Aspiring property tycoon driven out of town by angry creditors

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Aspiring property tycoon driven out of town by angry creditors

By Harriet Alexander

The billboard poster advertising “Mini Hamptons” prefabricated tiny houses still greets city refugees as they pass through Mittagong, the gateway to a district where the hedges whisper moneyed elegance and residents count billionaire Mike Cannon-Brookes and Hollywood royalty Nicole Kidman among their neighbours.

Property prices in the Southern Highlands surged by 38.2 per cent in the 12 months to January – the highest regional growth in the country – and for those hoping to build or buy in the area, the prospect of obtaining a luxury home at an affordable price looked too good to be true. Perhaps it was.

Emma Foley and Josh Taylor on the spot where they had hoped to build a granny flat, before their builder went bust and disappeared.

Emma Foley and Josh Taylor on the spot where they had hoped to build a granny flat, before their builder went bust and disappeared.Credit:Louise Kennerley

The owner of Mini Hamptons, David York, has been run out of town by angry creditors and become the subject of an investigation by Fair Trading NSW after leaving at least six projects incomplete or so shoddily constructed they will have to be rebuilt. Its parent company, York Building, went into liquidation in December owing $6.4 million to at least 50 creditors.

One couple allege they spent over $200,000 for their existing house to be stripped of its kitchen, bathrooms and flooring and then abandoned. Another couple say they paid $91,000 and have only four spikes in the lawn to show for it. A third couple – a nurse and paramedic – say they paid a 40 per cent deposit to construct a granny flat on their Sutton Forest property, though no surveyor nor workman ever stepped foot on their property after they paid the money in September.

“He sent constant text messages, constant emails, constant calls to get our deposit,” said nurse Emma Foley.

“We were working a lot of hours because we don’t have $75,000 to pay just like that and we kept asking, ‘Can you give us a bit more time?’ After we deposited the money, we didn’t hear hardly anything from him.”

A Mini Hamptons display home and office remain on the main street of Mittagong, six months after the company went under.

A Mini Hamptons display home and office remain on the main street of Mittagong, six months after the company went under.Credit:Louise Kennerley

York denied this version of events. “I’m not running away from anyone,” he said. “I’m not trying to do the wrong thing by anyone. There’s no bag of money or anything like that. It all went into the business and it’s just gone.”

The animosity generated by the liquidation has prompted Facebook to shut down a Southern Highlands community page over defamatory comments posted about York, at least one potential buyer of the company to change his mind and angry public scenes.


Mini Hamptons advertised custom-made little luxury homes that were prefabricated and installed on site over six weeks, and cost under $150,000. York’s wife, Kirsten, who was the business manager of York Building, told the Daily Mail in 2020 that the couple typically built “beautiful residential homes” and wanted to expand into the granny flat market.

“We wanted to challenge the perception that luxury living was reserved only for the wealthy and designed the mini Hamptons so that each inch of the compact home felt elegant with high-end finishes,” Kirsten York said at the time. She declined to comment for this story.

‘He sent constant text messages, constant emails, constant calls ... After we deposited the money, we didn’t hear hardly anything from him.’

Emma Foley

Rising construction costs and supply chain shortages have contributed to several high-profile collapses in the construction industry over the past two years. Insolvencies in the construction industry were 46 per cent higher in April than they were at the same time last year, accounting for almost 30 per cent of all insolvencies.

But most consumers are protected by the Home Building Compensation Fund. Builders are required to take out insurance with the fund on residential projects over $20,000, which compensates owners if the builder dies, disappears or goes insolvent. State building laws also protect consumers by not allowing builders to take upfront deposits greater than 10 per cent.

A spokesman for Fair Trading NSW said none of the matters it has investigated in association with David York appeared to have home warranty insurance. “Consumers who have had dealings with York Building Pty Ltd or Mini Hamptons Pty Ltd are encouraged to contact Fair Trading via its website,” he said. “The investigation is ongoing and no further comment can be made at this time.”

Another of York’s clients, who asked not to be named due to the shame, said she had enlisted Mini Hamptons to build a granny flat for her parents-in-law who were moving to live with them in Mittagong in September last year. She paid a 30 per cent deposit and York told her the project would not require council approval.

But after she and her husband paid $89,327 in August, and a further $1800 to a surveyor in November, she says York stopped returning her messages. In January, she emailed him to ask what had happened with the granny flat. Her parents-in-law were now living in their house, with her father-in-law sleeping on the couch.

She asked York to repay the money if he could not deliver. York replied: “So sorry I have not gotten back to you. I am really battling with signal as I am not in the highlands at the moment. It is my utmost to deliver your unit I am just waiting on the approval for drainage from council. Once I have that we can kick off.”

It was not until the following month that she learned his company was in liquidation and he had not obtained building insurance. Council also informed her that a development consent would be required and cost a further $20,000. “I’ve got four pegs in the ground for $91,000,” she said.

‘It’s still really traumatic’

The list of creditors also includes tilers, plumbers, electricians, carpenters, masons and other subcontractors. Plumber Paul McMullen, who worked with York in Sydney in 2017, said York was frequently behind on payments. “Heaps of tradies were coming and going because they weren’t getting paid,” McMullen said.

Electrician Mitchell Logan said he was still owed about $8000 for work he did for York last year. He said his inspection of the books showed York was taking large amounts of money from people before laying any foundations.

“My last job with Dave was about Christmas,” Logan said. “I said, ‘Are you going to pay my last invoice?’ and he said, ‘No, you idiot, I’m going into liquidation’. I said, ‘How are you going to pay these people back?’ and he said, ‘I will’.”

A third couple paid York Building more than $200,000 to update the kitchen and bathrooms and re-do the floor and paintwork in their newly-acquired Burradoo home. When they moved in 15 weeks later, expecting it to be complete, the kitchen and bathrooms had been gutted and the flooring throughout the house stripped out. The tiler said he had not been paid. The plumbing company was unaware that one of its young employees was doing the work on the weekend. The only water source in the house was in the laundry.

“It’s still really traumatic,” the woman said. “No kitchen, no bathroom, no floor, absolutely nothing.”

A building inspection report, seen by the Herald, found that everything that had been completed would need to be re-done. “The quality of this ensuite is at such a substandard level that the only recommendation is to completely strip out the bathroom and start again,” it said.


York said only one of his clients did not have building insurance and that the contracts including terms for the deposits were drawn up by his lawyer. “That’s lack of experience on my side for not understanding that,” he said. “There were mistakes made, but it wasn’t done from a bad place.”

The liquidator’s March update said initial inquiries indicated the company had failed due to poor cash flow, substantial rework of its builds due to underquoting, poor estimating or poor workmanship, and possibly the pandemic. “The absence of company information has hobbled my investigations and hence ability to report further on ‘what happened to the company’,” liquidator Alan Hayes wrote.

The biggest debtor was another company within the York group.

“The company was insolvent at the time I was appointed liquidator and it was probably insolvent some time prior to that, but at this stage my investigations haven’t concluded,” Hayes told the Herald.

“We’ve asked [the Australian Securities and Investments Commission] for help in requiring Mr York to be more responsive to our requests.”

He rated creditors’ chances of a dividend at this point as “zero”.

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