IT’S a bitter private split that is playing out in a very public way.
Failed wine entrepreneur David James will face the Downing Centre Local Court on Thursday after being arrested earlier this month charged with stalking and intimidation and two counts of attempting to pervert the course of justice.
He will also face an application for an apprehended violence order being sought by police on behalf of his estranged wife Trudy James.
These are trying times for Mrs James.
Earlier this week, the separated couple’s former palatial family home on Whitebridge’s coveted Burwood Road, was placed under contract for about half of its $8 million original asking price.
Killara, set on 8631 square metres, is modelled on Tomago House where Mr James, a former giant of the Hunter Valley wine industry, grew up.
It’s understood contracts were exchanged on Monday with a mystery buyer who offered $4.2 million for 30 Burwood Road, just $200,000 more than what Mrs James bought it for more than 15 years ago when it was independently valued at $3.8 million.
The forced sale of the property, due to a divorce settlement, is being challenged by Mrs James who is questioning how millions of dollars could be wiped off the sale price of Killara since it first hit the market last year.
Battling to stay solvent, Mrs James plans to challenge the sale, that was managed by co-agents Mark Kentwell, of PRDnationwide Newcastle and Lake Macquarie, and Ken Jacobs, of Christie’s International Real Estate, in the Family Court.
“How can the value go up by $200,000 in 15 years, it just makes no sense,” she said.
Several real estate insiders who spoke to Fairfax Media expressed surprise at the cut-price deal for Killara, one saying the property – that had sold signs out the front on Tuesday - had been “snapped up for a song”.
Another said it was the Hunter’s most contentious real estate deal of the year.
According to documents seen by Fairfax Media, Mr Kentwell put a “conservative estimate of the selling price” for the property in July 2016 between $7.5 million and $8.25 million.
In May, Todd Hadley, of MJD Valuers, put the price of the property at $7 million.
But the trophy home failed to sell at a public auction last week after bidding opened at $3 million and went between two registered bidders before being suspended at $3.6 million.
When the property was first listed in early 2016 with Cveta Kolarovski, of Robinson Property, who was working for McGrath Charlestown at the time, there was a failed offer of $9 million.
Asked about the current sale price, Mrs Kolarovski said “we had multiple parties interested at $7 million and over, both national and international”.
The sale, done at the behest of court appointed receivers Ben O’Hearn, of O’Hearn Lawyers, and Bruce Heathcote, of Forsythes Business and Financial Advisors, punctuates the stunning downfall of one of the Hunter’s most prominent wine empires.
The receivers, who did not respond to repeated requests for comment, have Killara insured for $9.1 million.
Mr James’ companies collapsed in 2013, leading to the sale of assets including James Estate Wines at Pokolbin. Police are still investigating how $5 million worth of Australia’s best wines vanished without a trace amid the wreckage of the liquidated Hunter wine empire.
Now the sale of Killara is under the spotlight after Mrs James alleged the property had been undervalued after she lost control of the sale process last year following court orders arising from a property settlement with Mr James.
When contacted by Fairfax Media about the sale process, Mrs James said she believes Killara had been “devalued” and buyers led to believe it was a “fire sale”.
Mrs James pointed to a case where confidential Supreme Court orders, detailing the split between Mr and Mrs James, were attached to the back of sale contracts and handed out to prospective buyers, including her neighbours.
Fairfax Media asked PRDnationwide about the issue on Wednesday, but Mr Kentwell, who was engaged by the receivers, did not answer the question.
“Christie’s International Real Estate, PRDnationwide and the receivers ran an exhaustive and thorough national and international marketing campaign leading up to the auction,” he said.
“It was regrettable that the property did not sell at the auction. We have otherwise been requested not to make further comment given the matter is personal to the parties involved.”
Roy Gavin, who was the under-bidder at the auction, said he believed it was a “fire sale”.
“I got an email saying there had been a massive price reduction, the price dropped about $1 million overnight, so I thought I might get it for a steal,” he said.
In June last year, the Supreme Court appointed Mr O’Hearn and Mr Heathcote as independent trustees to sell Killara and a Corlette property, both owned by Mrs James. The trustees were later appointed by the court as receivers in an effort to ensure Mrs James did not have to pay capital gains tax on the sale of Killara as it was her principal place of residence.
Mrs James said she had “never been in receivership” and now had no say in the sale of her home because the receivers were running the process.
Mrs James said she had “never been in receivership” and had little say in the sales because the receivers were in charge. In April, the receivers’ bill and associated costs from the unhappy sale ventures, that saw Killara still on the market and Corlette sold last year for $1.595 million, was hundreds of thousands of dollars.
This included $81,358 in fees for Mr Heathcote to March and $181,561 for Mr O’Hearn. It’s unknown what the additional costs and fees have been since. Mrs James described the process as a “nightmare”.
“The judge estimated it would cost about $30,000 for the sale of the properties,” she said. “But the whole process has left me on the verge of bankruptcy and the costs continue to grow.”
The mother of two said she could pen a book detailing the saga, which, among the background of all the legal battles, would include details of the toll it took on her family and personal life.
A war of words paper trail between warring lawyers reveals a complicated behind-the-scenes battle featuring allegations of mismanagement, questionable practices and harassment.
It’s a legal process generally reserved for those with deep pockets. But Mrs James said in this case she was being forced to pay for both sides with all costs and fees incurred by the receivers to come from the sale of Killara, her only remaining asset that has a significant mortgage.
She said the process was crippling her financially.
In another twist in the saga, it’s understood Mr James and his mother, Irene, made an eleventh-hour bid on Monday to secure the property for $4.5 million.
But the battle for Killara appears far from over after the mortgagee, AMP Bank, requested a valuation of the property on Wednesday. Any sale price must be approved by the Family Court.
Mr James did not respond to requests for comment.