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UK estate agent Foxtons makes $1.3 billion share market debut

A Foxtons estate agent sign is seen reflected in the window at a branch in north London September 3, 2013. REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett
A Foxtons estate agent sign is seen reflected in the window at a branch in north London September 3, 2013. REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett

By Kylie MacLellan

LONDON (Reuters) - British estate agent Foxtons enjoyed a strong share market debut on Friday with early trading giving the firm a market value of over 788 million pounds ($1.27 billion), despite some concerns that its core property market is overheating.

Foxtons said on Friday it had sold a 60 percent stake for 230 pence per share, the upper end of its original 190 pence to 230 pence per share range and valuing the company at 649 million pounds.

Its shares opened 20 percent above the offer price, and by 0751 GMT (3.51 a.m. EDT) were trading up 21.5 percent at 279.50 pence.

London-focused Foxtons is the latest housing-related company to float on the back of Britain's recovering housing market, following nationwide agency Countrywide and housebuilder Crest Nicholson earlier this year.

Both have seen their share prices rise by more than 50 percent since joining the stock market, but some investors last week said Foxtons was arriving late to the party and was too exposed to London.

While Britain's housing market has shown signs of a revival this year, spurred by a healing economy and help from the government and the Bank of England to ease access to finance, the scale of recovery has raised concerns about a new property bubble.

Data last week showed British house prices recorded their fastest rise in almost seven years.

Jefferies analyst Anthony Codling said in a note on Friday that while estate agents were the best way to gain exposure to the UK housing market, prospects were better outside of London.

"We see more significant potential for house price growth outside of London than inside," he said.

House prices fell by 16.3 percent in London after the financial crash and by 16.6 percent across England and Wales, according to Land Registry data. While London prices have recovered to 6 percent above their pre-crash peak, in the rest of the country they are still 10 percent below.

Foxtons' share sale, which a source last week said was oversubscribed, raised 335 million pounds for selling shareholders, which included majority owner BC Partners and company employees.

The company, known for the distinctive Mini Cooper cars driven by its sales staff, also raised 55 million pounds from the sale of new stock to reduce debt.

BC Partners, which did not disclose how much of its stake it had retained, has had a checkered history with Foxtons since first buying it in 2007. The estate agency chain came to epitomize the woes of the private equity industry as plummeting sales pushed it into breach of the terms on its debt.

BC ceded control of Foxtons to its lenders in 2010, before taking majority ownership again last year.

Credit Suisse and Numis Securities acted as joint bookrunners on the offering, with Canaccord Genuity co-lead manager. Rothschild was financial advisor.

(Editing by David Cowell and Greg Mahlich)