Belfast Telegraph

Crest surges to sales target

Housebuilder Crest Nicholson said it should meet its target of selling 2,500 homes annually at least a year early after a summer of soaring demand.

The builder, which rejoined the stock market this year, said state incentive schemes fuelled a 46% annual surge in reservations between May and September, lifting forward s ales for next year by 92%.

But Surrey-based Crest, which builds mainly in the south of England, said the booming housing market is also forcing up some materials prices and causing delivery delays.

Deliveries of bricks and blocks are being pushed back as manufacturers struggle to keep up with demand, the builder said, forcing it to import materials from Europe. Analysts expect this to drive up Crest's build costs by 2-3% next year.

It said: "Higher levels of reservations have brought some initial pressures to bear on elements of our supply chain."

Crest said the cost inflation and delays were expected, and insisted the squeeze should abate as its suppliers and sub-contractors "adjust to new levels of activity".

The housing market has been inflated by schemes such as Help to Buy, which allows people to buy a new-build home with a 5% deposit. The Government's Funding for Lending Scheme has also been credited with lowering the cost and boosting the availability of home loans.

Crest's reservation rate between May 1 and September 6 rose to 0.95 per outlet per week, from 0.65 a year earlier.

Forward sales for its new financial year starting in November now total £145 million, up from £75 million a year earlier. Crest also opened more sales outlets, and traded from 46 developments during the period, compared with 39 a year earlier.

Meanwhile cancellation rates have fallen to 10.5% from 15.8% a year earlier.

Crest said surging trading should see it hit its target of selling 2,500 homes annually by late next year. In January the builder said it would take three to four years to hit the target.

Chief executive Stephen Stone said rising reservations "confirm the strong desire for home ownership that exists in this country".

The builder added: "In due course, broader economic recovery and the rising consumer confidence and prosperity that it brings should help to sustain activity."

The 50-year-old firm returned to the stock market in February, valued at more than £600 million, after a painful five-year absence.

Shares in the builder dipped 1% on the update to value it at around £840 million.

The firm was bought by HBOS and Sir Tom Hunter, the Scottish entrepreneur, in a £715 million takeover at the peak of the housing market in 2007.

But the downturn in the property market led to two debt restructurings in 2009 and 2011.