Countrywide reports upsurge in housing market activity

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Countrywide, Britain's largest estate agent, said yesterday interest in the housing market had hit its highest level for more than a year.

The group said there had been a sharp rise in the numbers of its visits to its branch offices and via Rightmove, the website it part-owns.

"This is further evidence that there is currently more interest in the housing market than has been the case for 15 months," the company said in a statement to the City that triggered a jump in its shares.

Countrywide said it was meeting US investors next week and had issued the update, which contained no new figures, to avoid breaching City rules.

Harry Hill, Countrywide's managing director, said the market had been very quiet over the past 12 to 15 months as homebuyers reacted to rising interest rates.

"Things have recently started to move and have been given a bit of a kick-start by the Bank of England taking interest rates down [in August]," he said.

"There's real evidence that people are taking more interest in the housing market. By the end of October we will see whether that interest has turned into real business."

Last month Countrywide reported that profits in the first half of its financial year had dropped by nine-tenths, but it has pointed to a better second half. It said yesterday that Rightmove had a record number of visits to its website in August, while its main business was busier than normal last month.

Countrywide shares closed up 3p, or 0.8 per cent, at 364.5p. At one point the stock had risen as much as 5.5 per cent. The shares have gained 13 per cent during the past year.