Black Summer bushfire rebuild unsatisfactory as Green Magic Homes stripped of licence

After losing their home during the Black Summer bushfires, Sue De Marco and Gordon Sanger thought they had found the perfect contractor to rebuild their dream in the scenic hills of the south coast hinterland.

But the NSW government last week stripped the company, Green Magic Homes, of its contractor licence amid accusations of lies and fraud.

It has left the couple almost half a million dollars out of pocket and with work stopped on an unfinished home exposed to the elements.

Mr Sanger said the state government’s intervention had come too late for them and others who had contracted Green Magic Homes, many of them rebuilding after the Black Summer fires.

“After we lost most of our life in the fire, this company has come and stolen what’s left of it and there’re still so many people living in tents down here,” he said.

The couple moved from Dubbo to the scenic hills of Verona, near Cobargo, inland from Bermagui, six months before their home was destroyed by catastrophic bushfires of 2019-2020.

They spent months living in a caravan at Cobargo’s evacuation centre before learning of Green Magic Homes and its modular designs promising “green wellness”.

“It just sounded so awesome,” Ms De Marco said.

“It seemed like the perfect solution. It had a nice fancy website and he was the best salesman.”

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The couple’s home has been left with water leaks and other defects.(ABC South East NSW: Alasdair McDonald)

The website, still online, markets affordable, quick-assembly designs that promise to cut wait times for tradespeople and materials caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

But after spending about $230,000, the couple’s “earth-integrated” home, promising plants on the roof and wall cladding, remains unfinished and leaking.

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Gordon Sanger inspects his unfinished Green Magic Home at Verona.(ABC South East NSW: Alasdair McDonald)

Stressed and frustrated, Ms De Marco and Mr Sanger said the work that had been done had not been certified by Bega Valley Shire Council.

They estimated it would cost them another $200,000 to strip it back and rebuild.

“Everything that’s been done has been done wrong and Gordon and I are just mortified,” Ms De Marco said.

Company director lied, says minister

NSW Fair Trading Minister Eleni Petinos has accused Green Magic Homes company director Glenn Stevenson of lying about prior convictions for fraud-related offences when he applied for the licence in 2021.

She said the company had taken half a million dollars from one customer alone and completed only minor excavation works.

“At this point in the investigation it appears that funds from customers may have been used for personal expenses, including travel, groceries, restaurants, liquor stores, gambling and accommodation,” Ms Petinos said.

She also said the company did not have the appropriate insurance.

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Sue De Marco looks out towards the fire damaged mountains surrounding her unfinished home.(ABC South East NSW: Alasdair McDonald)

Businessman disputes claims

Mr Stevenson, who founded the company, said the claims by Ms De Marco and Mr Sanger were untrue and part of a “witch hunt” against him.

“The bushfire region down the south coast had a large number of dodgy builders and trades working within the area who had taken deposits and had promptly disappeared,” he said.

He said he had pleaded guilty to fraud charges “five or so years ago”, but said he was under instructions from an overseas company manager at the time and unaware signing letters on behalf of others was illegal.

“I pleaded guilty because I absolutely signed those three letters, naively maybe, but yes I did it,” he said in a statement.

“I was asked to do community service which I did in a second hand store, which after my hours where completed I stayed on for a further 12 months.”

The Verona couple say the community feels it has been forgotten by the government.(ABC South East NSW: Alasdair McDonald)

Mr Stevenson said he failed to declare the conviction as he found the government’s form “intense and repetitive”, and he misinterpreted the questions on his prior history.

He also said he used company funds for living expenses and growing the business, as the business was a “one man show” and he wasn’t paying himself a wage.

Mr Stevenson said the global owners of the Green Magic Homes franchise had offered to send a team to Australia to supervise completing the build, which would be undertaken by an independent builder.

“We know exactly what is needed to finish this house and we are sure the client wants their home finished,” Mr Stevenson said.

Both Mr Sanger and Ms De Marco disputed Mr Stevenson’s claim he had offered to finish work on their home.

The ABC has learnt of a website trading as Green Magic Agriculture Australia, which markets agrotunnels for growing food indoors and lists Mr Stevenson as the contact.

A spokesperson for NSW Fair Trading said they could not comment on the website.

“The investigation into Green Magic Homes Australia is ongoing and no comment can be made at this time,” the spokesperson said.

Community feels forgotten, says couple

Meanwhile, Mr Sanger said he, Ms De Marco and the community felt forgotten by the government after the bushfires and the Department of Fair Trading should have better checks in place before certifying contractor licenses.

Ms De Marco and Mr Sanger said they had no choice but to continue living in a temporary one-room demountable home, heartbroken about what little they had left.

“We’re doing this (speaking up) because we don’t want anyone else to feel the way we do,” Mr Sanger said.

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