U.S. Housing Data via Wolfram|Alpha
It’s very clear that Wolfram|Alpha (W|A) is-or should be-the first stop for many ready reference questions. It’s also the best example of what’s often referred to as an “answer engine” publicly available. There always seems be be something new or something that you just discovered. We have found a lot of useful material and what you can do with it serendipitously.
Today, something new (at least to us).
If you’re concerned about the US economy, you probably caught last week’s news that Standard & Poor’s Case–Shiller home price index for 20 large cities continued to decline in January. If you’re curious to know more about recent housing trends in the US, you can not only ask Wolfram|Alpha about the 20-city index, but also for details on any of the major metropolitan areas included in that composite. For example, query “Las Vegas, Phoenix, Los Angeles, Miami Case–Shiller index‘, and you can see just how big the housing “bubble” was in each of these four cities.
Wolfram|Alpha’s outputs for queries about Case–Shiller also include the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) home price index for comparison. The two indices utilize quite different methodologies: for example, Case–Shiller looks only at homes that have sold at least twice, and thus excludes all new construction; FHFA is based only on home sales with conforming home mortgages (loans less than $417,000). General queries about “home prices in the US”, or in a specific city, also include data about single-family home sale prices, the distribution of home values, and the number of owner-occupied housing units in the selected region.
You can also embed this and quickly visualize the relationship between housing data with other metrics like unemployment.. If you want a another metric to you can easily modify the widget. More about widgets in a moment.
The biggest challenge to using Wolfram|Alpha is not the technology but time. Specifically, having the time time to learn what’s in the database, what’s new, what’s been updated, how it can be used, etc. Once that’s done using W|A is very easy. Sure, you can always go to Wolfram and begin to hunt for what you’re looking for but that can waste a lot of time and cause a lot of aggravation.
We’ve been talking about factual data to this point but don’t forget that W|A is also a powerful (very powerful) mathematical computation tool.
Finally, with no computer coding skills users can easily mashup data sets and build custom widgets that can put the required data where it’s needed.
One thing that W|A could do is expand their example page and it turn it into a catalog (with working examples) of the data in action.
Now, go and use this wonderful research tool.
About Gary Price
Gary Price (email@example.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. He earned his MLIS degree from Wayne State University in Detroit. Price has won several awards including the SLA Innovations in Technology Award and Alumnus of the Year from the Wayne St. University Library and Information Science Program. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com.