Countrywide’s 10,000 employees have been told via email today that they face being furloughed as the Coronavirus lock-down continues to kill the property market.
The Negotiator has been told that the email prepares staff for the eventuality and that employees at the company’s financial services division, which has been particularly impacted by the property market hard stop, have already been furloughed.
While some sales and lettings activity is continuing, the work of mortgage brokers has been doubly difficult to sustain – home buyers are understandably reluctant to take on new debt or remortgage at the moment, while lenders have been withdrawing products and asking for ever larger LTV ratios.
Countrywide’s decision is thought to be linked to the government’s announcement earlier this week that all sales and lettings home moves should not proceed unless they were already past exchange and contractually unable to stop.
Countrywide had already sent all of its employees home to work remotely and closed branches as per government advice which, now that the Coronavirus Bill has passed, is backed up by police powers to shut business premises that are not on the exempted list.
The decision by Countrywide to consider furloughing its staff is also linked to its perilous financial position. Although many brands such as Hamptons are profitable, the company is carrying a heavy debt burden after its attempt to sell commercial property arm Lambert Smith Hampton for £38 million fell through recently.
A spokesperson told The Negotiator: “Our priority remains to do the right thing by our colleagues, support our customers and preserve our business as we navigate the Group through this unprecedented situation.
“Our high street branches are closed with colleagues at home and we have been working to assess business-critical activities required across the Group to support our customers, our landlords and tenant community who rely on us to manage their housing emergencies and keep a roof over their heads.
“We welcome the UK Government’s introduction of the coronavirus job retention scheme (CJRS), and like many businesses within our industry, we will be utilising the scheme to support our colleagues who are not engaged in the continued provision of essential services.”