Push for change: Tony and Rachel Windner

A Queenstown couple who claim they’ve been left high and dry by Fowler Homes plan to lobby for a law change around franchisee regulations in New Zealand.

Tony and Rachel Windner have also complained to the Commerce Commission.

They believe the national franchise company’s guilty of “misleading advertising”.

That’s based on a TV marketing campaign over summer featuring Black Caps captain Kane Williamson, touting it as the “company we can trust”.

The Windners say they’ve spent an extra $290,000 to finish their Queenstown home, after the former Fowler Homes franchisee for this area, John Mansfield, went bust in March.

Mansfield owned Fowler Homes Southern Lakes.

In the seven months prior to FHSL’s liquidation, the couple sent 12 emails, including two from their lawyer, to Fowler Homes Ltd managing director Tony Hill, but he didn’t help.

Tony Windner: “Tony Hill wasn’t coming to our rescue in any way. He just hung us out to dry, basically.”

But Fowler general manager Kerwin O’Malley tells Mountain Scene Mansfield was an “independent owner and operator”, who on liquidation reassigned the uncompleted builds himself, independently.

“Once in liquidation, all property, including the job information, and files went to BDO [the liquidator] and Fowler Homes NZ did not have access to this,” O’Malley says.

Tony Windner says the house was supposed to have been an eight-month build, complete by February last year.

But by then, only the floor slab was down.

It took until last winter to get the framing up and roof on, despite the couple making progress payments on time.

Rumours were swirling about Mansfield’s financial position, so the couple started emailing the national Fowler Homes boss raising concerns and asking for advice and assistance.

Hill was “glib” in his responses, Windner says.

The couple tried to project-manage the build themselves, but say Mansfield missed agreed deadlines.

Windner: “At the end of it when we realised, `shit, we’re in trouble’, we got a quantity surveyor and lawyers involved.

“By the end of [last] year the advice was that we’d paid way too much for what was actually on site and … to finish the house was going to [cost] way more than what was left in the contract,” he says.

The $290,000 extra cost includes about $200,000 to finish the build, legal fees, and more than $60,000 in rent – renting back the property they’d sold to fund the new pad.

On the day of the liquidation, Hill told the Otago Daily Times FHSL had 10 homes being built in Queenstown, nine of which had already been reassigned to a local builder, or reached practical completion.

He expected agreement on the final contract, “nearing completion”, to be reached within a week.

But the Windners say their house wasn’t nearing practical completion, “was certainly not reassigned”, and they heard nothing from Hill.

The bitter cherry on top of the crap cake for the couple was the high-rotation TV advertising campaign.

It came after Fowler Homes’ Taranaki franchisee went into liquidation last November, and just before FHSL suffered the same fate.

Tony says it’s “incredible” the company could advertise like that given “20 per cent of their businesses, pretty much, had gone down”.

A Commerce Commission spokesperson says they received a complaint about Fowler Homes in June.

“The complaint was assessed as part of our normal process and we decided to take no further action at this time.”

They say they can revisit any complaints later.

In total, the commission has received four complaints regarding Fowler Homes since 2016.

At present, the Windners say the law around housing franchises is the same as “a coffee cart, or Jim’s Mowing franchise” – and they believe that should change.

“This [a house] is a big deal – it’s a huge investment,” Windners says. “It can ruin people financially.

“In housing there’s this franchise situation where, at the end of the day, the franchisee goes bust and you’ve got nothing.”

They’veĀ  also submitted to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s legislative reform review of the building industry because they feel regulations are too lax and offer no protection for people in their situation.

And they want to talk to Clutha-Southland MP Hamish Walker about introducing a private member’s Bill to try to change the law.

O’Malley adds: “Fowler Homes have been building homes since 1984 and we were very disappointed that after 12 years, Fowler Homes Southern Lakes had liquidated.”

A new business, Fowler Homes Queenstown, was incorporated in July.

It is not related to FHSL.