NEWSFLASH: Countrywide buys eminent lettings business

Countrywide has kept up its momentum on acquisitions with the purchase of a major lettings business – one of the most eminent in the country and twice winner of UK letting agent of the year.

Finders Keepers, based in Oxfordshire, has been bought for an undisclosed sum.

It is extremely well known in Oxford itself and a rite of passage among students seeking accommodation is to camp outside its offices overnight or longer in order to register.

Founded in 1972, Finders Keepers is an ARLA firm with eight offices and over 100 members of staff.

It was founded by Mary Channer and the current managing director, Dan Channer, is her son.

Frank Webster is the well-known vice chairman of the company.

Its awards include being the Sunday Times and The Times Letting Agent of the Year in both 2009 and 2012.

It has also been named as one of the best companies to work for and ‘one to watch’.

The company offers a multitude of services to both landlords and tenants, including helping landlords make the most of their investments.

It offers a full property management service in addition to its own interior design and building teams.

The highly successful business lets and manages over 2,400 properties each year and boasts a 99.3% occupancy rate.

FKStudent Lettings, its specialist student division, has a portfolio of over 200 properties.

Mary Channer said:“I started Finders Keepers at the age of 27, and now that the digits are almost reversed I feel it is time to retire. This is made easier by knowing that the great team will stay in place and I am confident that Countrywide will be great custodians of the Finders Keepers brand, culture and business.”

Dan Channer said: “It has been very clear through our discussions with Countrywide that they understand our culture and values, in particular our focus on exceptional customer service. We are able to deliver this service where each property manager is local, in the office, knows the properties and handles the full tenant lifecycle. 

“Finders Keepers have a deep understanding of the local market. And this, combined with Countrywide’s broad industry experience and resource, will mean that both companies will be even stronger moving forward.” 
 Bruce Evans, Commercial Director at Countrywide, said: “Finders Keepers stood out to us because like Countrywide, the owners prided themselves on providing excellent customer service. The business is a perfect fit for us and comes with a highly professional and experienced staff, all of whom we are very proud to welcome.
 “The acquisition is a key part of our strategy of expansion through acquisition and organic growth across the UK. The business will be fully integrated within the overall Countrywide retail division giving landlord clients access to our exclusive range of products and services, and the benefit of our strong and secure infrastructure to support both landlords and tenants.”


Couple’s disappointment after finding dream home was relist on Rightmove

A pair of home hunters have told of their disappointment at finding their dream property listed on Rightmove yesterday – only to find that it had in fact been sold nearly 18 months ago.

The property, in Ealing, west London, was listed with Rightmove on February 29 by TV presenter Sarah Beeny’s online firm Tepilo, and was still visible yesterday morning.

By the afternoon, it had been removed, but its listing history could still be seen.

Yesterday morning, the couple – who have asked not to be named – found the property on Rightmove.

It was, in the man’s words, their perfect home: it was on the right street, the type of period property they wanted, and at a much lower price than they had expected, at £605,000.

They contacted Tepilo through Rightmove, and were sent an email asking them to book a viewing through Tepilo’s website.

However, on the Tepilo website, there were no properties listed in London.

They called Tepilo and were told that the firm had just changed its systems which was proving very difficult. The woman they spoke to said that she herself could not actually book the viewing because of the change in IT.

The couple say they subsequently received a phone call from Tepilo saying that owing to technical difficulties, there had been some relisting of properties.

They then discovered from the Land Registry that while Tepilo had somehow relisted the property at £630,000, it had in fact been sold for £750,000 in October 2014.

Subsequent investigations by EYE show that the agent which sold the property was not Tepilo, but high street firm Sinton Andrews.

A spokesperson for Tepilo told EYE: “We released a new version of our website yesterday and have encountered some technical difficulties syncing our database with Rightmove.

“These issues are being addressed as a matter of urgency and we are currently re-syncing with Rightmove, so hope to resolve the issues imminently.”

A spokesperson for Rightmove confirmed: “There was a new update on Tepilo’s website which caused technical problems syncing their property feed with Rightmove. Our team have been working with Tepilo to resolve this.”


