Countrywide, the UK’s largest estate agent and mortgage broking network, has announced its strongest Q1 financial results since the market collapsed in 2007 – and simultaneously torn into the Government over its ‘ineffective’ housing policies.
The group said that ‘at best’, the lending market this year would be flat, and it criticised ‘lack of effective government action in supporting the residential housing market’.
Grenville Turner, chief executive of Countrywide, reported an 11% rise in house sales in the first quarter of this year compared with last, but said conditions remained unpredictable.
He said: “We are currently at a crossroad for home ownership.
“With the market operating at half the long-term average, we call on the Government to take effective action to boost the residential housing market, as the risk of a further drop is increasing.”
Turner said: “We are also aware that as the year progresses, there are other factors at play which may cause short-term disruption such as increases in Stamp Duty on property sales, the Olympics, Euro 2012 and the Diamond Jubilee.
“Additionally, widespread predictions indicate that the mortgage lending market for 2012 will be flat at best, and if the banks continue to restrict their lending, there may be longer-term implications.
“Mortgage inaccessibility and mortgage affordability remain the biggest hurdles for home movers and our recent research with YouGov confirms this view from the market, with nearly half (45%) of 18 to 34-year-olds citing deposit affordability as the biggest barrier to buying a property.”
He went on: “Despite external factors, significant financial and operational progress will continue across all parts of the Group, coupled with strong cash generation and investment when the appropriate business case is made.
“Although, the timing of a significant market recovery remains unpredictable, we will continue to invest and lay the foundations to capitalise on future valuable opportunities, supported as always by award-winning teams, innovative marketing campaigns and a strong online presence.”
Countrywide’s total income was over £122m in the first three months of this year, up 15%.
Countrywide estate agents exchanged on 13,134 house sales (up from 11,789 for the same quarter last year). Its Hamptons division exchanged on 690, up from 578.
Estate agency contributed nearly £50m to group turnover, and its lettings business contributed nearly £22m. The Hamptons business contributed £5.5m.
Countrywide’s mortgage business sold 13,127 mortgages worth £1.7bn in the first quarter of this year, compared with £0.8bn in the first quarter last year. It also said that it expects its buy-to-let business to rise.