ELIZA OWEN / Head of Australian Research / CORELOGIC  / 
Crunching Numbers

story / Interview / August 31, 2020

Last year I was offered the position of head of research at CoreLogic. CoreLogic is a data powerhouse for the most sophisticated analytics of Australian real estate. It was something that I really didn’t want to pass up. I’ve been in this role now for about seven months and I’m loving it. It’s great.

When I was in high school, I was extremely interested in politics and debating. I was always just trying to get a sense of how the world worked. I had a teacher who approached me who thought I might be interested in studying economics. I hadn’t really heard of the discipline before but I studied economics in year 11 and 12 and I just loved it. It felt like lifting up a blanket and seeing how everything kind of worked. It made a lot of sense to me. It gave me a sense of control in a chaotic world.

Economics is important to understanding how we can approach things that are broken in our world; poverty, the distribution of resources and approaches to how housing could help better people’s lives. When I started at University, I thought I was going to be head of the World Bank! As I went through my degree, I was actually working part time in a property data call center. My job was literally to call real estate agents and ask them about their recent sales results. That data was then inputted into analytic models that could produce some really sophisticated statistics on housing market performance. My passion for real estate and my knowledge of economics complemented each other really well from there on in.

The majority of my role is looking at data and crunching numbers. My work is very autonomous. I get to respond to whatever happens to be going on in politics or media with the state of the economy and try to understand how it would impact Australian real estate. A really cool thing is to be able to look at economic and housing market data and consider what’s the cause of what is happening in the data and how can I use my voice to try and shape this landscape, and educate people. A lot of it is putting more complex concepts and data into everyday terms and language that people can understand.

It has been very gratifying to be a trusted voice in the Australian property landscape. It’s amazing to have a platform in the media and to be asked my opinion on so many different policies and housing market trends. Sometimes it can be intimidating, especially on social media. I’ve had to train myself very hard to not read comments on the YouTube videos. And yes absolutely, I get trolls! I participated in a video that was around International Women’s Day, talking about the importance of economics. One of the comments under the video was, ‘I could fly a plane through the gap in Eliza Owen’s teeth.’ The irony was, I was living at the time, in a high flight path area. I took the comment and I responded to it and I said, ‘I’ve lived in Leichhardt for a year and every night I’ve stood with my mouth outstretched to the sky and a plane hasn’t made it through my teeth yet!’ I think trying to find humor in it and solidarity with watching other women who are basically public on the Internet has been a massive help.

When you first see that kind of comment, it can be quite devastating. But after a while it is just sort of water off a duck’s back. I’m much more interested in comments that are critiquing the actual work that I’m doing, my interrogation of data, my methods of data analysis. I think as well, when you’re conscious of yourself as a woman in the media, every comment you’ve received about your hair or your makeup, I’ve already thought of it myself. So don’t waste your time.

There’s no way I would have gotten as far in my career as I have without having older men in my industry not blink an eye at the fact that I’m a young woman and just believe that I can do the job and that I’m good at my job. I think just focusing on the feedback of people who treat you with respect has been key. I just put the blinkers on. And it’s not so much of an issue because through the mentorship that I’ve had from people in my industry, they are people who have had great belief in me. It’s enabled me to know that I can do my job well. And when people make assumptions about me, it doesn’t really matter.

Right now, the state and territory governments have a really good opportunity to reform stamp duty and potentially replace it with a more efficient tax like a broad based land tax. Stamp duty modelling from Treasury estimates that for every one dollar raised by stamp duty, the economic cost is seventy cents in that dollar. It’s demonstrated to be a very inefficient tax at present. It prevents more turnover.

In terms of the macro environment, I think that the JobSeeker and JobKeeper stimulus has been invaluable to economic stability and housing market stability. The RBA talked about it as building a bridge to the economic recovery and I think the best thing the government can do is keep extending that bridge as much as they can to try and get us to the other side where we have gotten ahead of the virus curve and we have a more normal level of economic production.

The immediate challenge for real estate has been a very sharp drop off in sales volumes in response to the lockdowns initially. In April, we saw about a 30 percent decline in sales volumes in the space of a month. That’s the seasonal drop you’d expect around Christmas and New Year’s. It’s a very low level of sales transactions that have started to rebound. Now that Melbourne’s back under a six week lockdown, that’s impacting consumer confidence. It’s impacting sales volumes. Interestingly, prices haven’t been as impacted because stock levels are really low. Low stock levels have been aided by mortgage repayment deferrals, which means that if someone is in financial stress and can’t afford their mortgage, they don’t have to sell right now. Their repayments are temporarily deferred. These are extended until March at latest, so prices may be tested then when these policies are repealed.

We’ve seen a large increase in unemployment. We’ve seen significant reductions in income immediately. That seems to be impacting the rental market because most of the job losses have been in food and accommodation services, arts and recreation services. ABS payroll data is telling us that there’s about a 20 percent reduction in jobs in those sectors, whereas other sectors have a five or six percent decline. Now, the people working in those sectors are more likely to be renting households than any other sector. It really is those young workers, those vulnerable workers that have been impacted.

In the long term, I think if businesses get used to working with fewer people or they adopt more technology like we saw coming out of the GFC, we’re going to see these big structural shifts where your unemployment spikes and it takes a long time for it to come back to normal. The biggest challenge to not just the property industry is people’s ability to service housing costs to pay off their mortgages and service their rent. I think that’s going to be a big issue for a lot of people.

The biggest hurdle personally has been overcoming a sense of impostor syndrome. I’ve always overcome it by just putting in one hundred and ten percent, making sure that if ever I’ve had an opportunity presented to me I’ve always said, yes, I’ll do it. I’ve always tried to over prepare for interviews, presentations. I guess not so much now that I feel more established and comfortable in my profession. But certainly when I was coming up.

Familiarizing yourself with key data sets. I think this is something where Twitter can actually be really beneficial. If you follow a lot of people in housing and economics on Twitter, they’re often posting about the regular data updates. The key ones to look out for are certain datasets from the ABS, RBA and APRA, particularly the housing lending data. They’re great resources for anyone who’s interested in doing more housing market research.

My mother always told me to take every opportunity that comes your way. When you’re younger and you don’t have as much responsibility as well, I think it’s okay to say yes to everything and really fill up your plate with lots of projects and opportunities. I guess one of the challenges I’m navigating now as I get older and I do have more responsibility, is to start saying no as well!

 

It has been an absolute pleasure to touch base with Eliza (via Zoom, of course…) and get her take on the COVID crisis, but also the key points that have led her to her current position. Her tales of media kick-back from trolls will be familiar with many, and something we see played out on social media each day. It was excellent to be able to quiz her on the data, which will be fundamental to how we transition in and out of lockdowns and start to rebuild the economy. Data isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but Eliza attacks it with gusto which kinda made us want to look at some spreadsheets…(haha!) Data can be super interesting when it leads you to be able to use it for positive change!!! We wish Eliza all the best for the back half of 2020 and for a nicer/kinder 2021. J & D xx

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