Countrywide eager to float Rightmove property website

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The Independent Online

Dot.com fever was beginning to creep back into the City yesterday as one of the owners of Rightmove.co.uk, the property website, said it was gearing up to float the business.

The website was founded in 1999 by Countrywide Assured and now has 3 million users a month.

It makes its money from charging estate agencies to post their properties on the site. Its revenues totalled £4m last year and are expected to have more than doubled this year. "We are very serious about our intentions," Harry Hill, chief executive of Countrywide and chairman of Rightmove, said yesterday. "We look on with envy at Lastminute.com and wonder whether we can do the same."

Lastminute.com saw its shares rise to a three year high earlier this month. But the enthusiasm for a flotation of Rightmove may not be shared by other shareholders. Countrywide owns a 29 per cent stake, alongside Halifax and Royal & Sun Alliance. Skipton Building Society owns 13 per cent. A spokeswoman for Halifax said that no decision had been taken on whether to float the business and that any such move would "require the agreement of all parties involved."

Countrywide's optimism for Rightmove's prospects ties in with its predictions for the housing market. The company yesterday said house sales are already beginning to bounce back, after a slump in transactions hit its half-year profits by more than a third.

Countrywide warned in June that a severe downturn in the number of house transactions was taking place. As a result, turnover at the company fell 9 per cent to £282m and pre-tax profits fell 39 per cent to £21.9m. While there had been a rise in the average house price of 15 per cent to £142,700, the number of houses it sold fell by 16 per cent. But the company said there was now a record number of transactions in the pipeline.

Operating profits from the group's surveying division, however, were up 16 per cent as homeowners took advantage of low interest rates to remortgage their property.

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