When a sector is looking a bit risky, investors often turn to so-called ‘picks and shovels’ alternatives — named after the gold rush in which those who sold the picks and shovels would do well whoever found the shiny stuff.

Now that our housebuilders are suffering (irrationally so in my opinion, but whatever), are there any solid long-term companies that should prosper whether house prices are rising or falling?

Cheap windows

New house builds need windows, right? And when people aren’t looking to move house but instead spiff up their current residence, they’ll often go for new windows and doors, especially in these energy-saving times. So is a company like Safestyle UK (LSE: SFE) a good bet either way?

First-half results released Thursday have given Safestyle shares a boost, taking them up 4% to 273p in early trading — and up 32% since their post-referendum low on 7 July. Revenue for the six months to 30 June came in 12.8% ahead at £83.5m, with underlying pre-tax profit climbing 17.8% to £10.6m and basic earnings per share up 3.3% to 9.4p.

Safestyle has enjoyed solid earnings growth in the past couple of years, and there’s a further 7% to 8% forecast for this year and next. Today’s results support those prognostications too, with the company reporting a 5.7% increase in the volume of frames installed and an increased market share at 10%. Perhaps crucially, the firm seems to be clued-up on this internet thing, with leads generated “from media and on-line marketing” up 26%.

The shares are on forward P/E multiples of 14 for this year and 13 next, which look attractive, especially as there are well-covered dividends of 4.1% and 4.4% on the cards. With operating cash flow of £9.8m recorded and the interim dividend boosted 10.3%, the dividends look safe too.

Safestyle shares look good value to me.

Do you love estate agents?

Shares in Purplebricks (LSE: PURP) have done well too, up 33% since their flotation on 17 December 2015, to 133p. That includes a 2% lift on the day the firm’s AGM trading update told us “trading since the start of the new financial year on 1 May has been very encouraging, with little discernible impact following the EU referendum on the 23 June.

The hybrid estate agency, as it describes itself, saw instructions rise 121% year-on-year, with market share compared to online peers up 65% by the start of September.

Right now, Purplebricks is hard to value, with its first profit not expected before the year ending April 2018 — and in the year a company swings into profit, its P/E is meaningless. But if the rate of earnings progress continues on its current trajectory (from a recorded loss of 357p per share in 2015, down to 11.9p by April 2016, and predicted to drop to 1.5p in the current year) then future earnings growth could be very attractive.

There don’t seem to be any cash worries in the short term with £28m on the books, and the company’s expansion into Australia has apparently started well, with “the number of valuations substantially ahead of the UK business at the same point in its development.

Purplebricks does seem to have caught on to a substantial change in the way houses are bought and sold, and its early mover advantage could make it highly profitable.

Post-Brexit prosperity?

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Alan Oscroft has no position in any shares mentioned. The Motley Fool UK has no position in any of the shares mentioned. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.