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