Day one of their Italian honeymoon and Edward Roberts and Jade Walker received the email that would crush their long-held dreams of moving into their first home.
From a hotel in Rome, they learned that their developer was tearing up the contract for their off-the-plan apartment in Croydon.
“We were stunned and we were shattered because for two years, we’d been hanging on to moving into our first home,” Mr Roberts said.
The letter, seen by Fairfax Media, was sent last month, more than two years after the couple had signed the contract for the two-bedroom apartment.
The practice has been dubbed “sunset clawback”, a practice where developers rescind contracts for off-the-plan purchases and then put apartments back onto the market for sale. “Two Christmases have gone by that we’ve missed out on being in our first home.”Edward Roberts
It highlights the risks of buying off-the-plan, and has led to at least one class action in Sydney.
In June, 2015, Mr Roberts, then a 30-year-old police academy graduate, and Ms Walker, a 24-year-old university student, were ready to buy their first property.
The pair were thrilled to find a small apartment with a courtyard in a development that was more than halfway through construction.
“It was all pretty exciting,” Mr Roberts said. “We signed the contract and got the family together and had a glass of champagne and thought we were finally getting into the property market.
“We’d gone to a few auctions and we’d been blown out of the water every time so the idea of buying off the plan really appealed to us because it was a set price.”
The apartment was $399,000, but they received a $15,000 discount because it was one of the last units left in the first stage of the development.
“We’d gone out and seen the building and the walls were up and the roof was on,” Mr Roberts said.
They were told they would move in by September. But months ticked by and construction halted on the site.
The developer, Jeremy Collins, blamed plumbing problems, issues with council, disputes with builders and bad weather.
“Every time we’d speak to him there was a new excuse as to why there was a further delay,” Mr Roberts said.
Months turned into years.
“Two Christmases have gone by that we’ve missed out on being in our first home,” Mr Roberts said. “And our wedding was the first of July and obviously we never made it.”
Days after the ceremony, lawyers acting for Mr Collins’ company C24 Pty Ltd told the newlyweds the contract had been terminated. A sunset clause stated the contract could be avoided if the building wasn’t registered within 24 months.
Fairfax Media has confirmed other buyers in the Croydon development have received similar legal letters ending their contracts.
Two bedroom apartments in the development are currently for sale for $460,000 — $76,000 more than what Mr Roberts and Ms Walker would have paid.
“It’s been a really, really terrible experience for us,” Mr Roberts said. “We just want to get a house to live in. We want to start a family.
“I thought getting the home loan was the hard part, not the contract that was offered.”
Mr Collins and lawyers representing C24 Pty Ltd did not respond to detailed questions.
Michael Fox, a principal with law firm McInnes Wilson, is now representing Mr Roberts and Ms Walker.
He would not go into specific details of the case, but said he was of the view the vendor did not have the right to terminate the contract.
“We have not been provided with any evidence that the vendor has used its best endeavours to have the plan registered, as required by the contract,” Mr Fox said.
“It is difficult to imagine what difficulties the vendor would have faced given the plan of sub division is not a complex one.
“There is correspondence between the vendor and our client as recently as June of this year discussing the final finishes that would be included in the apartment with no suggestion that the transaction would not proceed to settlement.”
He went on to say state and federal regulators might want to take a look at the legal issues highlighted by the case.
Simon Libbis, a lawyer specialising in property law, said off-the-plan contracts were riskier than other contracts.
“Contracts are generally heavily weighted in favour of the vendor,” he said, adding that he recommended buyers seek expert legal advice.
Mr Collins has headed other developments in Melbourne, including a new estate in Lilydale due to be completed next year.