Joining forces was too good to refuse

Done deal: From the left, Grenville Turner, Countrywide Group's chief executive, Steve Hinshelwood, Blundells' managing director, Mike Blundell,  Blundells' founder and director and Robert Scarff, Countrywide's managing    director of the estate agency division
Done deal: From the left, Grenville Turner, Countrywide Group's chief executive, Steve Hinshelwood, Blundells' managing director, Mike Blundell, Blundells' founder and director and Robert Scarff, Countrywide's managing director of the estate agency division
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They’ve been the region’s most successful estate agents for a quarter of a century.

In the 34 years since they were founded, they’ve grown consistently, opening new offices and adding new areas of expertise.

They saw off the banks and building society, during their ill-fated move into the house sales market and they continued to be profitable despite the recession and the decline in house sales that followed.

They were happy to continue that way – as a private company, owned and run by its directors, whose expansion was funded by its profits.

So, what prompted the directors of Blundells to sell the business to nationwide estate agency chain, Countrywide?

It was, in essence, an offer they couldn’t refuse.

“The business wasn’t on the market for sale when Countrywide approached us in 2010,” says managing director Steve Hinshelwood.

“Put simply, they approached us and we felt it was the right approach. There was a financial consideration for us as shareholders, but we had a good feeling that their ethos and way of doing business matched ours.

“It represented a big opportunity to maintain the brand and expand it and offered a good degree of local autonomy as each brand within Countrywide remains as an individual brand and retains local management.” Mike Blundell, who founded the business in 1977, admits that, initially, it was a tug to let the name and the business go, but he rapidly became excited by the prospects of joining forces with a bigger company that also understood what makes the domestic estate agency sector tick and was frustrated by delays prompted solely by the changing economic fortunes and growth prospects of the UK.

“It’s the best thing that could have happened to the firm,” says Mr Blundell.

“The best thing for us and the best thing for the staff. They can look forward to expansion. I’m not saying we weren’t going to expand, but it is better with a good company behind you.

“We’ve got local autonomy, local management, we believe in the brand and we are not going to be sitting back on our laurels. We are going to be out their earning more pennies.”

Countrywide has a network of 46 leading estate agencies – including big names like London-based Hamptons International, Manchester-based Bridgfords and Sotheby’s International Realty – with 1,300 offices, stretching from Penzance to Stirling.

That said, the company has had a modest presence in Yorkshire until it acquired the 180 employee Blundells, which has 13 branches, stretching from Chapeltown to Hathersage, Dronfield and Chesterfield.

Although early expansion could be focused on South Yorkshire and North Derbyshire, there could be opportunities in neighbouring West Yorkshire.