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That referendum: Should agents get off the fence?

And so it begins. Four months and counting before we vote to leave or remain.

For a country apparently so divided about the EU, we as a residential industry appear – for once – to be remarkably agreed about one aspect of the debate. 

That is, the four months of speculation, uncertainty, educated guesswork and downright prejudice just started will have a detrimental effect on the housing market.

City analysts poring over the uncomfortable figures produced by Countrywide in recent days quickly spotted that the indifferent performance by its sales and letting agents in 2015 was down to general election uncertainty. So, the analysts ask, will the same thing happen in the build-up to the late June referendum? Probably, admits the group’s chief executive.

Hometrack is also concerned about the effects. Being numbers people, they pointed not only to the election slowdown last year but the 10 per cent drop off in transactions in Scotland before that country’s independence referendum in September 2014. Will the same thing happen across the UK this spring and early summer? Hometrack says Yes.

But if the industry is at one in frustration at the uncertainty until mid-summer, it almost certainly is not agreed on the question we are being asked in the polling stations – should we stay or should we go?

So far industry figures have kept their individual and corporate powder dry, with a very few exceptions.  
 
Only one estate agent was amongst the 200 British business leaders signing a letter to The Times urging Britain to remain in; likewise the best known estate agent in the House of Commons – Hunters founder Kevin Hollinrake – has indicated he will vote to stay in. On the other side of the argument, London estate agency veteran Trevor Abrahmsohn, in a blog post on which I based a story a few days ago, gives a fairly clear ‘leave’ message.

Otherwise people are remaining uncharacteristically quiet.

A few days ago I tried to extract an EU view from Countrywide’s chief exec Alison Platt (yes, I can name drop as good as the next journalist). She gave a characteristically courteous response but didn’t let anything slip: “It’s the British public’s job to vote in or out. It’s my job to steer my company through the fall out, whatever that may be.”  

Is that what estate agents or other property professionals should do? Or is this issue so significant – we keep being told it’s ‘once in a generation’ and ‘more important than an election’ - that agents should get off the fence and say what they think?

I think so, even if I am being slightly mischievous: after all, it would make the next four months of story-writing fly by to have pro- and anti-EU agents at each others’ throats.

OnTheMarket v Zoopla wouldn’t have anything on this...

What do you think?

*Editor of Estate Agent Today and Letting Agent Today, Graham can be found tweeting all things property @PropertyJourn

  • Terence Dicks

    I do not believe that "general election uncertainty" is at all responsible for the poor performance at Countrywide, but the constant upheaval and future uncertainty caused by Alison Platt and the direction in which she is taking the company. The city analysts have probably not noticed all the other Corporates are not down 37% on operating profits. Absolute drivel.

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