Queensland property owners out of pocket and patience after Mayfair 101 fails to settle contracts

Homeowners who sold their Far North Queensland properties to an investment firm promising to create Australia’s next tourist mecca say they are fed up waiting for their contracts to be settled.

The Mayfair 101 Group purchased a resort on Dunk Island for $30 million last year, and it has since been repossessed.

Mayfair 101 also bought almost 200 properties across Mission Beach as part of plans to turn them into holiday rentals.

Evelyn Swarbirck is one of scores of locals whose home remains under contract.

The company failed to meet the settlement deadline last Friday, the Swarbircks’ fourth attempt to finalise the deal.

« I get rather disgusted because I can’t believe how companies can do this to people, » Ms Swarbirck said.

Renovated Queenslander house
The Swarbircks were running a successful bed and breakfast before they sold their house to Mayfair 101.(Supplied: Evelyn Swarbirck)

Mrs Swarbirck’s home had already been on the market for two years when Mayfair 101 made an offer on her 1930s-built, renovated Queenslander, which she and her husband had been operating successfully as a bed and breakfast for several years.

« Sometimes I blame myself and think, ‘what have we done?’ But I think it was right at the time, so I don’t blame us for selling it, » Ms Swarbirck said.

The former banking professional and her husband used their superannuation to buy a new home closer to Cairns in Innisfail, but they’ve since been forced to sell it due to Mayfair 101’s delays.

Ms Swarbirck said between the cost of stamp duty and legal fees, the couple had lost $20,000.

Man sits at dining table
Retiree Nick Sitipis terminated the contract to sell his South Mission Beach home after the company requested multiple extensions to settle.(ABC Far North: Brendan Mounter)

« It’s been a costly exercise for us, but sometimes you’ve got to cut your losses to move on with your life, » Ms Swarbirck said.

Retiree Nick Sitipis sold two South Mission Beach properties to Mayfair 101 — his private residence and a holiday home.

The latter deal was honoured, but the sale of his residence was never settled, so he terminated the contract after multiple requests by Mayfair 101 to extend.

Despite being out of pocket tens of thousands of dollars, Mr Sitipis said he was one of the lucky ones.

« It could have been a lot worse, we could have had our asset tied up and nowhere to go, » Mr Sitipis said.

House with for sale sign out front
For Sale signs line the streets around Mission Beach as houses initially sold to Mayfair 101 are re-listed.(ABC Far North: Brendan Mounter)

Mayfair calls ASIC efforts ‘overreach’

Mayfair 101 managing director James Mawhinney said the company was in great financial shape until the COVID-19 pandemic affected its ability to settle its outstanding contracts.

Man in navy jacket and white-T-shirt standing a park
Mayfair 101 managing director James Mawhinney remains confident of a legal win against ASIC and that the company’s plans for Mission Beach will be realised.(Supplied: Mayfair 101)

« We were going great guns up until about March this year, and there’s no doubt about it that we have had a few headwinds to deal with over the last couple of months, » Mr Mawhinney said.

In addition to the pandemic, the company also attracted the attention of the nation’s corporate regulator, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC).

In May, ASIC obtained a Federal Court order freezing the assets of several entities associated with the Mission Beach project.

It also banned Mr Mawhinney from leaving Australia.

Mr Mahwinney has described ASIC’s litigation efforts as an « overreach » and said he believed Mayfair 101 would ultimately be vindicated.

« ASIC stepped in and took some issue with our advertising, which is yet to be contested in court, » Mr Mahwinney said.

Woman in front of boat
Nancy Lowe, who runs the water taxi service from Mission Beach to Dunk Island, is still hopeful Mayfair 101 will finance its plans for the region and create Australia’s new ‘tourism mecca’.(ABC Far North: Brendan Mounter)

« We’ve identified some pretty glaring holes and omissions in their submissions to court, so we’re hoping that we’ll be able to have that decision reversed and actually get on with raising funds. »

Mr Mahwinney is adamant the company’s plans for Mission Beach and Dunk Island will be realised and all financial commitments fulfilled.

« We have financiers lined up to help us through this next phase, but there’s a little bit of water to go under the bridge, » Mr Mahwinney said.

« Yes, we have a couple of headwinds that we’re dealing with, and we will come out on top of, but we committed to the locals and the community that we would deliver this project and that’s exactly what we’re going to do. »

« We have started a process and we still remain very committed to the vendors and getting all those settlements completed. »

The matter returns to court on September 23.

Real estate promo sign
Mission Beach’s four real estate agents are busy marketing their houses and vacant land listings in the seaside tourist town.(ABC Far North: Brendan Mounter)

All publicity is good publicity

Mission Beach Real Estate principal Steve Wiltshire, who sold 25 properties to Mayfair 101, remains hopeful the project will eventuate.

Man in front of real estate listings
Mission Beach Real Estate principal Steve Wiltshire still sees ‘blue skies’ for Mission Beach whether or not Mayfair 101’s vision for the region comes to fruition.(ABC Far North: Brendan Mounter)

But either way, he believes the national media attention it has garnered will benefit the community.

« There are a lot of people who know about Mission Beach now that didn’t know about it before, so it’s not all bad, but it’s frustrating, » Mr Wiltshire said.

Tourism operator Nancy Lowe, who runs the water taxi service between Mission Beach and Dunk Island, is another who remains supportive of Mayfair 101 and the company’s vision for the region.

Ms Lowe believed the negative publicity would not have any long-term effect.

« For Mission Beach and the Cassowary Coast, it’s not the first time we’ve been in the headlines for the wrong reasons, » Ms Lowe said.

« People see the headlines but next minute, you’re not a headline anymore so we’ll get by. We always have. »

Drone image of Dunk Island, located off Mission Beach in far north Queensland.
Dunk Island, located off Mission Beach in far north Queensland.(ABC News: Tom Orr)

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