The newly-appointed Group Managing Director of Countrywide says rumours of Hamptons International or other ‘crown jewels’ being put up for sale are categorically untrue.
In an interview with Estate Agent Today, Paul Creffield - promoted from the post of Chief Operating Officer to become the de facto head of Countrywide yesterday - said: “There are people who’d love to buy our biggest and best assets but they’re absolutely not for sale.”
Rumours of possible sales of Countrywide’s two premium brands - Hamptons and John D Wood - have been swirling around the industry for some weeks; Creffield says they are untrue, and he repeated a statement made earlier this year that Countrywide’s commercial arm, Lambert Smith Hampton, was also not being sold off.
Creffield told EAT that the company’s Back To Basics programme, announced early this year, was continuing apace.
“We have broadly sufficient numbers in the branches now, with an average headcount of 5.5 people per branch. We have 89 regional directors in place, and 120 former Countrywide employees who left in recent years have now rejoined” he said.
“The programme of splitting out sales and lettings continues - these had been put together a couple of years ago and that was wrong. People in the branches will notice more emphasis being put on lettings” he added.
“There will in particular be more local decisions regarding marketing. This had previously been decided by the centre and that was a mistake. So budgets for spending more on portals or more local marketing will be at branch level” Creffield pledged.
He also said that there was no surprise in the relatively poor sales and lettings figures reported by Countrywide yesterday - sales in the first half of 2018 were just 22,026 while a year ago the figure was 27,100, while properties under management dipped to 124,767 from 126,728.
“It takes around seven months to sell a property thanks to the sales process in the UK, so we’re not going to see an improvement overall for some time yet. But our register of properties is three per cent ahead of where it was a year ago, which is promising for the future” insisted Creffield.
His elevation to the company’s board and to the position of Group Managing Director means Creffield now becomes the nearest the company has to a chief executive since the departure of Alison Platt in January - but the ‘triumverate’ at the head of the firm will remain in place.
Peter Long remains as Executive Chairman and Himanshu Raja, who joined the board in June last year and assumed the Chief Financial Officer role from August 1 last year, are still working with Creffield to run the company.
There had been criticism of Long who has had to spend substantial time on his other chairmanship, of Royal Mail, but Creffield quelled any speculation that Long would be quitting Countrywide.
“I need the experience of people like Peter, whose knowledge and contacts in the City are so good. I’ve been over 40 years in the industry and I want to use that experience to focus on rebuilding Countrywide, so having Peter around is invaluable” Creffield stated.
He also said that he had received “hundreds of emails of support” for his Back To Basics programme, both from people within the 10,000-strong Countrywide workforce as well as from former employees and other property professionals.
“This encourages me even more. Countrywide will rebuild” he said.