A Problem Shared

Rightmove saw its share price reach new highs but whilst PurpleBricks’s market cap dropped to the lowest it’s been for two years. These two aspects may even be related? Rightmove’s value is a whisker under £5bn now as it marches relentlessly toward its goal to earn £2000 from each estate agency client per month. The question is, will the industry turn its cheek and allow such mass-profitability at its own expense? Or will it do something about it rather than just whinge?

PurpleBricks’s formerly rosy future must surely now be questioned given that it’s growth in listings has stalled in the UK; staff churn throughout the business is significant (including a brace of CEOs) and, of course, its premature expansion into, well, everywhere… is yielding a massive, unpredicted cash burn that must require further funding soon. Will its existing institutional investors still back it? Even if it needs a further £100m to £200m in order to get to global breakeven (if it ever can)? I’m not so sure.

 

Countrywide

Talking of share prices, sado-masochistic Countrywide shareholders experienced further anxiety this week as its share price hit a new new low of 7 pence. Additionally, shares were suspended no less than four times, twice at the end of trading on Tuesday and twice more at the end of the business day on Wednesday, as a consequence of trades being attempted that were at prices significantly different to the underlying share price. There’s something very curious going on here and rumour has it that it’s someone trying to buy stock cheap enough to facilitate a bid for the business. But Grenville Turner it is not, I hear. Either way, surely shareholders big and small are at long last losing patience with a management team that continues to only be able to look backwards and not forwards?

 

Mortgages Up

Approvals. Not rates.
On Friday, UK Finance says that there were more mortgages approved this March than since June 2018. Year on year, mortgage approvals are up 6% (39,980). A sign that the market has bottomed?

 

The Obligatory London Marathon House Price Map

Agents Benham and Reeves hold the baton this year for this regular house price research piece that Emoov first started back in the day. The research shows big differences in growth separated by not many miles with Blackheath, the launch pad for the race, experiencing a fall of 16% in value since last year whilst Deptford, just 8 miles away, soared 18%. It’s the lead story in Friday’s Evening Standard Homes and Property.
Last year I was still going strong at 1h 50mins – but then decided to switch over and watch something else.

 

Poor Trading Standards

17,000 estate agents. 1.2m sales each year. And just 14 people to police it all from a budget of £740,000 – according to Graham Norwood at Estate Agent Today.

On the one hand this is like one copper on a bike policing the whole of London (although the reality feels a bit like that sometimes). On the other, whilst estate agency oversight might seem scant, the industry has without doubt been more squeezed by ‘hammer meets nut’ knee-jerk legislation in recent years than ever before. Particularly in the lettings sector. Tenancy fees; Section 21 abolition; AML relentlessly changing; Right to Rent; GDPR… The scrutiny and administrative responsibility has grown, rendering our industry as the gatekeepers against immigration and criminal activity yet with scant training and nothing reciprocal in thanks except to be kicked in the teeth via increasing attacks on the industry, directly and indirectly, via the stamp duty regime, the squeeze on buy-to-let landlords and lettings fee income.

 

Stamp Duty Stamped On

The Telegraph report that figures from HM Treasury reveal a £1bn hole in SDLT receipts in 2018/19. The abolition of duty below £300,000 (and the first £300,000 of a £500,000 purchase) is no doubt the culprit here but the Telegraph argues that it’s also a consequence of buy-to-let interest waning on the part of landlords. I’d wager it’s also the continuing disintegration of volumes in the Prime and Super Prime London market where at the top rate of 12%, volumes doldrums really hurt the Exchequer. Time to reverse Osborne’s legacy?

 

UK Rental Market Bigger Than GDP of 159 Countries

Yes, it’s true. The value in rental of the UK rental market is larger than the GDP of countries. Bigger than Luxembourg, Oman and Kenya etc. London alone trumps North Korea, so to speak. See Motley Fool

 

House Network Mystery Deepens

House Network is the latest online agent to hit the buffers, entering administration four weeks ago and was then immediately purchased by Ziggy Seagroatt’s Universal Acquisitions. Seagroatt was a former shareholder of House Network and initially publicised Universal’s intent to continue trading then suddenly and inexplicably to close the doors and lay off all staff. Why pay a sum rumoured to be six-figures to the administrators and then promptly shut the thing down? This gets curioser and curioser.

 

The FIA

Graham Lock’s well-timed launch (this Monday) has been highly publicised in recent weeks with the onboarding of a number of well-known suppliers including Yomdel and Viewber. Invite only and holding its agents to the highest standards (they’ll be mystery shopped to ensure such), with the supplier discounts that membership provides, at last this might be a trade body/industry membership scheme that actually adds value has teeth and works for the little guy.

 

Burned Charcol

Less reportedthis week is news that the mortgage broker has lost three key figures from its senior team in quick succession with the departure of Chairman, CEO and CFO. Palatine Private Equity, its owner, will no doubt know the real reasons for the exodus rather than it simply being for all three executives to ‘spend more time with their families’.

 

Foxed

The Times ran a story that ‘revealed’ that Foxtons operate a ‘bait & switch’ approach to lettings. The apparent methodology is to show unsuspecting tenants an attractive flat that is surprisingly well within their price range only to then swap the paperwork for an inferior property that they, somehow, are then compelled to move into. Foxtons told the Times that it was simply human error and the couple concerned had just been shown the wrong flat (the one upstairs in fact) by mistake. This is plausible as is Foxtons’ response which was to immediately refund the tenants their fees and to compensate them financially even before the Times article and subsequent trade follow ups were published. Frankly, the Times’s attempts here to jump on the estate-agency-bashing bandwagon with such a far-fetched supposition were quite ridiculous. Generation Rent, the anarchic anti-homeownership faction, sprinted Ussain Bolt-like to levy their own criticism too, of course. After all, ‘All property is theft’ or some such.