This paper explains how empirical enquiry of the kind unburdened by the pursuit of a particular hypothesis or strict adherence to scientific methods, has much to offer in terms of developing our understanding of law and, in particular, the traditionally doctrinal field of property law, providing insights into the operation of law that cannot be learned from books alone. The argument is discussed in the context of an ongoing research project by the authors that investigates whether ‘non-financial’ considerations are taken into account during the process of housing possession, looking at both owner-occupied and rented housing. The project is a broad enquiry exploring the extent to which issues other than property rights and the ability to pay are considered when it comes to losing a home, that is, matters such as the welfare of children, health problems, community networks, attachment and so on. The study is not confined to the ultimate decision making stage, when the judge decides whether or not to order possession, but looks also at how non-financial factors inform decisions made earlier on, such as whether a mortgagee thinks that the time has come to issue possession proceedings. Although the study is of possession proceedings in England, and is based around the English legal system, the purpose of this paper is not to report on the research findings but to make a point of broader significance in relation to the role of empirical research within legal scholarship.