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Countrywide: 200 branches shut, online 'working well'

It's been revealed that Countrywide has lost 200 branches in its reorganisation - that's around 20 per cent of its branch network. 

In its annual trading statement for 2016 Countrywide reveals that its pre-tax profit has plummeted from £47.7m in 2015 to £19.5m last year.

Other profit measures also slumped - EBITDA dropped to £83m from £113m, while operating profits fell to £28.8m from £53.8m in 2015.

Countrywide's digital model - where customers can choose to start with a budget online service and then 'upgrade' to a conventional full service sales model - is described as working well, and will be rolled out to half of the remaining branches in Countrywide by June.

Last year at least delivered a modest growth in income overall to £737.0m (2015: £733.7m) however, chairman Peter Long says "the company is at a critical point in its evolution" and is determined to reinforce its leadership "by developing a business that better reflects the needs of our customers." 

He continues: "We accept that the market will continue to be constrained and that we need to transform our business, but we do so from a position of strength. We have genuine national reach, a broad service offering and a portfolio of high quality, well known brands."

Countrywide says it expected the housing market to remain uncertain throughout 2017 and anticipates that in its Retail division "sales transactions will be slightly down on 2016 and that house price growth in 2017 will see a small fall in prices across the country."

In London Countrywide expects "weaker house prices likely to drag on activity", while the mortgage market is forecast to remain broadly flat.

Countrywide chief executive Alison Platt told shareholders in this morning's statement: “Countrywide is evolving at pace, with a clear strategy to create a business with a cost base that better reflects market conditions and a differentiated, customer centric offer available to customers across the UK. Looking forward we expect difficult market conditions for the foreseeable future ensuring that the emphasis for 2017 will remain on our strong plans for change. Over the medium term our diverse revenues, nationwide footprint and portfolio of high quality brands gives us confidence that Countrywide can build on its leadership position and deliver sustainable, profitable growth."

In January Countrywide revealed that its volume of house sales in London in the final quarter of 2016 was some six per cent below the same period of 2015. Group income for the fourth quarter was £179m, down from £196m in the same period of 2015. 

In recent months there have also been a string of initiatives seen by some as examples of cost-cutting measures by the group. The London brand Faron Sutaria has been scrapped with its branches merged with John D Wood; London auction properties previously sold by the company itself are now farmed out to a specialist company, Auction House; and the commercial arm of Countrywide is being sold. 

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