Termite Epidemic

Reporter: Bryan Seymour

It's the dream home eaten to a shell by termites.

Not one of the experts hired to raise the alarm stopped Dean and Sharon Yarnton from buying the house. Yet after handing over their life savings they found perhaps the worst case of termite infestation we've seen.

"Coptotermes Acinaciformes, they're the most common termite pest in Australia," said Michael Carbone of Knock Out Pest Control.

"We had no idea at all," said Sharon Yarnton, who purchased the house in Sydney's west in 2008 with her husband Dean. The Yarntons face a repair bill over one hundred thousand dollars.

They had building and pest inspections done. They even hired a Conveyancer to interpret the legal jargon - still they ended up with an empty shell.

"It's very frustrating considering we paid top dollar for the house," Sharon said.

The real estate agent, Wayne Hack, from Century 21 Menai recommended the Conveyancer and he sold the house to the Yarntons for nearly $600,000... after having it listed for more than a year. Wayne and his boss Frank Maloney told me in a private meeting they had no idea there was anything wrong with the house. They admitted it was highly unusual to have one listed for so long. They refused to do an interview and they refused to answer written questions.

"I'm probably a bit embarrassed to say this, but I actually had to go to salvation army to buy cheap doonas, to keep the kids warm, I was regularly going to the doctors on fortnightly basis to get asthma medication so that's why Dean's decided enough's enough, second winter, we need walls," Sharon said.

We called in an expert to examine the house, Michael Carbone from Knock Out Pest control.

"Absolutely, the professional obligation lies with the inspector and the conveyancer to highlight the concerns there is in that report not just hand over that report and say do your best with the technical jargon that's inside this report," Carbone said.

Michael Carbone thinks termites attacked this house over a decade ago, citing a pest report from the year 2000. He's amazed no one told Dean and Sharon they definitely should not buy the house without a much more detailed examination.

"Absolutely there should have been more communication between the inspector, the conveyancer and the client," he said. "Again, I go back to the X-Ray analogy… that's like the radiographer handing you the X-Ray and saying there you go mate, what's broken?"

The Inspectors, the Conveyancer and the Agent all maintain they did everything in writing and by the book. Sharon disagrees and is seeking redress through the New South Wales Consumer, Trade and Tenancy Tribunal.

The New South Wales Department of Fair Trading previously conducted a four month investigation into Sharon's case and decided to do nothing. Following an inquiry from Today Tonight, NSW Fair Trading is re-examining its handling of the case.

"We weren't advised that the house was on the market for 395 days, we weren't advised that a previous interested party had done a pest inspection and that actually came back with termite damage," Sharon said.

Dean and Sharon thought they'd done everything right. So what should you do to make sure you're safe? Have an annual termite inspection. If there's any sign of these little creatures, go inside the walls for a closer look.

"The only people who are cautious about it are the people who have paid $20,000 to have their house repaired and another $5,000 to a termite inspection, to remedially prevent the termites from getting back in to the house," Carbone said.

Story Links:

Knock Out Pest Control - Michael Carbone

www.knockoutpestcontrol.com.au

Phone: (02) 9545 4455

Responses to Today Tonight

Century 21 Menai Principal/Owner Frank Maloney -

Hello Bryan,

Considering events with you and Today Tonight, I have been advised not to enter correspondence with you with the questions you have raised. You appear to have a news angle already in mind, and I think that any comments/answers I may make would make would be used by you to reflect that angle. The Dept of Fair Trading have looked at the issue, and as you advised me, that was the end of it.

We discussed what we knew at the off camera meeting meeting that we had in our office. In that you did show where you wanted to go. You also ambushed Wayne when he left the office with rapid fire questions.

All of this does raise the whole questions of pest reports being "visual" only as a wider issue, as hardly any purchasers ever go to a thermal image inspection. I will not be interested in an on camera interview.

Regards Frank Maloney

Hello Frank, hello Wayne.

As promised yesterday during our private discussion in your Menai office at 5:05pm, I am writing to submit several questions regarding the sale, by you, of the house at xxxxxxxxxxxxx, Menai to Dean and Sharon Yarnton in late 2008.

Questions:

- Why was the property listed for 395 days?

