Nicolette Van Wijngaarden is No Longer Unique

June 21st, 2020

Latest Update March 25, 2021: Jailed Unique Estate Agent Gets Early Release

Upmarket real estate agency Unique Estates has bitten the dust. The principal, Nicolette Van Wijngaarden, founded the agency in Byron Bay in 2009 and it grew to seven offices including Sydney, Melbourne, Gold Coast and Hong Kong. The agency concentrated on premium properties over one million dollars and recently expanded into yacht and jet charter.

“It is with great sadness that I inform you that Unique Estates is going into liquidation today and you are to stop work straight away,” founder, Nicolette van Wijngaarden emailed staff. “Wages can not be paid tomorrow. I am very sorry it has come to this.” she wrote.

Nicolette Van Wijngaarden only started the business after her partner at the time had difficulty selling a large estate on Friday Hut Road, Possum Creek. Armed with a marketing background she jumped in headfirst and quickly made a mark. The agency published the glossy Unique Luxury Magazine distributed to Qantas Airways Chairman’s, First Class & Business Class Lounges both nationally and internationally. Ads cost $4500 per page. The Unique Estate principal came armed with an impressive ‘little black book’ and was able to land some very big sales. But many of her listings went on the market at too high a price and more than a few disgruntled sellers were forced to find follow up agencies to do a mop up.

The main question is whether Ms Wijngaarden is really unique or just another incarnation of a previous high flying agent by the name of Sarah Dougan. In 2011, Sarah Dougan opened a Belle Property franchise in Byron with lots of flash and promise. Sarah Dougan put together investor syndicates to buy top end properties for the Holiday Let market. She left a trail of woe in her wake and made off to Los Angeles with the bulk of the trust account and many disgruntled debtors. Efforts to extradite her to face charges have not been met with success.

We will not know any of these details until the liquidators McGrath Nichol, appointed by the Office of Fair Trading, have done their work. Personally, my dealings with Nicolette were always pleasant and professional. I felt she was authentic and well meaning. However, a licensed agent is required to manage a “trust account”. The name is what it implies, an agent is holding large sums of their clients money “in trust”. Any principal who uses trust account funds for operational or personal transactions has crossed the line and is playing with the devil.

Again, we do not know if there was any malfeasance until we have the liquidator’s findings. But I am sure there are many innocent owners and buyers caught up in this and feeling very agitated. Ex Unique agents Gary Brazenor and Denzil Lloyd have now moved to Bangalow Real Estate under the excellent principal, Mary O’Connor. Most agents I deal with are highly qualified and capable people. When episodes like this happen, the public’s already low opinion of real estate agents is reinforced, which is unfortunate, as that is not my experience.

Wrapping Up Unique – update

The liquidator is part way through the long process of wrapping up the Unique Estate mess. The ATO is the biggest creditor after the collapse of the leading Australian boutique estate agency. It ceased trading earlier this year with PPB recently appointed a liquidator. BMW Leasing is the second highest of the known creditors, owed $351,000. Express Commission Australia was owed $180,000, among the 27 creditors owned a $1.6 million total. This last group is mainly unpaid staff, lost deposits from sellers and unpaid rental from property management.

It was February when McGrath Nicol had been initially appointed joint managers by the NSW Department of Fair Trading with staff getting an email from its founder informing them of the agency collapse. Real estate agency trust fund fraud (not yet proven in this case) is a serious allegation. The most an agent has ever received for this malfeasance is three years in jail. Unique Estate’s founder and principal, Nicolette Van Wijngaarten is in Sydney and awaiting court proceedings. No reason was given for the collapse, but the sale of trophy home properties have slowed to a crawl across Australia, amid low vendor listings.

The Domain website indicated the team at Unique Estates had sold 19 properties in the last 12 months, with an average sale price of $2.6 million. The team sold 17 houses and 2 blocks of land and rural properties by private treaty. These properties were on the market for an average of 341 days.

Last September, van Wijngaarden noted the biggest challenge facing her market was government restrictions on foreign buyers. The highest recorded sale price was $4.3 million for 12 Brownell Drive, Byron Bay, a 2-bedroom house which sold by private treaty on last November having been on the market for 230 days.

All of the Unique Estate agencies have been dissolved – Byron Bay, Sydney, Melbourne, Tasmania, Hong Kong. With staff left unpaid in the Byron Bay and Sydney offices the two selling agents previously with Unique, Gary Brazenor and Denzil Lloyd, are now working with Bangalow Real Estate, where Mary O’Connor, is the principal.

Related Articles

March 25, 2021: Jailed Unique Estate Agent Gets Early Release
March 3, 2020: Unique Estates Principal Fronts Court

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