Opinion: Surely it is now time for the fire sale of Countrywide assets

Any business in dire financial straits needs to take decisive action – quickly.

I can’t help but wonder why Countrywide has taken so long to close more branches – and why shareholders aren’t baying for the quick sale of its assets, in order to salvage something from the miserable mess that it’s got itself into.

It’s probably because they are so far in and cannot stomach the losses.

With a share price that’s dropped to 6p at the time of writing, it’s hard to see how it will ever recover from the nightmare it now finds itself in.

Any eventual post-Brexit bounce in the market is likely to come too late because it appears the company has failed to invest sufficiently in new technology, its people and modern marketing.

Is that because the board are from an older generation and are out of touch – or because they are simply running out of cash?

I’ve been saying for nearly two years that they should have a fire sale of their best assets.

This will help shareholders minimise their losses and give investors the opportunity to buy those assets at a discounted price.

There are many parts of the company worth salvaging, including Bridgfords, Slater Hogg, Taylors and Hamptons as well as its financial services, surveying and legal businesses.

However, no one in their right mind would buy the company in its entirety in its current state.

I feel extremely sorry for the hard-working foot soldiers as the company slowly closes branches by stealth.

That just creates a climate of fear, with people wondering whether they’re next in line for the chop.

If that’s not going to get them running for the door and looking for new jobs, what is? So much for its staff being its best asset!

With questions over how much of its £140m cash injection last August is being used to clear down its debts, what must be going through the minds of its main lenders and biggest shareholders right now – and all those smaller shareholders, including those counting on it for their pensions?

Are they ever going to recoup their investment? I hazard a guess that they won’t.

More commisery for Purplebricks

Purplebricks will come to rue the day it chose the word ‘commisery’ to take a cheap shot at its traditional rivals.

For its own lack of commission is now proving to be its undoing as it slowly unravels at the seams, and the tables are being turned.

Gone is Purplebricks’ founder and innovative lead driver chief executive, Michael Bruce.

Gone is its former chief marketeer Joby Russell and its national director of lettings, Richard Jacques.

Gone is the goodwill from investors who were suckered into buying shares. Apart from Toscafund which has just acquired a major stake in Purplebricks, who is seeing something that the rest of the world isn’t?

It looks like the business in Australia is winding down, with the US looking set to follow.

Plus Purplebricks’ online share of the market is falling too, down by almost 5.5% during the past two weeks, according to ‘The REAL State of the Online Estate Agency Sector’ report by Gavin Brazg.

He also says the top ten online agents now only account for 4.4% of all new listings – hardly the promised gold at the end of the rainbow.

He adds that Purplebricks was the only top three online agent to experience a contraction in growth, down by almost 10%.

With the share price settling at about 94p at yesterday’s time of writing, down from its July 2017 high of £5.13, shares are hovering down from their original launch price, with the company’s market capitalisation less than a third of its £1bn high.

What’s so interesting is the way in which the Australian agents so effectively stood their ground against the Purplebricks competition.

They refused to lower their fees, which are much higher than ours. My contacts down under said they couldn’t understand why we ‘Poms’ rolled over and didn’t stick to our guns when it came to fees.

The hybrid low-fee model is starting to fail and investors like Axel Springer must be seriously worried about whether they’ll get their money back.

Now they’re allowing someone from outside the industry, Vic Darvey – until a few months ago the MD of MoneySupermarket – to take control of the helm.

Surely Purplebricks realises it didn’t work at Countrywide when they brought in Alison Platt. Why repeat the same mistake?

Have people forgotten GDPR rules as anniversary looms?

Just a year after the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) in May last year, it appears that many agents are completely ignoring the rules – either intentionally or through ignorance.

It doesn’t take much time or effort for estate agency staff to obtain consent from their customers regarding the use of their personal data.

Yet, following a mystery shop of ourselves and our competitors, we have discovered that some are simply ignoring the rules – and it looks as though some part-time weekend staff have never been trained.

We should all ignore these rules at our peril – because failure to comply can lead to a fine of up to 4% of global annual turnover or £20m Euros, with the Information Commissioner’s Office coming down on the industry like a ton of bricks.

* Paul Smith is CEO of Spicerhaart

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21 Comments

  1. smile please

    Glass houses and stones spring to mind.

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  2. Jonathan.Welford

    Countrywide has the office managers cleaning the offices now, how long before they’re actually hammering in the for sale boards?

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    1. smile please

      Digital age they will scrap for sale boards to save money 😉 

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  3. J1

    This column is rarely insightful.

    Seems to be a biased competitor bashing exercise.

    Time for a change perhaps?

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    1. Gloucester_Agent

      The weakest columnist on PIE by some distance. It is just unadulterated competitor bashing and the same stuff repeated each time. I wouldn’t mind so much if there was a smattering of something else, something interesting or insightful maybe.

