Place in the Industry
Svenja Gudell has a very big job. As Zillow’s chief economist, she not only leads a team of more than 10 economists, data scientists, and analysts in producing real estate research for consumers, academics, policy-makers, and the rest of the decision-makers in the real estate space, but she also is integrally involved in doing what Zillow refers to as “turning on the lights” in any dark space that a property owner or potential property owner might need illuminated in order to make a fully educated real-estate-related decision. “We do a ton of forecasting along the way and we don’t only focus on for-sale real estate,” Gudell said, adding that her team also covers the rental sector of the industry and identifies and explores trends in more than 450 metro areas right down to the zip-code level.
“It’s our job to follow anything that we believe is timely, even things that aren’t talked about on the news,” she said, citing “certain gaps we’re seeing: homeownership gaps, education gaps, [and] employment gaps.” But that’s not all. Gudell also has a busy schedule of interviewing, speaking, traveling, presenting and collaborating as part of her role as Zillow’s chief economist, which she took on about two years ago after joining Zillow in 2011 under then-chief economist Stan Humphries.
Key to Success in the Industry
“It’s incredibly important to marry the skills you learned in school with the really deep understanding and experience that the industry holds. Understanding how real estate works and how people make decisions is really important.”
“I think it’s really important to know how to interpret data and work with data. Take that data analysis class, that economics class, that statistics class, and remember there is also nothing quite like the hands-on experience so do whatever it takes to become a better keeper and better analyst of data and of trends.”
“Hands down, I’d have to say I’m extremely proud of my team and what we’ve achieved over the years. We started out as a very small team, and I’ve had the pleasure of being a big part of growing the team and shaping the direction we would take, the topics we cover, and the things we want to achieve and do in the real estate space.”
A Word for Women in Real Estate
“Historically, from my angle coming from a background of academia and economic research, it’s been a relatively male-dominated field. But it’s starting to change. The unique thing about our industry right now is that we’re turning toward data, our decisions are very data-driven. Now is a great time for women to get involved in this space and have more opportunities to be active in this field as tech companies become more involved in equal pay and gender equality.”
What’s Ahead in 2017
“My team will be expanding our footprint quite a bit in 2017 in terms of the types of research that we’re covering. We cover the handful of traditional metrics associated with the real estate space, but we are making a real effort to really go beyond that and look at jobs trends and employment trends, for example, that will enable our users to get a better feel of everything in an area beyond housing but that in the end touches housing.”
This expansion will affect not only buyers and sellers but policy-makers as well. Zillow’s Economic Policy Forum in Washington D.C. this year, titled “Mind the Gap,” will actually deal with a topic near and dear to Gudell’s heart: economic gaps and how they affect the U.S. population. “To make better housing decisions, you need a much fuller view of what is going on in people’s lives,” she said, noting that often looking at median housing numbers glosses over situations that affect huge segments of the population. For example, “Affordability is a really important topic to be aware of and know more about,” she said, adding that increasing awareness of housing affordability will better enable real estate professionals to “analyze what’s going on and offer advice.”