Data at Lavanda: Meet Dr. Laura Lewis

September 10, 2017

Hello, I’m Laura. I’m the Pricing Analyst here at Lavanda. In this first blog post I wanted to briefly introduce myself and start shining a little light on how we are pioneering the use of data to optimise yields from the London short-term lettings market.

A significant part of my role is to make sure that the right prices are set each day for every property under our management. The short-term rental market is highly seasonal, meaning that a ‘dynamic’ pricing strategy is absolutely key to maximising occupancy rates, and consequently the yield that a property is capable of returning for the owner. I’m also responsible for providing market-led insight to ensure informed, optimal decision making within the business. This involves analysing trends across the Lavanda property portfolio, and when necessary augmenting our proprietary datasets with data from the wider industry.

What motivates me to do what I do? At Lavanda we’re working to shape the future of the UK’s private rental sector by creating better quality, more affordable rental accommodation for tenants, whilst at the same time offering higher yields to landlords. I’m a huge believer in the role that data can play in this mission once harnessed effectively.

Before I joined Lavanda, I completed my PhD at Oxford on the application of statistical techniques to an area of research where this sort of approach had not previously been used, but had the potential to completely change the debate. Specifically, I was able to disprove a widely-believed but untested theory about the earliest human dispersals out of Africa tens of thousands of years ago. This resulted in a book deal and some heavily-cited research. All my findings were established by harnessing the power of data – and 70,000 year-old stone tools are certainly not the only area under-utilising analytical techniques! The residential property market – both short and long-term lets – is ripe for disruption through the collection and analysis of the right kind of data, followed by the practical deployment of the insights revealed.

After completing my PhD, I joined the Civil Service as a statistician. My first role was in the Department of Health, where I worked in the NHS England pricing team. It was my job to figure out how much each ‘unit’ of healthcare cost to deliver – like a broken leg or a call to 999 – and how to most efficiently model the amounts paid to each part of the NHS. After this I moved to HM Treasury, where I was responsible for the policy and analysis of the government’s venture capital tax relief schemes (SEIS, EIS, VCTs, SITR and CITR, if you’re interested in acronyms). Again, I saw first-hand the impact that quality analysis can have on decision making, and I wrote the first evaluation of the tax relief schemes as part of the recently-launched Patient Capital Review.

During my time at HM Treasury I spent a lot of time with early-stage businesses, and saw how whole new areas of enterprise could be built up around making better use of existing data, whose value had not yet been realised. So when I discovered Lavanda and their ambitious plans for disrupting the property market, I knew they’d hit on something big.

There is an untapped wealth of data out there. By combining it with the human intelligence and knowledge of the property experts we have here at Lavanda, we are able to add huge value to the market. In future blog posts I will be exploring many of these insights in more detail. Some of them may surprise you. In fact, big data analysis is arguably at its most useful (although also most challenging), when it forces us to confront and rethink widely-held but frequently only anecdotally-confirmed beliefs. For example, if you’re aiming to get a better nightly rate on Airbnb, you’re probably better off getting a Nespresso machine than exhausting yourself trying to become a ‘Superhost’.

Lavanda intends to make the property market more efficient and better suited to the 21st century. Data analysis is well placed to support both of these aims. I’m confident that bringing all of this together will open up previously unrealised areas of value for home-owners, tenants and investors alike – and I’m excited to be able to share a taste of this with you through this blog.