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Dream homes turn into nightmares for Canberra buyers

Date

Noel Towell and Matthew Raggatt

Tanya Nguyen, of Wright, and other affected home buyers from across Canberra gather outside her unfinished house; from back left, Bethany and James Liddall, Subhash Rewal, Thuy Ha and her sister Thi Ha, and Lorraine and David Anderson.

Tanya Nguyen, of Wright, and other affected home buyers from across Canberra gather outside her unfinished house; from back left, Bethany and James Liddall, Subhash Rewal, Thuy Ha and her sister Thi Ha, and Lorraine and David Anderson. Photo: Melissa Adams

The net is closing on a Canberra building company accused of leaving home buyers in the lurch with unfinished houses and of owing money to small suppliers all over town.

ACT government authorities have launched an investigation into Sublime Developments, and the Mitchell-based company is due to appear in court next month in an action taken by creditors looking to put it out of business.

Home buyers have told The Canberra Times of Sublime leaving about $400,000 worth of work on their houses unfinished and then refusing to take their calls.

Tanya Nguyen's unfinished home in Wright.

Tanya Nguyen's unfinished home in Wright. Photo: Melissa Adams

Glass supplier Monaro Windows dubbed the company "totally untrustworthy" after battling for more than 12 months to recover unpaid debts, and law firm Chamberlains said it was "swamped" with complaints about Sublime's conduct after the lawyers sought out creditors.

But Sublime director Minh Phan denied doing anything wrong, alleging that it was home buyers who had ripped his company off by not paying for work.

Mr Phan said his company was owed up to $500,000 and was embroiled in disputes on several fronts after standing up to debtors that would not pay for work that had been done.

Building materials and other rubbish were left lying around Ms Nguyen's house.

Building materials and other rubbish were left lying around Ms Nguyen's house. Photo: Melissa Adams

David Robens of Chamberlains said he was going to court next month to wind up Sublime over a $19,000 debt owed to his client, Trussme.

"I have received a number of calls from people who have dealt with Sublime and are interested in what is happening with the winding-up," Mr Robens said.

"We have found for some time that the common behaviour of stretching credit to the limit, and trading beyond means, can result in more people being ultimately affected."

Henry Posch, founder and owner of Monaro Windows, said he had been in several rolling disputes in the past 13 months after delivering windows to houses being built by Sublime and not being paid. Mr Posch described the builder as "totally untrustworthy" and said he held out little hope for anyone owed money by Sublime.

"I'm pretty sure that nobody is going to get any money from Sublime," he said.

Mayumi Smith, spokeswoman for the ACT government's construction authority, confirmed on Wednesday that Sublime was under investigation but said that she was unable to provide details because of privacy considerations.

Most of the Sublime clients interviewed by The Canberra Times had suffered delays of at least six months, with some extending beyond a year.

Parents-of-two James and Beth Liddall cancelled their contract last year and took possession on December 5 after paying the first $350,000 for their expected $499,000

four-bedroom home in Weston. Leaving the contract has left them more than $100,000 out of pocket, with only $250,000 worth of work said to have been completed by Sublime.

Mr Liddall said the property should have been completed by May last year once the slab was poured but there was still now nearly two months of work to do, despite no explanations for the costly delay.

"We've been month-to-month [paying rent] since May," he said.

David and Lorraine Anderson have also been left in the lurch, and forced to move in with their daughter in Sydney because of continuing delays.

They signed the contract for their dual-occupancy home in August 2012 without a written completion time. The slab was not laid for eight months, but they were told by co-director Dee Sisomphou last July that their house would be completed in eight weeks.

Mr Anderson, 73, said the house was now 95 per cent complete, but upwards of an estimated $30,000 needed to be spent before it would be finished, with their solicitors setting a deadline for later this month after engagement with the company failed.

"The major issue is lack of communication,'' Mr Anderson said. ''We failed to be able to get on to him by phone, and wrote to his office in Mitchell - no reply. In the end we used all the family mobile phones with different numbers and eventually one of them got through - but with no outcome."

Tanya Nguyen signed a contract in July 2012 to have a four-bedroom, double-garage home built at Wright.

By mid-last year, frustrated by delays, she began paying about $33,000 to suppliers and contractors directly to have work done on key features including windows and ducted airconditioning.

She moved to cancel the contract in September, as her house was still without water or power a month after the expected completion, but relented after she received assurances that she would be able to move in by year's end.

Ms Nguyen said she took five weeks off work last year to organise the additions, and tens of thousands of dollars worth of work remained to be done.

"I said [to Mr Phan], 'the reason I employ a builder is because I want my house to be finished on time'."

21 comments

  • This is one of several companies in the construction industry doing this. When are directors going to be charged for trading insolvent? There happens to be a very large building and development firm with sites all over town, they pay their architects and engineers immediately yet drag out carpenters and other trades for three to six months. The ACT government needs to step up to these companies and start handing out fines for deliberately slow paying contractors. Interest free loans need to stop.

    Commenter
    Insolvent
    Location
    Still trading
    Date and time
    February 13, 2014, 6:41AM
    • Don't ignore the many tradespeople who all of a sudden stop working on your house and then become uncontactable, leaving home owners in the lurch and out of pocket. I know this because I have been a victim of cowboy tradies in the past.

      Commenter
      Simon
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      February 13, 2014, 9:47AM
    • Architects and engineers have got paid because they are involved first in the process. There are still clients who don't pay their professionals. Most builders don't employ architects regardless and have there own drafts people.

      There is a lot of undercutting going on in the construction industry as things are tough and about to get tougher! So expect more of this to happen.

      Commenter
      concerned
      Location
      victoria
      Date and time
      February 13, 2014, 1:07PM
  • Very sad for those people. I was very lucky with my building process. I used a company called Goldruby and couldn't speak highly enough of them. Have been here just over 4 years now and no major issues what so ever.

    Commenter
    SF
    Location
    Canberra
    Date and time
    February 13, 2014, 6:58AM
    • Goldruby had it's own problems with money and unfinished homes in the 90's.

      Commenter
      WotTha?????
      Date and time
      February 13, 2014, 8:52AM
    • WhaTha

      You sure you are talking about the same company? The bloke who owns and runs Goldruby would have still been at school for much of the 1990s. Perhaps it had different ownership then?

      Not sure, all I know was they did a good job for me, I was able to be part of the process the whole way, and price came in well under budget, and touch wood, no major problems since. I couldn't ask more than that.

      Commenter
      SF
      Location
      Canberra
      Date and time
      February 13, 2014, 9:22AM
    • Goldruby did have financial problems in the 90's the company was then bought out by current owners who have run the company successfully since.

      Commenter
      Tom
      Location
      Franklin
      Date and time
      February 13, 2014, 11:33AM
  • Katy and co will regulate the life out of the kids sausage sizzles, but as long as the stamp duty rolls in they're happy.

    Commenter
    Katy G
    Date and time
    February 13, 2014, 7:58AM
    • What do you expect from this rabble government,

      Commenter
      NITRO GANGSTER
      Date and time
      February 13, 2014, 8:44AM
  • They need to implement strict framework and standards for the building industry. There are no professional standards of ethics. It is a shame that every any tradie thinks he can build a house, and call themselves a builder.

    Commenter
    Tony
    Date and time
    February 13, 2014, 8:19AM

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