Shares in the UK's largest estate agent have plunged: Here's why

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Countrywide shares fell more than 20 per cent as the market opened (Source: Getty)

Shares in troubled estate agent Countrywide plunged more than 20 per cent as the market opened this morning, after it swung to a massive loss in 2017.

In a results statement headlined "a disappointing year", the UK's largest estate agent said it had made a statutory loss of £208.1m in 2017, down from a £17.5m profit in 2016.

Income fell 8.8 per cent to £671.9m, while earnings per share fell from 8p in 2016 to an 89.6p loss in 2017.

The fall was driven by its performance in sales and lettings, where adjusted earnings before interest, taxation, depreciation and amortisation fell 45 per cent to £26.4m. The number of homes sold fell 20 per cent, although it said its Hamptons International and John D Wood brands performed well in a "challenging London market". 

The company blamed a lack of strategy, a higher cost base and poor financial management for the slide. However, today's results came as figures from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) revealed the extent of woes in the UK's housing market, with the number of new buyers registering with estate agents falling for the 11th consecutive month in February. 

Peter Long, Countrywide's executive chairman, said it hoped to build on industry expertise to turn the business around.

"We have entered 2018 with our pipeline significantly below that of 2017. We have begun to take steps to build back the pipeline to the 2017 level but this will take time.

"We therefore anticipate that in the first half of the year this will result in a reduction in adjusted [earnings] of around £10m. At this time, it is unlikely that the shortfall in the first half will be recovered. We will provide full year guidance and a detailed recovery plan at the interim results."

Read more: Countrywide's chief executive has resigned after recent profit warning