Top Taxman Takes Foxtons' Estate Agency Role
Britain's top taxman is joining the board of Foxtons as the estate agency chain seeks to exploit the buoyant housing market with a £500m-plus flotation.
Sky News understands that Ian Barlow, the lead non-executive director at HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC), will be among a crop of new board members unveiled alongside Foxtons' intention to list on the stock market next week.
Mr Barlow, who spent 37 years with KPMG, will join the resurgent company alongside Annette Court, a former boss of Direct Line Group and Zurich Financial Services, and Garry Watts, the one-time chief executive of SSL International, the consumer products group.
News of the appointments comes on the day that figures from the Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML) showed that borrowing by homebuyers soared last month to its highest level since the 2008 financial crisis.
The CML said gross mortgage lending rose to £16.6bn in July, with Caroline Purdey, an analyst at the trade body, adding that the data "reinforces a growing evidence base of a strengthening in the housing and mortgage markets".
Part of the housing market revival is down to Government stimulus packages such as Help to Buy, George Osborne's initiative to offer assistance to first-time buyers. The scheme will be extended to a wider pool of buyers early next year.
Mr Barlow also serves as a director of companies including Smith & Nephew, the medical devices maker, but his appointment at Foxtons will be intriguing because of the importance attached to efficient tax-planning by private equity-backed companies.
Foxtons' owner, BC Partners, is expected to announce the flotation plan next week.
The estate agency chain, known for its garish shops and fleet of cars, rode the property boom under its founder, Jon Hunt, before selling to BC for £375m in 2007 - a deal which catapulted him into the ranks of Britain's super-rich.
The subsequent financial crisis and recession-hit UK economy, however, led to a sharp downturn in the property market, and left estate agents such as Foxtons unable to service their debts.
The company was taken over by its lenders before BC bought them out in 2012. Foxtons' profits have surged during the last two years, buoyed by the booming London housing market, which has increasingly diverged from much of the rest of the country.
The rival chain Countrywide took advantage of buoyant equity markets to go public, while Romans, a smaller estate agents based in Berkshire, is on the verge of being sold to Bowmark Capital, another private equity firm, for about £50m.
A BC Partners spokesman declined to comment on the appointment of the new board members.