Countrywide has confounded its critics with an upbeat performance in the first six months of the year, growing revenues by nine per cent - despite considerable concern over Brexit.
In the six months to the end of June it increased the number of exchanged house sales by 11 per cent in its Retail (out of London) division, and by two per cent in London. Its total number of sales in the period was 33,940 - up 10 per cent on the same months of 2015.
The first three months of the year were helped, it says, by the generally lower stamp duty levied on sales since late 2014; however, the second quarter was subdued in the build up to the EU referendum. Pre-tax profits dropped 25 per cent.
In the first half of this year the group had a one-off financial gain of £13m through the disposal of part of its shareholding in Zoopla Property Group, while completed share buy-backs added a further £17m.
Ten new businesses were acquired by Countrywide during the period, for a total of £39m
In the spring it announced that three of its brands - Spencers in the Leicestershire and Rutland area, Austin & Wyatt in Dorset, Hampshire and Wiltshire, and Frank Innes across the East Midlands - would be offering a range of services to vendors, ranging from hybrid-style online advertising to full-service traditional agency.
Early results are ‘positive’ says Countrywide, and this offering will now roll-out to a quarter of the network by the end of 2016.
“We always said 2016 would be about execution and in H1 we began to see the benefits of a strategy that puts the customer at the heart of all we do, growing top line performance across all business units, helped by gains in market share” says chief executive Alison Platt.
“As we stated in our last Trading Update on 26 April, we took a cautious view of the months leading up to the EU referendum and beyond. In the event, we saw a slowdown in our Retail and London residential businesses and, since the EU referendum result this has become more marked in London, the South East and expensive prime markets” she warns.
“The rest of the country has fared somewhat better and our Lettings business and mortgage trends have been largely unaffected” adds Platt.
City analysts at Jefferies say “the Countrywide strategy is working even though the underlying market is trying to re-write the script. The group has delivered on its KPIs, its investments are paying off, although market conditions in some areas have tempered the addressable market. We are revising estimates downwards today to reflect market challenges rather than company shortcomings.”
Earlier this month an estate agency owned by Countrywide, Urban Spaces, relaunched with what it calls “an innovative, premises-free business model that seeks to redefine the role of estate agency” - or as an online agency, as it is more commonly known.
One of Countrywide’s upmarket brands - Hamptons International - is to launch a 'private conveyancing hub' later this year in a bid to offer more managed sales processes to clients willing to pay.
And after opening a number of new-build divisions in Hamptons offices, Countrywide acquired Mortgage Bureau, which works with national builders as well as estate agents to offer mortgage and related insurance products in the land and new homes sector.