Unique Estates was born from a single sale in the Byron Bay hinterland and grew into a prestige property agency with offices across Australia and Asia.
But the empire crumbled into the sea last week when it was announced that the company had gone into liquidation.
Employees at the company’s Byron Bay office were among those who received an email from founder Nicolette Wijngaarden informing them that ‘bank accounts are frozen and there are no funds’.
‘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,’ Ms Winjgaarden said in the email, which was published on the property news website Property Observer.
‘Wages cannot be paid tomorrow.’
‘I am so very sorry it has come to this. Please know I did everything I could to prevent it.’
Unique Estates’ website was shut down within hours of the announcement to staff, and its seven offices across Australia and in Hong Kong quickly emptied.
Ms Wijngaarden did not return The Echo’s calls and the liquidator, McGrath Nicol, has instructed staff not to talk about the company’s collapse. However, The Echo understands staff are shocked and upset by the announcement, which few saw coming.
Property Observer reported that Unique Estates also represented around 32 vendors at the time of the collapse.
Ms Wijngaarden founded Unique Estates in 2009 as a company specialising in luxury, high-end properties.
It began when she decided to help her partner sell his house in the Byron Bay hinterland and realised there was a niche that needed filling.
In the ensuing years, the agency expanded significantly, producing a luxury property publication distributed through Qantas lounges around the world and launching a yacht- and jet-charter business.
While little light has been shed on the reason for the collapse, it is understood that recent changes to foreign-ownership laws were a blow to the business’s bottom line.
Unique Estates was well known for finding rich foreign investors happy to pay top dollar for beautifully situated Australian homes.
Once the federal government introduced restrictions on this type of practice, business for Unique Estates became more challenging.