The UK's largest estate agent has issued another profits warning after blaming the General Election for subduing the property market.

That news comes as a leading Midland housebuilder warned that the looming poll was creating uncertanty.

Estate agent Countrywide warned the housing market remained "fragile and volatile" and it would make losses during the first quarter of this year.

And David Wilson, chairman of Leicester-based builders Wilson Bowden, told the company's annual meeting "reservation levels in recent weeks have been impacted by the uncertainty created by the General Election".

Countrywide shares slumped eight per cent as it also said expectations for the second quarter were " materially reduced".

It said: "The uncertainty that pervades the housing market around a General Election means markets will remain subdued, and with talk of further interest rate rises, we believe this is unlikely to change in the short term." The warning is the latest in a series from the group, which culminated in it reporting a 42 per cent fall in annual profits for last year.

Countrywide said the seasonal pick-up in house sales had been slower than expected, leaving transaction volumes 25 per cent to 30 per cent lower than during the same "buoyant" period last year.

Although its pipeline of work had improved since the start of the year, it was still substantially lower than previous years.

Difficulties incorporating the "substantially underperforming" businesses it bought from Bradford & Bingley last October compounded the situation.

The £44.4 million acquisition of B&B's property services businesses included Secure-Move, which provides residential and commercial surveys and valuations.

Sales of financial products suffered from the fall in housing sales, while the lower level of re- mortgages cut the amount of work at its surveying business.

Countrywide said it was important to keep a hold on its position in the surveying market in the run-up to new laws obliging homesellers to provide information packs on their properties by 2007.

It planned to use the current quiet period to train its surveyors for the work, although this would result in lower productivity in the meantime.

The group said it was confident that its recent acquisitions were in the best medium and long-term interests of shareholders despite "current dull markets".

Countrywide saw annual profits fall to £42.7 million in the year to December 31 and said at the time that the poor housing market would have a negative impact on its performance in 2005.

Wilson Bowden said it expected its first half completions to be below the level achieved in 2004, but continued to expect full year results to be significantly weighted towards the second half.

Chairman Mr Wilson said: "On the commercial front, Wilson Bowden Developments continues to trade well in line with our expectations and we are confident of delivering further profit growth this year across its range of activities."

Reservation levels in recent weeks have been impacted by the uncertainty created by the General Election, he said. "Furthermore the market remains fickle, and purchaser chains are taking longer to come to fruition."

But he added the company has 25 per cent more sites than at this time last year and was well positioned to deliver volume growth when and if customer confidence improves in the second half.