But according to figures published yesterday, in only six months the number of estate agents' offices in Spain has been reduced by more than half.

The 10 largest estate agents had 3,001 offices between them at the end of 2007, but now only 1,434 remain open. For sale or closed signs are a common sight outside former estate agents, particularly on the Costa del Sol or Costa Blanca, two regions popular with British buyers.

Some commentators believe contraction was inevitable. "The closure of estate agents has been brutal," said Santiago Baena, president of the Spanish College of Estate Agents. "We always said training was essential but they ask for more training for a man selling lettuce in the market because he has to use a machine than estate agents."

The Guardian