Snapper cries foul over soured sale


A veteran Queenstown realtor’s in the firing line after a multi-million dollar property sale involving three local identities soured.

Top photographer Michael Thomas, whose clients include the UK’s Mail on Sunday, has complained to real estate watchdog REAA after negotiations broke down over a four hectare property on one of the Wakatipu’s most desirable rural roads.

The prize Slope Hill Road property, sporting a four-bedroom home and a converted woolshed, is owned by TV bigwig Phil Smith, of Great Southern Film and Television, and his ex-news anchor wife Leanne Malcolm.

Thomas is distraught after a hellish six-week ordeal and blames listing agent Grant Coburn and his BayleysLocation agency for acting “unethically”.

“It’s a mess,” Thomas says.

“I took the kids up there and said, ‘Look, we’ve bought a new house’.

“I still believe I’ve got a contract on it - their [the owners’] lawyers don’t, that’s where we are.”

Thomas, an Arrowtowner, complains the agency never gave him a 2013 soil report, which identifies “areas of potential concern”.

BayleysLocations boss Gail Hudson, a Real Estate Institute of New Zealand board member, kicked Mountain Scene’s enquiry to Auckland.

In an emailed statement, Bayleys licensee and compliance boss Tony Bayley says the company can’t now discuss Thomas’ allegations outside of the official REAA process.

Back on May 20, Thomas’ initial $1.9 million offer was given by another agent to Coburn, who presented it to Hudson. Three days later Coburn presented another offer to Hudson.

Thomas says knowing the details of his offer, Coburn shouldn’t have been involved in the second one.

Hudson took over and both parties upped their offers. Negotiations started with Thomas and on May 25 he was told the owners would accept $2.13m.

Twice Thomas thought he’d bought the property - Malcolm sent a text message saying a “definite yes” and he signed an amended clause to a contract.

But the owners never signed and it suddenly became what Thomas calls an “unfair” multi-offer situation.

Smith says a text message is meaningless.

“At the end of the day, no contract was entered into. Until you have a signed contract you have nothing.”

Smith says there was a major flurry of interest and the sale price kept escalating.

“We decided to withdraw the property. It was fair to all parties.”

He confirms Coburn was given a soil report for all potential buyers.

That report, written in 2013 by Davis Consulting Group, found levels of cadmium in one sample next to an old sheep dip that exceeded guidelines for rural lifestyle blocks “where 25 per cent of produce is consumed from the property”.

The report concluded risk to occupants was “highly unlikely” and council commissioners, who approved the subdivision, anticipated “no effects”.

Smith says he’s “proud” of the report, adding: “Our soil’s been tested more than Maria Sharapova.”