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14 November 2008

Office closures put estate agency jobs at risk

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by Lin Freestone

Office closures put estate agency jobs at risk

According to a report published in The Times this week, the jobs of 15,000 people working in estate agents’ offices are at risk as the demand in the housing market slows down.

Since the summer of 2007, it is estimated that up to 7,000 estate agents have lost their jobs through staff cuts at branches or the closure of offices. There are fears that the jobs of as many as half of the 30,000 agents in the UK could be lost by the time the property market begins to recover.

The frequency of office closures seems to be speeding up, and even long-established firms are suffering as there is not enough business to go round.

Humberts, which operated around 80 branches with 600 employees, was one of the first high-profile agencies to collapse in July. In August, Halifax announced the closure of 53 of its estate agency offices, with the loss of 100 jobs.

There are now concerns about Countrywide, the UK’s biggest estate agency and the owner of the Mann, Bairstow Eves and John D. Wood businesses. The firm’s credit rating has been downgraded and there have been rumours that it could run out of cash during the next year. However, the company’s 8,000 staff has been reassured that the business is robust.

Your Move, a leading North East estate agent which was set up by the insurer General Accident in the late 1980s, offers property sales from over 130 branches nationally and it attracted over 400,000 buyers each year. Rumours that the company had gone bust and branches were to be closed have been denied. A few franchised operations in the network have ceased to trade but the Newcastle-based agency chain has claimed that it continues to remain highly active in the marketplace.

As house sales come to a virtual full stop, together with the profits of estate agents, tough decisions about the closure of offices and reduction of staff numbers will have to be made.

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