- Did you tell the Yarnton's the house was listed for this long, if so, when?

- Why was the house listed for so long?

- Did the previous owner of the house inform you of any history of termite damage at the property? If so, what?

- Why did a prospective buyer with an offer on the house pull out of the purchase?

- Did this prospective buyer withdraw after commissioning and receiving a pest report on the property?

- Did you see this pest report? If not, why not?

- After this, did you commission your own invasive pest report? If not, why not?

- Why did refer the Yarnton's to Menai District Conveyancing?

- What commission did you receive following the sale of this property?

- What assistance have you given the Yarnton's in light of the extensive damage to the property sold to them by you?

- Can you provide any other examples of homes you have sold that have had every internal wall eaten away by termites?

- The Yarnton's are skeptical of your claim not to have known anything about termites in this house; what is your response?

- Given your assertion that you had no idea of the termite damage in this property prior to sale, how would you describe your not knowing of the serious infestation that existed in the building?

As promised yesterday during our private discussion in your Menai office at 5:05pm, I am writing to submit several questions regarding the sale, by you, of the house at xxxxxxxxxxxxx, Menai to Dean and Sharon Yarnton in late 2008.

Questions:

- Why was the property listed for 395 days?

- Did you tell the Yarnton's the house was listed for this long, if so, when?

- Why was the house listed for so long?

- Did the previous owner of the house inform you of any history of termite damage at the property? If so, what?

- Why did a prospective buyer with an offer on the house pull out of the purchase?

- Did this prospective buyer withdraw after commissioning and receiving a pest report on the property?

- Did you see this pest report? If not, why not?

- After this, did you commission your own invasive pest report? If not, why not?

- Why did refer the Yarnton's to Menai District Conveyancing?

- What commission did you receive following the sale of this property?

- What assistance have you given the Yarnton's in light of the extensive damage to the property sold to them by you?

- Can you provide any other examples of homes you have sold that have had every internal wall eaten away by termites?

- The Yarnton's are skeptical of your claim not to have known anything about termites in this house; what is your response?

- Given your assertion that you had no idea of the termite damage in this property prior to sale, how would you describe your not knowing of the serious infestation that existed in the building?

- The Yarnton's say they will seek redress against you and other parties through the CTTT; what is your intention with regard to contesting this matter?

You have refused an on-camera interview; I again ask you to reconsider. You said you "may not respond" to my questions in writing; I request that you do please respond by tomorrow, Friday, February 18 at 12 noon.

Please email or call me with any information you think relevant to this situation.

Regards,

Bryan

Bryan Seymour

Senior Reporter / Today Tonight

Menai District Conveyancing - referred by the Real Estate Agent, they arranged the pest and building inspections.

Hi Bryan

We wish to make no comment.

Regards

Karl Schier

Menai District Conveyancing

On 21/02/2011, at 1:11 PM, "Seymour, Bryan" wrote:

Hi Karl,

Thank you for your reply.

The fact that this case is before the CTTT in no way prevents you from answering my questions.

Please advise if you still simply refuse to answer these questions.

Regards,

Bryan

Bryan Seymour

Senior Reporter / Today Tonight

Bryan

We refer to your email of 18 February 2011 and advise there is a current matter being heard by the CTTT, and wish to make no comment.

Karl Schier

Menai District Conveyancing

On 18/02/2011, at 1:48 PM, "Seymour, Bryan" <mailto:BSeymour@seven.com.au>wrote:

Attention: Karl Schier

Hi Karl,

I telephoned your office today but as soon as I identified myself your receptionist hung up on me! I called back and left a voice message.

Here are some questions I need to properly put to you in relation to a story we intend to broadcast about the circumstances surrounding the inspection and purchase of the property at xxxxxxxxxxxxx Menai by Dean and Sharon Yarnton:

- Why was the property listed with Century 21 Menai (the agency that referred the Yarntons to you) for 395 days?

- Did you tell the Yarnton's the house was listed for this long, if so, when?

- Did the previous owner of the house inform you of any history of termite damage at the property? If so, what?

- Did you seek out any reports of inspections done on this property, including the report on the termite treatment done in the year 2000? If not, why not?

