An Auckland couple who spent years trying to enforce their purchase of an Otahuhu investment property after the vendors changed their minds have finally got keys to the home- but are still trying to recoup costs from a lengthy court battle.

Four years after signing an agreement to buy the home, only to have the owners change their mind after signing the house over, Marewa Glover and Steve Piner are in the process of renovating in a bid to get tenants into the Church St house.

The saga began in 2013 when Glover, an associate professor, and Piner, a salesman, made a successful $450,000 bid on the house at a Barfoot & Thompson auction, only for the estate agent to get a text days later from the owners asking him to cancel the sale.

It was too late. Piner and Glover had paid a $44,000 deposit and agreements were signed.


At subsequent High Court hearings Vietnamese brother and sister Thi Kim Chi Nguyen and Vinh Hgoc Nguyen said they didn't understand the agreement because of language difficulties.

The court ruled in Piner and Glover's favour, declaring the sale legally binding and ordered the sale to proceed.

The Nguyens appealed, but in December the Court of Appeal also rejected their argument, agreeing there was "sufficient written record" of the Nguyens' intentions.

Ten months on from that judgment, Piner and Glover are still chasing from the siblings $65,000 the courts awarded them in costs and late settlement interest, which they say doesn't begin to cover their legal fees.

With no sign of a cent, they've put charging orders on three properties owned by
Vinh Nguyen.

Steve Piner and wife Marewa Glover in the Church Street home tried to buy four years ago. Photo / Greg Bowker
Steve Piner and wife Marewa Glover in the Church Street home tried to buy four years ago. Photo / Greg Bowker

"It's been an enormous learning curve," Piner said of the legal process, as he sanded down the walls of the Church St property last week.

"We're a mum and pop operation, all of this stuff gets done over the dining room table after work. We still work, we have day jobs."

After finally taking possession of the property in February the couple were disappointed with its state. It appeared squatters had been living there, and the hot water cylinder was missing. Photos show rubbish littered the backyard.

Despite that, the couple are still committed to what they call their 'business plan', and don't regret buying the home.

"The whole idea was to be able to spend more time with our daughter. We wanted to be able to enjoy her growing up a lot more than we've been able to. That's what it's cost us," Piner said.

"(But) the reason we bought it in the first place still stands- for us it was always a strategic buy. It's a good investment. It was a business plan and we're sticking to that plan. Little did we know that sticking to the plan was going to cost us so much."

The couple has effectively put their life on hold for years, while they waited for the sale to finalise. Precious family time with their daughter had been scarified in favour of poring over legal documents.

Marewa Glover and Steve Piner were disappointed at the state of the property after finally taking possession.
Marewa Glover and Steve Piner were disappointed at the state of the property after finally taking possession.

While the average cost of a home in Auckland is closer to the $1 million mark Piner is reluctant to call the home a bargain.

"Was it a bargain? Not at the time. It's cost us three years of our plan. We're supposed to be in a much different position than we are now," he said.

He described the ensuing court battle like "a war of attrition".

"Who's going to last the longest? If we didn't have the backing that we did, if we were a little bit closer to the wind, we might have backed off and given it away.

"For us, we didn't have $40,000 to throw away and that's what it was about ... we've paid the deposit, the real estate agent has their commission, give me the bloody house."

Barfoot & Thompson compliance manager Max House said in his 15 years with the company he had never seen a case like Glover and Piner's, saying where purchases fell over it was due to technicalities or failures to perform.

University of Auckland property law academic, associate professor David Grinlinton, said it was a "somewhat unique case with some complex legal issues".

"The message for other vendors at auctions is to take proper legal advice and to understand the effects of what they are signing when they sign documents authorising an agent to sell their property at auction," he said.

"These are legally binding agreements and a vendor cannot renege on their contractual obligations after the fall of the hammer."

The Herald could not locate the Nguyens for comment.