2 March 2017

Research on rent prices

Every year, the winners of the thesis prize are announced at Maastricht University's Dies Natalis. This year, Alumnus Matthijs Korrevaar was among them. The thesis prizes are awarded to master’s students who have written an outstanding thesis. In his thesis, Matthijs investigated how rents in several European cities have developed over the last 500 years. “You often hear people say that the rents are rising. But if you look at the long term, you’ll discover that rents have become much more affordable.”

Comparing apples and oranges

Eventually, Matthijs managed to gather a sizable amount of data: about 250,000 rents in total. Based on this information, he formulated a rent index for every city. “A house from the 1500s differs from the houses we have today in many respects, so I used a technique that takes the quality differences between the houses into account. With this technique, I ensure that I’m not comparing apples and oranges.”

After he had processed all the information, he made a surprising discovery. “Two weeks before my defence, I looked at the combined results and I discovered that the rents had not risen as fast as incomes in almost every city. So rents have become much more affordable in recent years.” In Belgium, the improvements were spectacular. “Antwerp was the New York of the 16th century. Rents were exceptionally high back then. If you take inflation into account, you see that rents in Antwerp have actually become cheaper since 1500.”


The completion of his master’s thesis was really only the beginning of Matthijs’ research project. He is currently doing a PhD on the same topic. This time, he plans on including even more information. He is still very excited about this topic and would like to get to the bottom of it. “Politicians and policymakers often use the housing expense ratio to calculate the percentage of our income that is spent on housing.  The housing expense ratio has risen over the past 150 years. In my thesis, I show that this increase is largely due to the fact that we have started to live more luxuriously, not because our rent has become more expensive. This means that the housing expense ratio is not a good way to measure the affordability of housing. Yet, many party programmes - for example- still use the housing expense ratio to express the extent to which the affordability of housing is threatened. Based on history and on all of the data I have gathered, I can draw lessons for society. I do this because I am curious, but research becomes even more valuable when it’s useful for others as well.”

By: Britta Wielaard