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  4. AgencyInsider

    A very well written summation of the CW  and PB situation.

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  5. Eyereaderturnedposter12

    Yet another article trying to “knock” the competition from “The Wordsmith”… yawn.
     
    A reliable source tells me that allegedly one of Haart’s super branches in one of our local patches is on its knees and only being propped up financially speaking by its mortgage operation.
     
    …and mystery shopping yourself and your competitors?! I think that means Haart’s HR dpt. approaching competitors’ staff via LinkedIn. I have had three of my managers come to me to inform me that Haart have approached them in recent weeks…
     
    A word to the wise, if you’re not “investing” in your own people, perhaps it may be better to keep quiet about your competitors allegedly doing the same… I can’t help to suspect that if Haart did invest in its own, they wouldn’t be looking to poach (unsuccessfully) anyone and everyone from their local markets ;
     
    To borrow a quote: “opinions are like arseh*les, there are lots of them and most of them are full of ****”

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    1. new life

      Haart approched me via linkdin regarding a position they belived was just right for me , obviously forgetting that id previously worked for them in a similar position for 3.5 years    4 years previously as stated very clearlt on my linkedin profile and left because of their so called family structure or corporate structure as is.

       

       

      NEVER look back only forward

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      1. Eyereaderturnedposter12

        all rather tacky….

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  6. AnyoneForCoffee

    Paul Smith is stating what most of the property industry is already saying but this article just comes across as a clumsy attempt at acquisition and recruitment. Some of his points could equally apply to Spicer Haart but I get the feeling his ivory tower is high amongst the clouds when it comes to his companies own failings.

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    1. Lister007

      Having had the misfortune of working for Haart, this is spot on!

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  7. AgencyInsider

    I am not a fan of Mr Smith or his company but I do find it kind of ironic that he invariably gets a kicking on here for having the guts to have an opinion and to put his name to it. Unlike most who post on here (me included) and spout their opinions – but from positions of anonymity.

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    1. Woodentop

      Well they did make many enemies with long memories.

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    2. smile please

      I think it is because as others point out it is a recruitment drive and basically asking CW to pick the phone up and call him so he can put a bid on on parts of their operation.

      Also as we all know Haart are no better. They are in just the same mess CW and PB are in just not as publicised. Staff turnover is high and market share slipping as others have posted.

      The only winners in this market are well run independents with owners having daily input.

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  8. Woodentop

    This article has just gone over all the news we have already been reading and commenting on all week. It hasn’t inspired anyone! Bring something to the table that is constructive and enlightening.

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  9. ARC

    I hope that Mr Smith is paying handsomely in order for PIE to allow him a platform to spout this irrelevant and biased nonsense every few weeks.

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  10. MarkJ

    “I’ve been saying for nearly two years that they should have a fire sale of their best assets.
    This will help shareholders minimise their losses and give investors the opportunity to buy those assets at a discounted price.”
     

    It smacks of arrogance to tell CW how it should run its business when you are on the outside looking in.  You may make an observation on what you see fair enough.

    But why would anyone rid themselves of their best …presumably profit making assets voluntarily …at discounted prices  and be left with whats left.

    I presume Mr Smith wouldnt like to work with whats left either…..

     

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    1. Hillofwad71

      They had previously hawked around LSH one of CWD’s main revenue earners a few years back without success when the market was more receptive.The sale of Strutts was a highwater mark  .So would need a hefty price to make that worthwhile to replace that revenue .
      Unlikley  to attract anything  but a lowball offers today so would be a ploy fraught with danger. The  low offer received would cause a panic amongst their lenders reevaluating the value of other brands within the group with a potential LTV breach .The whole pack of cards could fall  down .
      Keep buggering on  til the share price becomes so low  a management  buyout steps in with some VC capital and the whole merry dance starts again.
      It’s the way of all flesh  
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GlRQjzltaMQ

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  11. Woodentop

    There is much speculation in the city that at least two companies are considering PB takeover and has pushed up the share price this morning but still under £1.

     

    If PB were to be taken over, one winner would be Michael Bruce and his wife Isobel, who own 33.1 million shares in the company which, even at today’s much reduced price, would gross them a windfall of £31.32 million.

    Former Capital CEO Paul Pindar, who was an early backer of Purplebricks, retains 10.8 million shares in Purplebricks with his wife, Sharon.

     

    Now what did they input to raise that level of shares!

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  12. Spare Room

    Its often easier to critic someone else’s business rather than your own Mr Smith.

    I have no love for CW, but lets just hope someone else isn’t writing a similar judgemental piece about the failures at Spicer Haart in 12 months time.

    People in glass houses and all that!

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  13. GPL

     

    Retitle this column – “Paul Smith – Purveyor of Hot Air!”

     

     

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