High Street estate agents in the UK struggling financially, says new study

Hundreds of estate agents have gone out of business in the UK in the last year and 7,000 are showing signs of financial distress as they face fewer sales and online competition, a new study has found. Accountancy firm Moore Stephens – suggests that  27% of agents are struggling to survive. One of the main reasons is a long term decline in property sales and competition from more cost effective online estate agents.

Even larger estate agents are not immune, according to the report from accountants Moore Stephens. It shows that London estate agent, Foxtons had a 15% drop in revenue to £24.5 million in the first quarter of 2018 from the same period last year while shares in the UK’s largest estate agent Countrywide fell 25% in one day in late June, after it issued its second profit warning of the year.

The study warns that Government plans to ban letting fees charged to tenants may narrow the profit margins of some estate agents even more, as these fees contribute significantly to the bottom line at the moment. Chancellor Philip Hammond announced the ban in the Autumn Statement 2016, but the Government now expects the bill to be passed in the spring of 2019.

The extra stamp duty surcharge of 3% of the value of a buy to let home introduced in April 2016 could also be a factor, with some buy to let investors deciding not to add to their property lists. Sales volumes are in decline, with the number of property sales in London alone falling 20% from 2014 to 2017, and the number of property sales UK wide falling 1% in just the last year.

‘Insolvencies of high street estate agent are increasing as online competitors continue to chip away at their sales and undermine commission rates. With the ban on letting fees stated to come into force in 2019, estate agents will struggle to pass those fees onto landlords,’ said Chris Marsden, restructuring partner at Moore Stephens.

‘Some areas in the UK are appear to have an excess capacity of estate agents, which could mean there is not enough business to spread around as property transactions stagnate. Estate agents with a traditional model may have to look at whether they can reduce overheads and review their service offering to effectively compete in the current market,’ he added.

Russell Quirk, chief executive officer of hybrid estate agent Emoov says:

‘While there will always be space in the market for a good, customer focussed High Street agent, there are far too many operating in the same area, with the same outdated practices, and until they do decide evolve their proposition, this decline will only get worse,’ he said.

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