Property owner sues realtor over sale

Thursday, July 8th, 2010

Creekside lot sold for $1 million less than asking price

Darah Hansen

A valuable chunk of Whistler property, next door to a luxury home owned by Vancouver mining magnate Frank Giustra, is at the centre of a real-estate lawsuit that is before the B.C. Supreme Court.

The civil dispute over the half-acre lot at the base of the Creekside slopes began brewing last fall after realtor Maggi Thornhill and partners purchased the property from businessman Larry Houghton for $1.95 million.

The sale came five months after Thornhill was contracted by Houghton to sell the piece of land for $2.95 million.

Houghton filed a statement of claim last month in Vancouver alleging Thornhill shortchanged him in the deal by failing to provide him with “unbiased, objective advice” that could have resulted in a higher purchase price.

Houghton claims Thornhill neglected to tell him about the continuing interest of two potential buyers, including Giustra, who bought the neighbouring lot from Houghton months earlier.

Thornhill, a Whistler realtor for 22 years, called the lawsuit disappointing and defended her actions in the transaction.

“I didn’t do anything incorrectly,” she said in a telephone interview this week.

She said she was advised by her lawyer to avoid detailed comment on the case, but noted in a prepared statement that “2009 was a very difficult year for real-estate transactions worldwide, and, despite this, I got the seller a deal that he was extremely happy with at the time.”

Among Houghton’s claims, which are only allegations and have not been proven in court, Thornhill allegedly used “confidential information” he had earlier shared with her about his circumstances and desire to sell the property to further her own interests, and those of her business partners.

Four months after the property went on the market for its original list price, Thornhill allegedly telephoned Houghton and inquired whether he would take $2 million from a prospective buyer. He agreed.

She later contacted him to tell him she would be participating in the purchase, the statement of claim alleges.

A contract of purchase was drawn up between the parties on Oct. 21, 2009, with a closing date of Nov. 23, 2009. The final price was $1.95 million.

Houghton claims that one day before the closing, Giustra e-mailed Thornhill to express his “strong dissatisfaction” regarding Thornhill’s failure to contact him when she became aware the property was available below the original asking price. He claims a second buyer in Europe had also expressed continuing interest in the sale.

According to Houghton, Giustra later offered Thornhill $2.4 million for the land, but was told the asking price was $3 million.

Houghton, who could not be reached directly for comment, is suing Thornhill for unspecified damages, including interest, costs and “such further and other relief as this court seems appropriate.”

Thornhill said full disclosure was made and “all appropriate paperwork was used and executed in this transaction.”

“I look forward to our day in court and know that the facts will come out in our favour.”

Thornhill said the property in question is under development and is not for sale.

No trial date has been set and Thornhill has yet to file a statement of defence formally responding to Houghton’s allegations.

Giustra, meanwhile, said he was unaware of the lawsuit until he was contacted by The Vancouver Sun.

He said he was only peripherally mentioned in Houghton’s statement of claim and therefore had no comment.

Giustra made international headlines earlier this year when he joined with former U.S. President Bill Clinton to launch a $20-million fund to help rebuild Haiti’s economy following January’s devastating earthquake.

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