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OTHER FEATURES

July - it might just be the industry’s busiest month of the year

So here’s the thing. It’s summer - not much going on, school holidays about to start, industry publications filling out space with anniversaries like EAT at 10, right?

No, actually. 

For although we may be slowly melting in a heatwave that marks the seasonal lull in sales and lettings, July promises to be an unusually busy month for those wanting to see the shape of the agency industry in the years to come. And it’s thanks to the stock market.

These days we have so many agencies and portals listed as public companies, with the stock market protocol insisting that they report to shareholders, that we will in July have a bonanza of data giving a good idea of how our industry is changing in the near future.

Amongst the most watched will be Purplebricks, giving a major trading statement on July 5. The hybrid has become known as the bad boy of the industry, and deservedly so given its public perception issues right now. 

Rival agents who think the Advertising Standards Authority lets Purplebricks off lightly are mistaken - there is real punishment meted out, but in the shape of bad PR. The Times’ headline (“Online estate agent Purplebricks ‘misleads for 11th time in three years’”) and the Daily Mail’s (“Online estate agent Purplebricks ordered to come clean about fees buried in small print”) are more damaging than a fine or any likely alternative sanction.

The coming Purplebricks figures - relating to a period well before the latest ASA rulings, of course - are likely to give an early indication of how the hybrid agency is faring in a market where buyers are starting to see the cons as well as the pros of online marketing, and in a wider economic landscape where transactions are likely to reduce in volume.

Traditional agents have little to smile about: a trading statement is due on July 30 from Foxtons, where (so far unsubstantiated) rumours swirl about senior departures. Such gossip is inevitable in a firm suffering from London’s Brexit-focussed uncertainty. 

While Countrywide has been taking all the heat in terms of share price losses amongst traditional agencies in recent weeks, let it not go unnoticed that Foxtons has slipped to its lowest ever price (around 56p as I write) which is a shadow of its 399p recorded in 2014.

And while we’re talking of Countrywide ... well, it’s latest rescue plan is scheduled to be revealed in an announcement on July 26 (unless there’s another profits warning ahead of that time - don’t rule it out, say some insiders). 

There’s little to say that hasn’t already been said of the company: rumours of a sale of its commercial arm have gathered strength in recent days, and there appears to be genuine shock amongst the firm’s management that its announcement last Monday (a profits warning in all but name) led to what appears to be a long-term drop in share price.

The battle between portals in recent months seems to have quietly shifted from OnTheMarket versus ZPG to OTM versus Rightmove, as the challenger has gathered increasing numbers of branches - with the usual caveat that it remains to be seen how many will stay with the newbie once they have to pay a normal rate (or pay at all...).

Rightmove figures are out on July 27 and OnTheMarket’s on July 31 (although expect them to issue more branch numbers ahead of that time). 

Don’t expect anything from ZPG however. These days it’s so much more than a portal firm but even before the acquisition by US giant Silverlake, the company always produced its figures in January and May rather than over the summer. 

So those listed above are just some of the scheduled trading statements, of course; there will be other half year figures from those quoted agencies which tend to make fewer headlines but nonetheless offer a snapshot of how the industry is changing. 

Expect the unexpected, too: anyone want to bet against someone making a bid for Countrywide? 

July used to be a quiet month. But not this year...

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

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