Fixing a Spanish property myth

A ranked bar chart changes everything

March 2018

I was recently inspired by an approach to ranked bar charts that may be a simple solution to a common problem with Spanish property statistics.

The chart below is a typical picture of who buys property in Spain. While totally accurate, it paints a very misleading picture and I inwardly groan every time I have to plot this data...

Top international buyers in Spain

It's all about the Brits! A classic view of who buys property in Spain

Viz like this is common in Spanish property reporting and only serves to reinforce a myth: That Spain is utterly reliant on Brits to prop up its housing market.

This isn't true.

If we look at the data more holistically, the picture quickly changes: If three overseas buyers walk into a Spanish estate agent, the chances are one is British, and two will be from western Europe. A fourth may be Chinese, American or Russian.

Fully three quarters of foreign buyers are NOT British. Would you know this when glancing at the chart above?

(Hint: If you looked at the scale and did the maths, you're probably in a minority)

At the sharp end of property sales this is problematic; it leads to too much marketing focus on Brits, and too little on other nationalities.

The ranked approach

These days good viz has to perform a difficult trick: Be educational, actionable and simple enough to consume in a few seconds.

Re-working the chart in a ranked style creates more balance. It also allows us to bring in an intriguing second metric, without risking cognitive overload:

Top international buyers in Spain (ranked)

A more balanced view of Spanish property sales

The result won't be popular among statistical absolutists, but in a world of 8 second attention spans, it's hard not to like the ranked style.

Where would you target your sales budget?

Hat tip to Tim Miller for the idea. The stats were wrangled in Chartio, exported as an SVG then polished in Illustrator. Too few BI tools offer this workflow and it's really useful - I popped a screencast here.