Your Move cuts jobs as home sales fall

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The estate agency chain LSL Property Services (LSL) said yesterday that the housing market slowdown had forced it to cut 315 jobs and close 12 branches.

LSL, which owns the Your Move and Reeds Rains estate agencies, said that while homeowners were focused on the house price falls recorded during the final few months of 2007, it was the sharp drop in the number of property transactions in the second half of last year which had hit estate agents particularly hard. Simon Embley, the company's chief executive, said volumes at LSL had dropped by around a third during the second half of 2007, in line with a 40 per cent fall across the market as a whole.

"Market conditions are difficult to predict but are expected to remain challenging well into 2008," Mr Embley added.

The job cuts represent around 7 per cent of LSL's workforce and the company has also raised commission charges in order to cope with the reduced fee income resulting from a fall in transaction numbers.

The property market has become increasingly nervous about a sustained fall in house prices with Nationwide Building Society and Halifax bank both reporting falls in average prices in each of the final three months of last year.

Yesterday, however, official figures from the Land Registry revealed that house prices rose by an average of 0.6 per cent during November in England and Wales. Though some months are out of date, the figures are the most accurate picture of how the housing market is performing because they record the actual price paid at the end of a transaction.

Nevertheless, most housing market analysts continue to predict that there will be almost no house price growth during 2008. Howard Archer, economist at analyst firm Global Insight, said: "The figures are a bit surprising but I don't think this will alter the overall impression that the housing market is cooling rapidly."

Figures from the property investment company Assetz show annual house price inflation ended at about 7 per cent in 2007, following a decline in November and December.

A spokesman said: "This does not signal the beginning of a crash. The market will be robust, if a little volatile, in 2008, buoyed by immigration, lower interest rates and a lack of supply."