Estate agent Countrywide cuts staff after profits dive

Russell Lynch
Estate agent Countrywide has suffered from a slowdown in the UK housing market: Rob Stothard/Getty Images

The boss of the UK’s biggest estate agency Countrywide on Thursday warned that things would “get worse before they get better” as the business axed the dividend and shares took another tumble on a huge dive into the red.

Executive chairman Peter Long’s latest bad news for investors was a fresh £10 million profit blow in the first half of the year as the agent behind brands including Hamptons and Bairstow Eves abandons the disastrous legacy of previous boss Alison Platt, who was sacked in January.

Her attempts to centralise the business and take a “retail” approach to selling homes flopped badly.

Long is clearing up the mess and around a third of Countrywide’s 450 head office staff now face redundancy as the company looks to cut costs.

The fresh profit hit comes as the company works to rebuild its sales pipeline which dwindled last year amid the woes.

Shares hit a new all-time low, falling another 11p, or 13%, to 77.8p today and have now lost nearly 90% in the past four years.

Long said “things will get worse before they get better”. However, he added: “The key thing is that we can fix this business, but this is a two or three year turnaround.”

The group reported pre-tax losses of £212.1 million against profits of £19.5 million the year before after being hit by one-off costs.

But even with these stripped out, pre-tax profits more than halved to £25.2 million from £52.7 million in 2016.

Countrywide was also stymied last year as the housing market experienced a marked slowdown since the Brexit vote, and the firm said that in 2016 the EU referendum had a “sustained impact on sentiment”, with fewer buyers and sellers coming to the market.