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Rightmove Plc (RMV)

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Tuesday 23 June, 2020

Rightmove Plc

Pre-close Trading Statement and Covid-19 update

23 June 2020

Rightmove plc
Pre-close Trading Statement and Covid-19 update

Rightmove plc, the UK’s largest property portal, is providing a trading update to the market prior to entering its closed period for the six months ending 30 June 2020. Financial and operating information relates to the period 1 January 2020 to 31 May 2020 unless otherwise stated.

Supporting our customers

To support our customers through the unprecedented shut down of the UK property market due to Covid-19 we offered all our Agency and New Homes customers a 75% discount between April and July.  The government advised on 13 May that agents and new homes developers could reopen in England.

Despite the positive consumer reaction to the re-opening of the housing market, it takes three months on average for housing transactions to complete which impacts the cash flows of our agents.  It will also take time for agents to build a pipeline of vendors and new sales instructions. Given this, we have today communicated our continued support to our Agency customers in England by offering a 60% discount for August and 40% for September. The property market in Wales started to reopen on 22 June and Scotland is set to reopen on 29 June and we will continue to support customers in these markets with a 75% discount for August and 60% for September. The financial impact of this extended support over August and September will result in a reduction in revenue of £17m-£20m, in addition to the £65m-75m revenue impact of the discount for the period April to July.

Beyond financial support we have continued to provide advice and deliver innovative new tools to help the property market function whilst adhering to the social distancing guidelines and minimising unnecessary travel. Practical support includes:

· Making a new tool available to all customers to enable them to securely deliver online viewing videos to home hunters in line with government advice. The integrated tool also offers usage reporting and functionality to make the process of responding to home hunter enquiries quicker and more efficient for agents;

· Bespoke local market data to help agents target resources most efficiently and also to use with home buyers and sellers;

· Consumer webinars and an accompanying consumer advice hub giving practical tips on home hunting within the government guidelines. This hub has been accessed over 400,000 times since the beginning of April. Our weekly email update is read by an average of 800,000 home hunters every week; and

· A series of 40 Covid-19 related advice webinars for agents, which have been attended by over 30,000 property professionals from over 5,000 branches.

The housing market
There is longer term uncertainty around the impact of the pandemic on the economy; however home hunter demand following the reopening of the housing market has been strong. We have seen all ten of our busiest days ever on the platform since 13 May. We have also seen the ten days with the most leads sent over the same period. Sales agreed are currently over 10% higher in England than a year ago, albeit that some of this is the result of activity being paused due to lockdown.

Other market indicators are also positive. New property listings are returning to the market and in the last seven days the number of properties added to Rightmove in England is over 10% higher than the same period last year. Usage of the market leading Surveyors Comparable Tool, which is used when valuing a property for a mortgage, is rapidly returning to normal with usage in England over the last week now only down 2% compared to a year ago.

Membership numbers and competitive position
Since the beginning of the year we have seen a decline in our membership base, principally from lower stock Agency customers experiencing cash flow issues, exacerbated by the severe financial shock of the Covid-19 pandemic, and a reduction in the stock-based-branch-equivalent-measure of hybrid agents.

Overall membership at 31 May of 19,054 is down 3.8% since the end of 2019. This decline is made up of 620 fewer agency branches, together with a reduction of 135 New Homes developments.

Traditional agents have thus far generally proven to be resilient, with the number of traditional agency members only falling by around 2% since the start of the year. Of the 620 fewer agency branches just over half are traditional agency branches with the balance being stock-based virtual branches from hybrid agencies.

Rightmove’s position as the place home hunters turn to first continues unabated with the market share of time spent according to Comscore unchanged in May at over 85%. Rightmove now has over 50% more available stock listed for sale in the UK than anywhere else.

Measures to reduce operating costs and conserve cash
We have taken a number of steps to manage our cost base and preserve cash over the past three months including:

· Board and Senior Leadership Team remuneration: In recognition of the impact of Covid-19 on our stakeholders the entire Board and the Group's Senior Leadership Team have taken a voluntary 20% reduction in salary, with effect from 1 April to 31 July.

· Furlough: From 6 April the Group furloughed around a third of its employees, predominantly in customer facing roles under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. The Group has topped up salaries for those affected to 90%. As housing market activity resumes we plan to bring all employees back from furlough by 31 July. 

· Deferral of indirect taxation (VAT) payments: The UK government announced in March that all UK VAT-registered businesses have the option to defer any VAT payments due between 20 March 2020 and
30 June 2020. Payments must be made on or before 31 March 2021. By 30 June 2020 we will have deferred VAT payments of £12m.

As previously announced the Group was granted access to the Covid Corporate Financing Facility in April, however we now do not expect to issue Commercial Paper under the scheme.

Whilst the housing market re-opened on 13 May and early demand indicators have been strong, it is too early to assess whether this momentum will be sustained. We are therefore unable to provide guidance on future profitability.

Commenting on the Group's response to the Covid-19 pandemic, Peter Brooks-Johnson, Chief Executive Officer of Rightmove, said:

"In these unprecedented times, I continue to be impressed by the ingenuity of our customers to continue operating in difficult circumstances and I thank them for the wealth of ideas which have inspired our recent innovations. I’m encouraged by the strong bounce back in home hunter demand since 13 May as England starts to move again and we look forward to welcoming our Scottish and Welsh customers back to the market. Rightmove is committed to continuing to innovate to make home moving easier and to play our part in supporting our customers’ long-term success.

I‘m immensely proud of the dedication and resilience shown by our employees throughout our business in responding to the challenging circumstances presented by the Covid-19 pandemic. The transition to remote working has been seamless and across the organisation our teams have worked tirelessly to ensure that we’ve been able to support our customer base and respond quickly to the changing needs of home hunters at these times.”

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