Page last updated at 10:41 GMT, Tuesday, 6 May 2008 11:41 UK

Estate agents 'closing branches'

Sale signs
Mortgage approvals in March were the lowest since 1999

About 150 estate agents' branches are now closing every week in the UK, according to research.

Business monitor Debtwire said the number of branches had fallen from 13,000 to 12,000 so far this year.

Jeremy Leaf, from the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, told the BBC many were closing because people eager to move could not get a mortgage.

And he said other businesses linked to the housing market, like removal and DIY companies, were also suffering.

The number of properties changing hands has fallen sharply in the past 12 months.

And Bank of England figures show that the number of new mortgages approved in March was the lowest since records began in 1999.

'No sympathy'

Speaking on BBC Radio 4, Mr Leaf acknowledged that the housing market bubble in the past five years may have led to a surge in the number of estate agencies.

But he said: "Many estate agents, contrary to popular belief, do actually add value to a transaction, and they are useful to buyers and sellers.

This is always the slackest three months of the year and removers prepare for it
Steve Jordan
British Association of Removers

"Some people wont have particular sympathy, but it's one of the businesses that is dependent on the housing market for its trade, and there's going to be a knock-on effect to DIY companies, removal companies and those of us in the housing business."

The UK's largest estate agency group Countrywide said it had closed 50 branches this year.

The rate of closures has accelerated since the start of the year and now stands at about 150 a week nationwide.

Mr Leaf said the current trend could be reversed if more mortgages were approved.

"There is money out there," he said. "But even more creditworthy borrowers are being told that they need a more hefty deposit or they wont be able to get the mortgage they want. "If we could just get some consistency then those that have to move, want to move, would still be able to do so."

Steve Jordan, spokesman for the British Association of Removers, said he had seen no real evidence that removal firms were being hit by the housing market slow-down.

"I've spoken to a few companies who are saying the market is as bad as 1989-90, but I'm not worried.

"This is always the slackest three months of the year and removers prepare for it. We have no evidence of job losses or closures."


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