- Did you give the Yarnton's an unequivocal undertaking to verbally make clear the full meaning of the Pest and Building Inspection Reports you commissioned on their behalf and was this done? If so, by whom and when? If not, why?

- Why did a prospective buyer with an offer on the house pull out of the purchase?

- Did this prospective buyer withdraw after commissioning and receiving a pest report on the property?

- Did you see this pest report? If not, why not?

- After this, did you commission your own invasive pest report? If not, why not?

- What monies did to you charge and/or receive for the work you did for the Yarntons?

- What assistance have you given the Yarnton's in light of the extensive damage to the property discovered soon after they purchased it?

- Can you provide any other examples of properties you have dealt with that have had every internal wall eaten away by termites?

- The Yarnton's are skeptical of your claim not to have known anything about termite damage in this house; what is your response?

- Did you, verbally or in writing, make clear to the Yarntons that this house was likely badly damaged by termites and did you advise them not to proceed with the purchase until definitive steps were taken to ensure the house was fit? If so, who gave this advice; when and how?

- The Yarnton's say they will seek redress against you and other parties through the CTTT; what is your intention with regard to contesting this matter?

I request an on camera interview in order to properly include your position in my story. At the very least I request written answers addressing these questions by noon, Monday, February 21, 2011.

Regards,

Bryan

Bryan Seymour

Senior Reporter / Today Tonight

=============================================================

The Pest Inspector - we received no response to our questions:

Hello Trevor,

I telephoned you at 2:09pm today and you hung up without speaking. I called straight back you left the connection open for two minutes and ten seconds, ending the connection at 2:12pm. I have just called you back and spoken with you on the phone briefly before you ended the connection abruptly - after telling me you would not reveal your email address to me so that I could send these questions (below).

I am writing with questions for you regarding the property at xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx, Menai and the work done on this property by you on behalf on Menai District Consulting and the purchasers Dean and Sharon Yarnton:

- Did the previous owner of the house inform you of any history of termite damage at the property? If so, what?

- Did you seek out any reports of inspections done on this property, including the report on the termite treatment done in the year 2000? If not, why not?

- What information did you glean from the 2000 Report?

- Did you give the Yarnton's an unequivocal undertaking to verbally make clear the full meaning of the Pest Inspection Report you compiled and was this done? If so, by whom and when? If not, why?

- What monies did to you charge and/or receive for the work you did for the Yarntons?

- What assistance have you given the Yarnton's in light of the extensive damage to the property discovered soon after they purchased it?

- Can you provide any other examples of properties you have dealt with that have had every internal wall eaten away by termites?

- Did you, verbally and in writing, make clear to the Yarntons that this house was likely badly damaged by termites and did you advise them not to proceed with the purchase until definitive steps were taken to ensure the house was fit? If so, who gave this advice; when and how?

- The Yarnton's claim that you did not make them verbally fully aware of the risks of termite damage at the property; if not, why not?

- The Yarnton's say they will seek redress against you and other parties through the CTTT; what is your intention with regard to contesting this matter?

- Sharon Yarnton has shown me a text message she claims was sent to her by you yesterday, (Thursday, February 17, 2011), in which you threaten to sue her for defamation; why are you concerned about being defamed by Mrs Yarnton?

- Another text in this alleged chain of SMS's states: "XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX XXXXXXXXXXXXXX." Who told the Yarnton's to get an invasive inspection and when? Do you believe the Yarnton's are solely responsible for purchasing a house in which every internal wall had to be removed?

I request an on-camera interview in order to properly report your position in the story we will broadcast. At the very least, I request written answers to these questions by noon, Monday, February 21, 2011.

Regards,

Bryan

Bryan Seymour

Senior Reporter / Today Tonight

=========================================================

New South Wales Fair Trading

(Previously they looked at this case over four months and decided to do nothing. After we contacted them, they issued this response:

Hi Bryan,

as discussed,

"Given that Fair Trading is now in possession of additional information, the matter is being re-assessed to determine whether there has been any breach of Fair Trading legislation.

Fair Trading has been in contact with the purchaser and a decision whether to reopen the investigation will be made following the assessment."

Please attribute to a FT spokesperson.