Countrywide's Slide: Soothsaying or just praying?
Soothsaying or just praying?
The stakes keep getting higher for Countrywide's leaders.
By 2017’s end, they will either look like wise soothsayers over the entrails of property industry’s lamb or axe-wielding maniacs that hacked too much from a business that wasn’t particularly glamorous, but wasn’t in particular trouble either. Will they be remembered for their prophesy or profit-expiry? It’s going to be an interesting year.
My view is that Countrywide’s embracing of technology is essential and should be adopted everywhere. I like that they are providing an ‘entry-level’ service with flexibility to move onto a higher product later on. Customers will expect this, not because of Purplebricks but because of Amazon. That it has taken until 2017 for most estate agents to realise they need an online booking system continues to encourage the view that agency is antiquated and – frankly – doesn’t really care.
However, Countrywide’s obsession with ‘Retail’ has moved from “distinctive” to “dangerous”. There was an argument that moving house had changed so much in the years to 2015 that it could be considered a commodity purchase. Countrywide tested that and it has not worked – people want service, not just a product.
What does it mean for everyone else?
Countrywide’s scale will protect it as it mutates. I suspect that things will get balance-sheet worse before they get better but their dialling-down of ‘Retail’ to focus on the hybrid model will secure what’s left. What does that mean for the rest of the market? Agents should quickly find technology partners that will enable their clients to deal with the basics from them as easily as Amazon, stick their great personal service on top and they'll not have to worry about Countrywide.
They won't need to worry about 'hybrids' so much at that point, either ...