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What do the issues with Countrywide mean for buyers and sellers?

  1. 07 February 2018
  2. By Nick Perman

The troubles of Countrywide – the UK’s largest estate agency group – have been well-documented in the trade and national press of late. But what could this mean for buyers, sellers and the property industry at large?


A steady decline

The problems faced by Countrywide are nothing new – its performance has been deteriorating consistently since Alison Platt took over as chief executive in 2014 with bold plans to remould and reform the firm.

In March 2014, a few months before Platt took over as CEO, Countrywide’s share price was riding high at 686.00p. However, a number of falls since that peak – not helped by restructuring, reorganisations and major resignations - meant that by late 2016 Countrywide was dropped from the FTSE 250 with a share price that had dropped below 170.00p.

In late January this year, amid fervent speculation that Platt was going to resign her position, Countrywide closed at 103.00p - its lowest ever closing price.

With shares at an all-time low, and a second profits warning issued in the space of three months, the pressure on Platt to go grew more intense than ever. On Tuesday 23 January she resigned, with a brief statement on the company’s website saying she would be replaced by Peter Long, who was stepping in as executive chairman until a suitable successor could be found.

Long said his mission was to return Countrywide – whose brands include Hamptons International, Bairstow Eves and John D Wood & Co – to profitable growth following a ‘loss of focus’ in its sales and lettings business.

Timeline 

2014: Alison Platt is appointed as chief executive

May 2015: Bob Scarff and Nick Dunning, two key figures at Countrywide, quit amid rumours of a boardroom fall-out.

June 2016: Countrywide launches an online offering, with three brands allowing customers to choose either online or traditional services.

September 2016: Announcement that 59 Countrywide branches are to close outside of London.

Late 2016: Company is dropped from the FTSE 250 with its share price dropping to below 170.00p.

January 2018: A profits warning is issued after a disappointing set of figures for Q4 2017, with income down considerably.

Late January 2018: Platt resigns after shares hit an all-time low. She is allegedly given a pay-off of £650,000 in lieu of a 12-month notice period. Peter Long takes over as executive chairman.

What does this mean for Countrywide customers?

The very public nature of the company’s struggles may make those buying, selling, renting or letting through Countrywide more than a tad nervous.

However, it shouldn’t be forgotten that Countrywide is still the biggest and most successful agency in the UK with lots of staff, listings, branches and established brands. It is a company with a wealth of knowledge and excellent and able employees.  It is the umbrella organisation for a wide range of firms, from high-end chains to middle-market offerings.

So, just because you’re using a Countrywide brand, it doesn’t follow that they are having the same issues down on the ground as the top brass is elsewhere. If anyone is concerned about the plight of Countrywide and what that means for its many branches, they should contact their agent for reassurance.

It should be remembered that many of Countrywide’s brands have been going for a very long time, and have built up solid reputations in that time. What’s more, they are full of experienced staff members who know the business inside out and will be able to give a clear indication to customers of whether Countrywide’s problems will filter down to the act of buying, selling, letting and renting.

There was also a noticeable bounce in the share price in the wake of Platt’s departure, with shares up by 2.4% to 102p in early trading on the day after the announcement was made. This could be a sign of renewed confidence in the firm.

The renewed focus on sales and lettings over anything else could help Countrywide to recover the ground it’s lost in recent years. The appointment of Paul Creffield – who joined the company in 2006 and has nearly 20 years’ experience in the industry - as Group Operations Director, with responsibility for the sales and lettings division, is perhaps a further sign that Countrywide is eager move forward and start again from scratch, focusing on the traditional roles of an estate agency.

 

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