A Sydney listing agent accidentally burned down her client’s $3 million home. Five years after the accident, her broker has been ordered to pay $850K in damages.

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Julie Bundock’s day started like any other.

The Sydney-based luxury real estate agent was preparing to host an open house for a stunning $3 million listing in one of the city’s most coveted neighborhoods, Avalon Beach. When she arrived at the listing, she noticed the owner’s tenants had left their bedding to air dry on the balcony — a major no-no for a home that would soon have scores of buyers walking through.

So Bundock quickly gathered the bedding, walked downstairs to a room with a few empty shelves, turned on a ceiling light, placed the wet bedding on a metal shelf underneath the light, and walked out. Little did she know her decision would result in a five-year court battle and an $850,000 judgment against her broker.

Australian news outlet News.com.au broke news of the judgment on Tuesday after Chief Judge in Equity Justice David Hammerschlag handed down his ruling in the country’s Supreme Court.

“That a fire might be caused by putting or throwing bedding up against a burning light is obvious. That risk was plainly foreseeable, and Bundock ought to have known this,” Hammerschlag’s decision read. “[Bundock] actively created the risk of fire and the consequent harm.”

Hammerschlag ordered Bundock’s brokerage, Domain Residential Northern Beaches, to pay homeowner Peter Alan Bush $740,642 in damages, plus interest. Meanwhile, the four renters, Elise Coulter, Reggie Songaila, Lauren Coulter and Ella Eagle, received $121,475.

During his testimony, Bush said Bundock took responsibility for the May 2019 fire.

“Oh my God Pete, I think I have burnt down your house,” Bush said while recounting what Bundock allegedly told him and his partner. “I had been doing some tidying up. I collected some sheets drying on the veranda and threw them on top of a freestanding metal shelving in the bedroom under the stairs. I just threw them there, Pete, right up against the light on the wall. I think that’s what started the fire.”

However, Bundock changed her tune during the court proceedings, as her brokerage leaders argued that Bush and the renters were to blame for not warning Bundock that the metal shelf could heat up and spark a fire.

Hammerschlag said Bundock was an “aggressive and uncooperative witness,” and that her “evidence was clearly coloured by a heightened awareness that she had caused the catastrophe.”

“The submission is made in the context where none of the plaintiffs could have possibly or remotely conceived that Bundock might do what she did,” he said. “There was no occasion which could reasonably have called for the suggested disclosure. Bundock acted on her own motion. Her actions were the sole cause of the harm.”

Domain Residential Northern Beaches and Bundock have refused to comment on the judgment.

Email Marian McPherson

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