Resignations rock valuations sector

The automated valuations market was in a spin last week after two senior members of staff at UKValuations defected to Hometrack.

Chief executive officer Graeme Winser and sales director Guy Weightman resigned from the subsidiary of US lending giant Countrywide Financial Corporation to join Hometrack as director of new market strategies and sales director respectively. Both are on gardening leave and will officially start work in August.

With a major lender believed to be launching the first integrated automated valuation model and decision system within the next month there is everything to play for in the market, and speculation is mounting that interested parties are gearing up for a fight.

Frank Eve, managing director of Frank Eve Consulting, says: “Hometrack and UKValuation are major providers of AVMs, between them covering practically the whole market. But with Rightmove having just entered the sector it is unlikely that just two suppliers will be able to maintain dominance.”

In 2003 UKValuation lost its founder and chief executive officer Mark Witherspoon to Hometrack. He resigned from Hometrack in February this year and is on gardening leave.

One industry source accuses Hometrack of resorting to dirty tricks to compete with UKValuation.

The source says: “Rumour has it that Hometrack once wanted to buy UKValuation and is now trying to push it out of the market by pinching staff. The question is – what is it scared of?”

But another source close to Countrywide warns that there is only a limited market for desktop valuations and although UKValuation, being partly owned by banks, is well placed to work with lenders developing integrated systems, it will struggle to compete with the likes of Rightmove in the rest of the market.

The source adds: “Although my money would be on Witherspoon to be the most successful in this market, there isn’t enough room for another valuation company. Whatever he ends up doing he won’t be on the shelf for long.”

Witherspoon says: “I will be on gardening leave for another couple of months. I’ve got a lovely suntan and my vegetable patch is a joy to behold.”