Belfast Telegraph

Housing market slowdown feared by Countrywide due to uncertainty on referendum

Estate agency Countrywide added to fears over the impact of the EU referendum as it warned of a slowdown in the housing market amid uncertainty caused by the forthcoming vote.

Alison Platt, chief executive of Countrywide, said the group was cautious over trading for the next few months in the build-up to the June 23 vote, with the property market also expected to be hit after the introduction of higher stamp duty.

The group said: " We expect the housing market to slow in the second quarter post the surge in buy-to-let activity in the first quarter and reflecting challenges from the political and economic uncertainty in the lead-up to the EU referendum in June."

Countrywide said it saw property sales surge by 30% year on year in the first quarter as buy-to-let investors rushed to complete purchases before the Government's new 3% stamp duty surcharge on April 1.

It said this also compared with a tough quarter a year earlier when property market conditions were impacted ahead of the general election.

Upmarket estate agency Savills and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors also recently warned that referendum uncertainty was taking its toll on the housing market.

Ms Platt said: " We are encouraged by the strong performance delivered in the first quarter."

"Mindful of the political and economic uncertainty surrounding the EU referendum, we are taking a cautious view of the coming months," she added.

Countrywide, which owns brands including Hamptons International, has had a tough past year, posting a 40% slump in 2015 profits in February after being hit by a fall in the number of people buying and selling houses.

The group - the UK's biggest listed estate agency - blamed a tougher sales market amid uncertainty over last May's general election, as well as the impact of a group-wide restructuring.

Its full-year results showed the number of houses exchanged fell 9% and by 11% in London during 2015.

Countrywide sparked fears over the sector when it warned on profits in November, but later said results would not be as bad as feared thanks to an ''encouraging'' performance in the final three months.