$280K out of pocket: Liquidation destroys dream

Callum Buchanan and Kirsten Chamberlain have been put though an emotional wringer over their new...
Callum Buchanan and Kirsten Chamberlain have been put though an emotional wringer over their new build in Brighton Rd. PHOTO: PETER MCINTOSH
A Dunedin woman says she felt sick "twice over" after having to tell her husband the company building their dream home had gone bust on the same day he was having surgery for throat cancer.

The couple should have been celebrating Christmas in their new home in Westwood but are instead about $280,000 out of pocket and left wondering how it all went so wrong.

March 8 this year was an already stressful day for Kirsten Chamberlain.

Her husband Callum Buchanan, who had been diagnosed with cancer after returning from the Christmas break with a lump on his neck, was having throat surgery.

Ms Chamberlain, who was due to pick him up from hospital that afternoon, had been in a meeting when she missed a call from Dunedin-based liquidator Trevor Laing. Calling him back, she assumed it was to do with her work. It wasn’t.

Mr Laing informed her Clan Construction, the firm building the couple’s new home in Brighton Rd, Westwood, had been placed in liquidation the previous day.

Feeling sick "twice over", she then had to break the news to her husband, who was due to start chemotherapy and radiation. It was another brush with cancer after Ms Chamberlain completed treatment for breast cancer in 2019.

With only the foundations down and incomplete framing up, the announcement was a bolt from the blue for the couple, who had already paid the firm about $280,000.

Of that, one payment of $101,088 was made on February 14 and the other on February 20, just 11 working days before the company went into liquidation on March 7. The liquidators have since said the total amount of all claims is expected to exceed $2million.

"We didn’t know no-one was getting paid. Why did it have to get this bad? At what point do you say you’re trading insolvent? How much money went into the account in the six months before they went into liquidation and where did it all go?" she said this week.

Keen to be closer to family in Balclutha, the couple had bought the section in Westwood, which backed on to a reserve and they were looking forward to walking to the beach.

They approached GJ Gardner Homes to build their new home; Clan Construction undertook mainly residential new builds, initially under a franchise agreement with GJ Gardner Homes.

Its two directors were former Otago rugby player Brett McCormack and businesswoman Michelle Macmillan.

After signing a contract, Mr Buchanan and Ms Chamberlain later got a call to say the two directors were parting company with GJ Gardner but not to worry as their contract was with Clan Construction, not GJ Gardner, and they were reassured everything was going to be fine.

The first hint of the build going "pear-shaped" was when a plumber questioned whether a required resource consent had been obtained. That had been missed and work was delayed while it was obtained.

The concrete pad was poured at the beginning of this year and, by mid-February, the framing was going up. Coupled with Mr Buchanan’s cancer diagnosis, there was "a lot going on" but she was reassured by Mrs Macmillan their dream home would be built, Ms Chamberlain said.

After hearing from Mr Laing, the couple were put in touch with a builder who had worked as a subcontractor to Clan Construction to continue with the build.

A contractor, who had not been paid, removed a steel beam from the roof of the house. Then a waste company dumped the contents of its skip in the driveway before taking it away while the rubbish blew through the reserve.

"Then I cried ... because why wouldn’t you? I was just so devastated."

The next "kick in the guts" came when the couple discovered the Master Builder guarantee had never been filed by Clan Construction, despite them signing it.

"To me, that screamed of intent back in the day to not do the right thing. We paid about 40% of the build cost but didn’t have 40% of the house done. That screams of dodgy intent.

"Why didn’t they come to us at Christmas-time instead of taking our money? At what point do they say they are insolvent?"

Ms Chamberlain said she felt like her money had been stolen.

"It would have been a different story if they’d contacted us, not just carry on like nothing’s happened. That’s the bit that’s gutting. They are all living their best lives, happy as and smiling away, and we’re all screwed," she said.

Attempts to contact Mr McCormack, who was understood to have been coaching rugby in Australia, and Mrs Macmillan, were unsuccessful. Neither had been in touch with her or her husband since the liquidation.

Handover of the house was originally supposed to be on December 22, in time for Christmas and ending the year on a high. Now the couple were "just going into another year muddling through" as progress had been slow.

"It’s really been a noose, the house. We haven’t even got power on. We’ve got a big mortgage now; interest rates are going up; the cost of building is going up. We have to pick up the pieces and fumble along.

"It’s just a cluster f... The laws are wrong. Where are the resources to help us fight the good fight?"