Tepilo Screen Shot 2016-03-01 at 14.39.40



Tepilo w5 property #1



Tepilo w5 property #2

Newsflash: Major purchase of big regional agent by Connells

Connells Group has acquired Rook Matthews Sayer, a leading estate agency with 16 branches operating across Newcastle, Tyneside and Northumberland.

The highly successful firm is a Gold member of OnTheMarket, with Clive Rook having been a director.

Separately, Countrywide announced this morning that it has bought a major stake in specialist brokerage The Buy-to-Let business.

The acquisition by Connells Group takes its high street network to over 560 branches nationwide and provides a platform for the Group’s expansion into this region.

Rook Matthews Sayer, founded in 1990, is a well-established and successful business offering residential sales and lettings together with professional services.

It will continue to trade under its existing  name.

Founders Clive Rook, Rod Matthews and Richard Sayer will retire from the business on completion and current director Janet Walker will become managing director to lead the company’s 130 employees in developing and expanding the business.

“This is our largest and most significant acquisition in 2016 and signals that the Group remains in expansive mode this year,” said David Plumtree, Connells Group estate agency chief executive.

“By incorporating Rook Matthews Sayer into our network, we fill a geographical gap in our portfolio which allows us to extend our market leading proposition into new geographical markets.

“We look forward to working with Janet and the team to marry their local expertise with our national strength and in order to expand the brand further and take Rook Matthews Sayer to its next stage of growth.”

Clive Rook said: “It is a very exciting proposition for Rook Matthews Sayer to become part of the market leading Connells Group.

“Our strong market position within the north east region will be enhanced by the strength of the Connells Group and I look forward to seeing the planned expansion.  We are confident that this is very good news for both our customers and our staff.”

Connells Group recently announced an excellent set of annual financial results highlighting the Group’s financial strength and ambition to grow further following a string of estate agency and lettings business acquisitions in 2015 (most notably the acquisition of 18-branch estate agency Gascoigne Halman and online estate agency Hatched).

Like Gascoigne Halman, Rook Matthews Sayer is a member of OnTheMarket. After the purchase by Connells, Gascoigne Halman left OTM for Zoopla; however, OTM took steps to enforce its contract.

Connells Group said this morning it would like to add further successful businesses to its portfolio and is open to approaches from existing sales or lettings businesses looking to sell or who wish to grow as part of a wider group.

Meanwhile, Countrywide said its investment in The Buy To Let Business was “significant”.

The business, based in Camberley, Surrey, employs 65 people and is in the top 50 fastest growing firms in the UK.

The investment by Countrywide signals its ambitions to enhance its activity in the buy-to-let sector.

Peter Curran, managing director of Countrywide Financial Services, said: “Our investment in the Buy to Let Business will enable our private rental and financial service businesses to create a market-leading proposition for landlords.

“It is also a clear statement of our belief in the sector’s important and longevity.”

55 landlords ‘in group claim against Foxtons over repair bills mark-ups’

A total of 55 landlords are said to have joined a group claim against Foxtons over “hidden” repairs mark-up allegations. Foxtons has said their case is entirely without merit, and that its charges are transparent and properly communicated.

The law firm representing the landlords on a ‘no win, no fee’ basis said yesterday evening that the claim could potentially be worth £2m.

Leigh Day has reportedly served Foxtons with a letter of claim, warning it will issue High Court proceedings unless it agrees to enter settlement talks.

According to the law firm, the claim includes accusations that Foxtons has been charging landlords commissions of as much as 33% of a contractor’s fee for work done on their properties, without landlords’ fully informed consent.

It is also alleged that the London-based estate agent has engaged contractors who charge above the market rate in breach of their duty to try to get a good deal for landlords.

The individual claims on behalf of private individual landlords who have used Foxtons are said by Leigh Day to range in value from £4,000 up to tens of thousands.

Last summer when news broke of the likely group action, the TV presenters Lynn Faulds Wood and her husband John Stapleton were said to be among claimants but it is not known if they have joined the action.

The number of 55 is also much smaller than the 100 landlords originally said to be involved in the case.

One of the claimants is Dr Chris Townley, a lecturer in competition law at King’s College London, who previously worked as a principal case officer at the Office of Fair Trading.

