Perhaps someday soon, the competition for web traffic will drive data analysis to be more complex and useful. Websites will use machine learning to develop complex algorithms to solve complex problems and improve our daily lives. In the meantime, we can all use our own brains to parse the free data available on the web.
Top 13 free housing data sites
Since my vocation requires me to analyze data, and since like everyone else, I don’t want to pay for it, I compiled a list of free data sources useful for understanding housing markets. These can all be found in the sidebar of this website.
ApartmentList provides rent data from over 2,000 locations in the US. Anyone looking to move to a new city can use this to get a feel for the cost of rental housing in the area. The data is very fresh, but without a download feature, it’s cumbersome to access.
They also produce a national rent report and blog posts on rental trends across the country.
The various Federal Reserve banks all employ economists and data analysts. The New York FRB provides a variety of reports and data including a National Home Price Index map with history.
The Federal Reserve Bank of Philidelphia provides excellent historical data sets for researchers. It’s not the most user-friendly site, but the data is available for easy download as Excel files.
By far the best Federal Reserve site is FRED published by the FRB of St. Louis. They compile and publish 418,000 US and international time series from 79 sources. Once the proper data set is located, FRED will generate custom graphs that are easy to download and use in reports. This site is generally the first place I look, and if I can’t find what I’m looking for there, then I go to the others.
Geo FRED is the map-based tool associated with FRED. The data availability is limited, but if the data is available, the presentation is in a map form rather than a table or graph. It’s a very useful site for presentations.
HomeFacts.com is the best source on the web for information about cities and neighborhoods. Anyone looking to move to a new area should investigate their options on Home Facts.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development has been tracking rents for a long time. It is the best source for historical rent data available. Similar to Geo FRED, HUD has their own GIS tool.
Redfin provides housing data from its nationwide listing network. Their datasets are available in a Tableau form, and the raw data can be easily downloaded. The appearance of the Tableau charts are attractive, but it requires a screen capture to use, which isn’t ideal. Also, their data history only goes back to 2009 for most data sets.
The Census Bureau site contains a wealth of information, but it’s extremely cumbersome to use. Finding the data you want is nearly impossible, and most of it is available on FRED, which has a much better interface.
The housing section of the Census Bureau’s site is a bit more user-friendly, but as with the other Census data, it’s easily accessible from FRED, so there is little need to go there.
For those looking for a quick overview of the housing market, the Wall Street Journal provides a housing market tracker that covers the basics with attractive charts and graphs.
The best source of housing market data for analysts is Zillow. It’s all spreadsheet data with no charts or graphs, but for researchers, this is the best source and format for market data. I have concerns about its accuracy because it’s not clear that their data is complete, but as a resource for resale and rental data, it’s one of the finest.