Retirement savings in ruin, a first-home dream destroyed, months of stress, and millions in claims from creditors with little hope of seeing their money again.
This is the legacy of bankrupted Tauranga developer Stephen John Short, according to court and insolvency documents and five of his former clients who have spoken out - some for the first time - in the hopes of warning others.
The clients tell remarkably similar stories of extended delays in their builds repeatedly explained away with excuses, by Short.
Three, in desperation, took their builds into their own hands to get them finished and say Short or companies he directed owe them tens of thousands of dollars.
The Bay of Plenty Times contacted Short for this article. He declined to comment on the record.
Just a decade ago Stephen John Short was a leading figure in the Tauranga development scene, and the face of the $590m Coast development in Pāpāmoa.
By May of this year, however, the 57-year-old was adjudicated bankrupt in the Tauranga High Court on the application of the IRD over about $400,000 in unpaid taxes.
An October insolvency progress report revealed around 20 creditors have claimed he personally owes more than $2.9m.
An investigation into his assets is ongoing and ownership is not entirely clear but the report lists several vehicles which were in his name - including Range Rovers - that appear to have been sold to pay back debts to finance companies, and he no longer owns his long-time home address - a waterfront property in Poike with a $1.1m council valuation.
The prospect of a dividend has been flagged as "unlikely" in the report.
Court documents from his bankruptcy case - released by a judge to NZME over Short's objections - reveal his problems with the taxman are nothing new, with the IRD bringing bankruptcy proceedings against him in 2012 but withdrawing after an arrangement was reached.
Coast Homes has been removed from the Companies Register after being put into liquidation last year. His companies CDL Limited and Pyes Pa Developments Limited have also been removed, with Velcro Investments Limited, Two Under Limited and Bethlehem Property Holdings Limited in the process of being removed.
Short previously claimed Coast Homes was shut down because it could not continue building in the sold-out Coast development and could not go elsewhere because of a restraint of trade restriction, but the final liquidator's report said the company ceased trading due to "cashflow difficulties" stemming from a delay in certificates of title being issued, and was put into liquidation over outstanding tax matters.
Creditors claimed Coast Homes owed $2.02 million, but there has been no pay-out as liquidators were "unable to locate any realisable assets of the company", according to the final report.
Coast's liquidator has referred Short to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's registries integrity and enforcement team for "further investigations" into his actions as a director.
The ministry would not reveal further information as it could prejudice their enquiries.
The ministry did, however, confirm Short has not made an application to annul his bankruptcy - something he told a judge he was "close to" being able to do back in May.
Promises of a solution just around the corner are familiar to Short's former clients, including Sheree Morrow and partner Kelvin Savage.
The couple - who are grieving the loss of their four-year-old daughter Azalia to a genetic illness last October - spent four years in limbo waiting for the title to arrive so they could build their first home in a subdivision in Pyes Pa Rd.
They paid building company Venture Homes a $27,500 deposit for a $550,000 house and land package in late 2016. Venture Homes had a contract with developer Short's company Velcro Investments to build on the land once it was developed.
But the title for the land never arrived, in spite of Short's assurances that the subdivision would go ahead - including telling the Bay of Plenty Times in 2018 buyers need not worry.
Morrow said they finally got their deposit back recently, but it was too late for their first home dream as they were priced out of the market for what they wanted.
"[House prices] have gone up about $200,000 in the time that we have waited."
She said the last four years had been "absolutely horrible" and had taken a toll on every member of the family.
She said she told Short about Azalia's illness at one point and claimed he expressed sympathy and assured her he would get the subdivision going.
"It was always 'yea I'm on to this, next week, next week'. We were just led along the whole time. I can't believe someone would do that, it's just absolutely horrible, especially with the circumstances with our daughter," Morrow said.
Jarod Thorpe, Venture chief executive, said his company had been able to find new sections for other clients of the stalled subdivision but that was not an option for Morrow's family.
"We had no exit around the contract and had to take him (Stephen Short) for his word," Thorpe said.
Victoria Johnson has also abandoned her building dream.
The Aucklander bought a site in Te Aranga Drive in Pāpāmoa from Coast Homes for $320,000 in 2016.
She paid the company two construction instalments totalling $267,000, but never even got a concrete slab to show for it.
She said Short made excuses for the delays that "seemed quite plausible at the time".
In April last year, she cancelled the contract. When she took her story public, Short claimed she had "panicked and went to the lawyers", but she says she had no choice.
Johnson had hoped to find another builder for her site but lost her job after Covid hit and could no longer afford it. She says she sold her section in September, as it was her "only option" and it still did not cover her losses.
The 54-year-old now lives in the Hawkes Bay. She said, at her age, she held no hope of being able to save up enough money to try again.
Judy Pruden, 65, lives down the road from Johnson's old section.
She had planned to be retired by now, but said she had to continue working because of the money she lost on her Coast Homes build.
Her build slowed down towards the end of 2018 but she said Short convinced her to make a payment in advance to get it moving.
But work records show that in the first 10 months of 2019, the only significant work done was the internal insulation and gib.
She transferred her build to his company CDL (2018) Limited in the hope of getting it finished. The contract also included an agreement for payment of her rent and furniture storage fees, and had Short acting as a guarantor for the deed.
By October, she was "desperate".
"The only way was to complete it myself without involving him and paying again for everything I had already paid for."
Pruden said she lost a "significant amount", all told, but did not want to publicly reveal the figure.
"I had many, many meetings with him and he kept promising …"
She said her delayed retirement had a "huge impact" on herself and the rest of her family.
"I've been through a lot of stress in my life. My husband died of cancer and I have had breast cancer myself and then there was more than a year of stress. It was just terrible."
David and Jenny
Auckland retirees David and Jenny, who asked their surname not be used, took finishing the interior of their CDL build in Pāpāmoa East into their own hands after a series of delays and missed deadlines.
They had expected to be in their home by August or September last year at the latest, but did not get there until Christmas Eve, having hired their own contractors to do the work – some of which they had already paid CDL for in progress payments.
They say they withheld their final payment to CDL and Short signed a personal guarantee for them promising to pay back just over $50,000 by March, but they say the money never came.
David said they had advice it would take another four years of work to recover from the financial hit.
"With Covid ... there's just absolutely no work and I'm in my 70s, I can't get any work and Jenny's work is also diminished. It's had a significant effect on our retirement.
"We worked bloody hard for 40 years to try and save up for our retirement and then... it all just goes down the gurgler."
Shane Panettiere and Leonie Panettiere-Brown
Shane Panettiere and Leonie Panettiere-Brown's worries with their CDL build started in 2018 as framing for their Coast Boulevard home spent weeks exposed to the elements with the roof trusses and framing up but no iron.
Short asked for the next payment, due on "substantial completion" of the roof, and they paid - a decision they came to regret.
"There were so many stalling tactics ... He would just say anything to keep us thinking that if we paid the next instalment that things would get done."
They say they eventually discovered the roofers had not been paid.
Panettiere-Brown said it had been "tremendously stressful" for the family.
The couple wound up cutting the contract with CDL and finishing the build with their own suppliers, even doing some of the labour themselves.
Short signed a document showing CDL owes them $37,736.23 - specifically for roofing and unfinished drainage - but they estimate their actual total loss exceeded $80,000, based on what was in their contract versus their actual costs.
They say they finally moved in just after the lockdown - one final delay - earlier this year and now feel lucky to have a home, and for the support they received, including from others.
"We got through it and, in the end, it just made it all the sweeter."