Hambro plans to speed up house sales

Hambro Countrywide, the UK's largest estate agent, yesterday announced revolutionary plans that should enable house buyers to complete the purchase of a property in less than a week.

The group is investing pounds 500,000 in a conveyancing service which will be open 12 hours a day, seven days a week, and will provide services such as the electronic transfer of local authority searches, which will take hours rather than a week to receive.

Harry Hill, managing director of Hambro Countrywide, which trades under names such as Bairstow Eves and Dixons, said yesterday: "We want to halve the time taken to buy a house by the end of the year and reduce it even further within the next 12 months. An average house takes six weeks to sell. We aim to complete the purchase within six days. In other countries you can buy a house the same day as you see it."

Speeding up house sales will help solve the growing problem of gazumping, where sellers raise the price of a property even though they have already agreed to accept a lower offer. Hambro Countrywide's move comes in the wake of a public outcry over gazumping which led to the Government announcing plans to clamp down on the practice.

Mr Hill predicted house prices would continue to rise until the end of the millennium: "I can see house prices continuing to increase for at least another three or four years. The housing recovery is not longer confined to the South-east. There has been a very solid performance in places such as the Midlands and the North-west."

Hambro Countrywide has earmarked up to pounds 150m on acquisitions. It is eyeing up targets in the financial services industry.

The company yesterday announced a 130 per cent rise in pre-tax profits to pounds 24.2m thanks to a strong performance from its estate agency business. The group revealed it had to put aside pounds 8m to cover claims arising from mis-selling pensions, pounds 1m than originally planned.

Investment column, page 18