Claim over house valuation sparks criticism that legal action is damaging house prices and market

Nationalised mortgage lender Northern Rock Asset Management has launched a High Court action against surveyor Hockleys Professional over a house valuation, sparking renewed claims that such litigation is damaging the market.

The £140,000 claim has been lodged at the Technology and Construction Court. It relates to a £480,000 valuation of a house in Hertfordshire in 2004 that was purchased with a Northern Rock loan but repossessed and sold for a considerable loss in 2009. Hockleys is under new ownership and the case is being contested by its insurers.

“The defendant failed to provide a reasonably accurate market valuation of the property,” the claim states. “By doing so, the defendant failed to exercise the skill and care of a reasonably competent property valuer.”

Northern Rock Asset Management (NRAM), which is owned by the taxpayer, has also lodged a separate claim against Countrywide Surveyors.

Roger Humber, strategic policy adviser for the House Builders Association, said such moves were depressing the price of new builds and damaging the industry.

According to Nationwide, house prices have fallen by about 12% since their peak in 2007 despite tentative rises since then.

“The major lenders have been suing or threatening to sue valuers since the downturn and that has become a factor in the market. You are getting down-valuations because valuers are terrified of being sued,” he said.

David Dalby, director of residential professional at the RICS, said such legal action was often on a no-win-no-fee basis.

“The valuation may just be a reflection of the market,” he said. “The concern we have is that some lenders take the attitude ’it must be someone’s fault’ and let’s go for the surveyor because they are an easy target.”

A spokesman for NRAM said it could not comment on individual cases. “We do not take such actions lightly or without further independent advice,” he said.

“As a government-owned mortgage service provider we operate on a commercial basis and are mindful of our role and delivering value for our key shareholder - the taxpayer.”