According to a report published by accountancy firm Moore Stephens in July (reported in the Independent), a total of 19 per cent of estate agents – or 4,928 out of the 25,560 across the country – are showing signs of financial insolvency.
There are two major factors behind the figures
The growth of agents like Purple Bricks, Right Move, Zoopla and others.
The offer lower fees and easy access which is putting high street agents under pressure to cut their fees.
The volume of house sales.
The level of property sales is still below where it was before the 2007/8 financial crisis. In the year to March, 1.2 million properties were sold, marking a 32 per cent decrease on the pre-crash high of 1.7 million. [Independent]
Lord Walker acknowledged the uncertainty that is inherent in the (Balance Sheet) test, commenting that: “it is still very far from an exact test, and the burden of proof must be on the party which asserts balance-sheet insolvency.” It will, therefore, not simply be a matter of looking at a company’s statutory balance sheet at a given moment in time as there may be relevant assets and liabilities not contained in that document. However, nor will it involve a rather more complex assessment of whether the debtor has reached the point of no return.
It is of course true that a snapshot of a company’s balance sheet is not conclusive as to its commercial and economic viability, and to make every company in this position vulnerable to a winding-up or administration order would be unfair and uncommercial.
The Supreme Court’s decision should therefore be welcomed for clarifying that the two tests are mutually exclusive and both represent different ways of analysing whether a company is insolvent. The judgment does leave some issues unresolved, for example the correct methodology for discounting future liabilities and the timing of the accrual of future and contingent liabilities.