He has said he felt ‘betrayed’ when he found out that Foxtons had taken commissions from anyone working on his property without his consent.

He alleges that he queried a £616 bill for a new security light, and was told by the contractors that they had billed Foxtons £412.50.

Chris Haan, from Leigh Day, said: “It is a landmark case.”

He added: “We were not surprised when many other landlords came forwards with similar claims to that of Dr Townley.

“This is the first group of claims to be put to Foxtons but we believe there will be many more.

“We consider Foxtons has a potential conflict of interest in that the more expensive the contractor is, the more Foxtons makes in commissions.

“We believe these charges to landlords are unlawful as they are not sufficiently disclosed, so the landlords cannot give fully informed consent to them.

“This is against industry codes of practice.

“We are taking this case on ‘no-win, no-fee’ basis, with the aim of securing a refund from Foxtons for all affected landlords.”

A spokesman for Foxtons said: “We believe our fees represent good value and are clearly communicated to landlords and detailed within the terms of each contract. This case reflects a small minority of landlords and we believe is entirely without merit.”

Other letting firms could be watching the Foxtons case with interest.

If there were to be any civil action in court challenging Foxtons – and it is by no means certain that there will be – it would be entirely separate from the recent case whereby a former Belvoir franchisee was given a jail term for fraud after he went to extraordinary lengths to disguise hidden mark-ups on repair bills. That criminal prosecution was brought by Trading Standards, initiated by a landlord’s evidence.

Two online agents claim high street agents earn more than any other profession

Two sets of online agents have claimed that high street agencies charge extraordinary amounts of money per hour.

Both say that high street agency businesses charge far more per hour than any other profession.

HouseSimple puts the figure at £691, while eMoov puts it at £922.

eMoov says this is based on time taken to sell a house being between five and 15 hours, and average high street commission at 1.6%.

It also factors in average house prices at £288,000 (ONS).

eMoov says that in London, the average hourly rate can be as high as £2,500.

eMoov founder Russell Quirk said: “This is the third year we have run this research now and it’s unbelievable that high street agents are still cashing in to such an amount, at the detriment of UK home sellers.

“This isn’t so much about the online offline debate but about the service provided to those selling and, quite frankly, the high street sector have been taking advantage of UK sellers for far too long now.

“The explosive growth of the online sector proves that it can be done differently and as we continue to grow, we promise to reverse this trend of overpaid, underperforming estate agents topping the list in terms of cost per hour.

“The cost per hour with an online agent is around eight times cheaper despite the service provided being consistently better, so hopefully it won’t be long before the commission fee structure becomes extinct altogether.”

In the first year that eMoov started making claims about agents’ hourly rates, it said it was £744; last year, it put the sum at £870, and this year at £920 – well over double what a lawyer charges, as you can see from the list eMoov issued yesterday.


Profession Cost Per Hour (£)
Estate Agent £920
Lawyer £409
Private Doctor £145
Hairdresser £79
Plumber £200
Electrician £200
Physiotherapist £60
Psychologist £60
Dentist £53
Personal trainer £30
Vet £46


HouseSimple, meanwhile, says it did its sums based on an average fee of 1.8%, and the same ONS figure of £288,000.

It claims that the average agent takes nine hours to sell a property, including valuation (one hour), listing on portals (two hours), an average of eight viewings (four hours) and sales progression (two hours).

HouseSimple CEO Alex Gosling said: “High street estate agents need no formal training and yet they charge vendors ridiculously large fees, for what in many cases is a few hours’ work.

“The truth is that it’s just as simple and quick to sell a property online now, and for a few hundred pounds. High street agents have been overcharging home sellers for years.”

* Stephen Hayter, of the country’s largest conveyance, says that the most common fee charged by high street agents is between 0.75% and 1%. He puts the average commission at just over £3,000.

Average fees: High street estate agents are charging less and less


Rightmove sets new records on all fronts as profit margin rises to over 75%

Rightmove increased its profit margin to 75.1% last year, up from 74.5% in 2014, it announced this morning.

Revenue was up 15% at £192.1m, with underlying profit up 16% to £144.3m.

