Mapping the leasehold scandal
How an idle play with Kepler.gl blew up
This one took me by surprise, and shows viz really can make a difference.
It started with an idle play with Kepler.gl, a browser-based 3D map making product built by taxi disrupter Uber. Assuming you have point or polygon based map data, it renders beautiful interactive maps with a 3D "god like" feel.
Meanwhile I'd been tracking the sale of leasehold homes since Sajid Javid called for an end to it last December, and it seemed like a good dataset to use with this new mapping tool.
I loaded in point data showing sales of leasehold homes into Kepler, recorded a spin around with Active Presenter (it has a nice frame rate) and idly tweeted it.
Then it all kicked off...
What is the leasehold scandal?
Typically when buying a house in England or Wales, you own both the structure and the land it sits on. This is called freehold.
Conversely when buying a flat you enter into a very long term rental agreement - called leasehold - with the freehold owner who owns the land and structure. A management company is normally responsible for external and shared areas, with residents paying an annual fee to ensure everything in the shared areas stays ship shape.
In 2012 Developers started selling more new houses on a leasehold basis. Buyers weren't really buying their homes, just entering very long rental agreements that came with annual ground rents.
It looked like buying a home, but wasn't.
The sale of leasehold houses isn't entirely new. There are leasehold homes that date back over 100 years, but traditionally the freeholders charge a peppercorn rent of say £10 per year.
This isn't that. Abuse has run rampant in new leasehold developments.
At the outset many buyers were strong armed into using developer's solicitors, who failed to make the implications of buying a leasehold clear. Ground rents have also increased exponentially, and as a final insult some developers sold freeholds on to third parties who refused to allow home owners to buy them back for anything less than enormous sums.
In many cases these houses have fallen dramatically in value, or have even become totally unsaleable.
The stories are horrendous, and the victims are people who's only mistake was wanting to own their own home.
I could go on but should instead point you to two organisations who've worked tirelessly on the issue for many years: The National Leasehold Campaign and Leasehold Knowledge Partnership, who both appeared at a Select Committee hearing to champion the case for victims.
Why the viz resonated
I'm not the first to research these numbers, and previous attempts to map them highlighted a stark truth: The North West of England has been particularly hard hit by the practice of selling leasehold houses.
This viz made the point quite powerfully though.
Sales data was extracted from HM Land Registry's "Prices Paid" dataset. I then joined it to the ONS national postcode lookup file to provide the co-ordinatates used in the map clustering.
The final visualisation was made with Kepler.gl, screen recorded by Active Presenter and the visuals polished in Adobe Photoshop for the final export.
Can you help?
Government appears to be listening on this issue, although progress is being made by inches rather than yards. Bold political statements seem to get watered down on a regular basis.
The campaign to help existing leaseholders and prevent the problem recurring is clearly moving forward, but these guys do need support.
I've offered my time for free on the numbers work, but I know they'd appreciate every bit of help they can get - even if it's just a share on social media. Keeping up the noise and pressure on government is all this really needs.
Find out more, and follow the campaign at:
Head of Leasehold Policy Reform at the Leaseholders Conference (5th Nov 2018)