Rightmove defied a sluggish housing market to increase full-year profit by 11.3 per cent last year as it increased the fees paid by its estate agent and housebuilder customers.

The UK property portal reported pre-tax profit of £198.3m for the year to the end of December as it pushed up average revenue per advertiser — a key measure — above £1,000 a month for the first time.

The results were in line with analysts’ expectations, but the company’s shares dropped in morning trading as analysts raised concerns over a fall in the number of estate agents listing on the platform.

A slowing housing market has led to signs of strain over the past year among some estate agencies.

The number of estate agency branches advertising with Rightmove dropped 2 per cent to 17,328, but revenue from estate agencies was up 9 per cent to £201m.

“Agency branches declined in the second half, which may raise market concern,” said Sherri Malek, analyst at RBC Capital Markets. She highlighted Rightmove’s “defensive and attractive business model” but said there were “risks related to the market backdrop”.

Growth in new homes listings was stronger, Rightmove said, with the number of developments advertising up 12 per cent to 3,126, helping boost revenue from this division by 17 per cent to £46.2m. Total revenues were up 10 per cent to £267.8m.

Peter Brooks-Johnson, chief executive, said “uncertainty” around Brexit was weighing on the market and prompted some agents to leave the industry: those who had been running “slightly marginal businesses — some of them are slightly older proprietors who have said ‘I don’t need to be doing this any more’.

“We would expect to see a bit more [departures] this year but I don’t think it’s right to think about that as a measure of the health of the agency industry.

“We’re really pleased with our traffic numbers — up [almost] 5 per cent on the year — which is great and shows the pure obsession that people in the UK have with property,” Mr Brooks-Johnson added.

Traffic to Rightmove’s website was up more than 4 per cent to almost 132m visits a month. The company will pay out a final dividend of 4p a share, taking the total to 6.5p a share for the year — up 12 per cent from a year earlier. 

Shares in the group dropped 5.5 per cent by lunchtime in London to 455.3p.

Rightmove, together with its smaller rival Zoopla, dominates the UK property portals market, although a newer contender, OnTheMarket, listed on London’s junior market in February last year. 

The company’s chairman, Scott Forbes, said its subscription model meant it would “neither participate in the upside nor downside of all but the most extreme events of the cyclical home sales market”. 

Mr Forbes added that after a “significant minority” of shareholders opposed his re-election as chairman at the annual meeting in May, he would resign in May 2020.

Ahead of that time “up to two” new non-executive board members would be appointed, Mr Forbes said, to serve as candidates for the position.

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