Rightmove’s agency business was easily the main contributor to overall revenue with a year on year increase of £17.5m to £147.1m.

Rightmove’s market share among the top four property portals was 77%, up from 74% at the start of last year.

Rightmove also raised its dividend to shareholders by 23% to 27p from 22p.

Average revenue per advertiser – mostly estate agents – was up at £754 per month compared with £684 the year before.

The number of advertisers on Rightmove was also up, by 2%, to stand at a record 19,752. The number of agents on Rightmove rose 3%.

The site had almost 50% more properties listed on it than any other portal, with 1.2m properties displayed on December 31, 2015.

Visits and leads were also up, with a record 1.3bn visits last year (a rise of 18%), with a record 49.8m leads generated for advertisers, compared with 42.8m the year before – a rise of 16%.

CEO Nick McKittrick said: “Rightmove celebrated its 15th birthday in 2015 and together with the support of nearly 20,000 customers, it has changed the way Britain searches and researches property.

“Our property stock advantage coupled with our brand strength and innovation have substantially increased our audience size and engagement this year.

“We attracted 200m more visits in 2015 as more people came to search and research the only place with a million properties for sale and to rent in the UK.

“We help our customers succeed by delivering great value marketing and by helping drive business efficiencies. We have grown our customer base by 2% during 2015 to a record high and continue to build broader relationships to support customers’ ambitions.

“We continue to break records at the start of 2016 having already generated over 9m leads for our customers.”

Chairman Scott Forbes said: “As we report on our 15th consecutive year of growth, I’d like to pick up on a theme raised in the Strategic Report: ‘Doing the right thing’.

“This uncompromising principle supports the ethos of the Group. The philosophy drives our high achieving network business and what we do for our trade customers on one side of the network and our web and mobile visiting consumers on the other side.

“It also extends to our focus and behaviours towards all stakeholders including our investors, analysts, employees and our Board.

“The team’s relentless focus and sensitive examination of our consumer experience has been the catalyst for continual improvements to site navigation and design.

“We aim for simplicity of use and an engaging experience.

“Of course our site traffic is in part a natural consequence of the best consumer proposition in the market, with almost 50% more listings than any other UK property portal, but it is in the main driven by the huge trust built up in our brand over the past 15 years.

“The team works diligently to maintain a site that delivers the desired information when it is wanted and in the form it is wanted and we achieved an enviable 99.997% level of site availability last year.

“Our nearly 20,000 customers have benefited from our ever-growing popularity with the British home moving public. We have delivered 15 consecutive years of site traffic growth for our customers and have been consistently ranked in the top ten sites in the UK irrespective of cyclical housing demand.

“Last year we attracted 200m more consumer visits than the previous year and generated a record 50 million leads for our customers. Rightmove’s popularity is showing no signs of letting up and we have already set new site traffic records this January.”

He went on: “Our customers have also benefitted from a continuous roll-out of additional advertising products to reach their audience of home sellers, landlords and home hunters.

“There is a wide range of choice and discretion to shape and reinforce brand identity on Rightmove to compete for business and market homes.

“There is also an increasing range of valuable tools, support and data available to our customers to assist them to operate their businesses more effectively and efficiently.”

Praising the talent and dedication of Rightmove staff, Forbes said Rightmove had become “the essential marketplace for home hunters to find their next home and for property advertisers to reach by far the widest possible audience”.

Ahead of today’s results, with their astonishing new records, shares in Rightmove rose £1.39 yesterday.

Eight agents unite in local paper advertising campaign for OTM

A group of eight agents have placed an advert in their local newspaper this morning, telling consumers about OnTheMarket.

The advert appears in the Grimsby Telegraph today, and is booked for eight weeks.

It tells readers: “ has more local properties for sale than Zoopla.”

The agents, all in north-east Lincolnshire, are Argyle, Bettles Miles & Holland, Canters, Crofts, DDM Residential, Joy Walker, Jackson Green & Preston, and Pygott Crone.

Gary Croft, of Crofts, told EYE: “I think the figures in the ad show and prove what agent power can do when they are able to set their differences aside and put their heads together.

