More than 30,000 estate agents have lost their jobs since the start of the credit crunch and a leading research centre predicts that 46,000 'property sector workers' will be forced out of work by 2010.

According to the study almost half of the estimated 80,000 estate agents who were in work 18 months ago have since been made unemployed.

Around 4,000 estate agency offices - approximately one in four - have closed according to research undertaken for The Daily Telegraph by the National Association of Estate Agents.

It calculates that the number of estate agents in work has fallen from 80,000 in the summer of 2007 to 48,000 at Christmas.

The researcher behind the findings, Rosalind Renshaw, a senior consultant to the National Association of Estate Agents, said: 'I think the figures are reasonably conservative. It really has been a bleak year, and the losses faced by the estate agency industry have been mostly swept under the carpet.'

Estate agency trainer and legal expert David Perkins told the Telegraph: 'My feeling is that the industry has already virtually halved. Although a surprising number of agents have kept offices open, they now run on skeleton staff, perhaps just a manager and one other person.'

Trevor Kent, a former president of the National Association of Estate Agents, who has laid off three of his six staff, said: 'The last housing recession, in the early nineties, was like a dimmer switch. The market deteriorated gradually. This time, it was like blowing a fuse – it went out immediately.'

The Centre for Economics and Business Research, a think tank, has forecast that to 46,000 workers in the property sector – including estate agents as well as property developers – could lose their jobs by 2010.