Britain’s biggest chain of estate agents, Countrywide, is to close down branches after being hit by a spate of cancelled sales amid the gloomiest outlook for the housing market since the early 1990s. Financial Times (Saturday)

Harry Hill, chairman said that completed sales in the first half of November were running at about half the rate seen in the summer.

'There is still a reasonable number of people wanting to buy a house but the net situation is being affected by a high cancellation rate,' he said. Cancellations were greater than in the last “mini-slowdown” in late 2004 and 2005, he added.

'Mr Average is just seeing this maelstrom of news going around his head, most of which isn’t very good,” he said. “Even if he goes to buy a house, he goes to the pub and half his mates say he must be mental. So he rings up and changes his mind.'

Countrywide employs more than 10,000 people and owns brands such as John D Wood, Bairstow Eve, Abbotts, Gascoigne Pees and the Bradford & Bingley estate agencies.