“Crofts estate agents were very proactive in gathering the local agents together to effectively and collectively take our property stock out of one shop window (Zoopla) and put it in another (OnTheMarket).

“The result has been that it hasn’t affected any of businesses just controlled our payments.

“It has however temporarily strengthened Rightmove’s position until we maybe feel brave again!”


Picture of the Week: And it’s not a pretty sight

Here’s a strong contender for Tip of the Week – sorry, we mean of course Picture of the Week – a three-bedroom semi which is, as the agent Reeds Rains puts it, In Need Of A Scheme Of Modernisation.

Or, to put it another way, In Need Of A Scheme of Deep Cleaning and Complete Decluttering.

According to the details, internal viewing is a must, and viewing is also highly recommended to appreciate the potential of the outdoor space.

We know you will enjoy looking through the pictures, particularly the bathroom shot at number 5. Actually, you might want to skip that one, particularly if you’ve only just had breakfast.

If ever there was a case of ‘put that lid down’, this is it

The agent who alerted us to this listing queried: “Are these the worst estate agency pictures ever taken?”

That does seem a bit harsh, but we do wonder why the photographer felt they had to take so many.

Presumably it was to drive home the claim that this is a fantastic opportunity with investment potential.


picture of the week 17

OnTheMarket in challenge to regain agent that joined Zoopla

Gascoigne Halman, the major firm in the north that was bought by Connells last autumn, is back with OnTheMarket and no longer listing with Zoopla.

It follows legal action by OnTheMarket. However it is understood that the matter is not concluded and that there are  ongoing talks.

OTM, however, has made clear its determination to enforce contracts and have its ‘one other portal’ rule upheld.

It also looks set to lay down a marker for other agents involved in the current acquisition spree by corporates that back Zoopla – whereas the independents being bought may be signed up to OTM.

The action follows our report that Gascoigne Halman was quitting OTM.

Gascoigne Halman was an early Gold member of OTM and as such signed up to OTM’s one other portal rule.

Earlier this month, however, the firm told EYE that its acquisition by Connells – a stakeholder in Zoopla – meant that its departure from OTM was inevitable.

An OTM spokesperson last night said: “When it was announced that Gascoigne Halman was listing its properties on Zoopla / PrimeLocation as well as on Rightmove, we initiated appropriate legal action to address the situation.

“Gascoigne Halman remains a valued member of Agents’ Mutual and is complying with its contractual agreements to pay a monthly subscription fee and to list its properties at and a maximum of one other portal, which continues to be Rightmove.”

Connells, LSL and Countrywide – although the latter has recently halved its holding – are all stakeholders in Zoopla.

We have invited Zoopla, Connells and Gascoigne Halman to comment.

Last night Connells simply said it was in discussions with OTM and Zoopla but was unable to issue an update.

Gascoigne Halman said it was  unable to comment.

Zoopla and Gascoigne Halman united in list of Britain’s top companies

Both Zoopla and Gascoigne Halman have been included in the London Stock Exchange Group’s latest annual report listing Britain’s top 1,000 most inspirational companies.

Also named is franchise business Belvoir.

The report identifies the fastest-growing and most dynamic small and medium sized business across the UK. Those highlighted are all expanding at an average of 50% a year.

Belvoir managing director Dorian Gonsalves  said: “The aim of the report is to shine a light on those companies that are proving to be the engine of the UK economy.

“It is true that Belvoir is developing and growing at a phenomenal rate, and last year we increased our number of outlets by 32%.

“This year we have a number of acquisitions of various sizes in the pipeline, which we will continue to acquire centrally as well as assisting our franchise owners to buy out their competitors.

“In addition to our acquisition strategy we are part-way through a successful roll-out of property sales across our network, so there are exciting times ahead.”

Belvoir currently has 211 offices nationwide. It listed on AIM two years ago.

The LSE listing says of Zoopla that it has been one of the fastest growing companies since it launched in 2008.

Founder Alex Chesterman is quoted as saying: “We help consumers make smarter decisions. Each of our brands has a distinct market position attracting a unique audience and allowing us to deliver unrivalled exposure and leads for our partners.”

Gascoigne Halman is a major success story for John Halman, who founded the business in 1990 and steered its growth to 18 branches.