60 Minutes crew enter ‘ground zero’

60 Minutes crew enter ‘ground zero’

When Andy Neverly put his life savings into unit 2208 in Sydney’s Opal Tower, he thought he’d snapped up a “dream home”.

But that dream turned into a nightmare on Christmas Eve when residents of the newly-built, 36-storey building were forced to evacuate due to safety fears following significant cracking.

Many residents are still so worried they have refused to return — including Mr Neverly’s own tenants.

In an explosive interview with 60 Minutes which aired tonight, the Sydney man said he was facing financial ruin after forking out $840,000 for the doomed flat.

“It’s our worst nightmare. It’s what you call the Australian dream turned into an Australian nightmare,” Mr Neverly told reporter Ross Greenwood, adding that he believed the property was now all but worthless.

When asked what the situation meant for Mr Neverly’s life savings, his reply was blunt.

“I don’t think it’s worth anything … it’s lost. It’s gone. It’s evaporated. We’re up sh*t creek,” he said.

It’s a spectacular fall from grace for a residential block which was marketed as luxury living within Sydney’s Olympic Park.

But just four months after it was opened, the cracks literally started to appear in the concrete panels of the structures “sky garden” on the 10th floor.

The sound was so loud it was heard by terrified residents, and the cracking was also caught on the building’s CCTV cameras.

The 60 Minutes crew recently became the first media team to access the tower’s “ground zero”, capturing the extent of the damage on film.

Developer Ecove has since carried out emergency stabilising works in an attempt to stop the towers from moving further.

As a result, hundreds of major industrial props — weighing up to 100 tonnes each — have been installed throughout people’s living rooms and bedrooms all the way up to level 10 — and Mr Neverly says residents will be expected to move back in with the props still in place.

Initially, affected residents of the building, which was developed by Ecove and built by Icon, were offered payments for food and temporary accommodation.

But from today, those payments have been cut off for residents of 97 apartments after the body corporate’s engineers Cardno declared those units safe to occupy.

However, Mr Neverly said each owner of Opal’s 392 apartments had their own “heartbreaking” story, with hundreds of thousands of dollars wiped off the values of their homes.

“There is no doubt that people are going to suffer extreme financial loss. Extreme financial hardship because of this,” fellow Opal Tower owner Shady Eskander told Ross Greenwood.

He said he knew of one resident selling their apartment for around $800,000 just before the crisis occurred — only to receive a paltry offer of just $400,000 days later.

“The same person then said, ‘You know what?’ as the story continued to unfold, ‘Mate, I’m not even going to offer you a dollar’,” Mr Eskander said.

It’s a crisis some believe has been made worse given Australia’s ailing real estate market.

60 Minutes also spoke with banking and housing analyst Martin North, who stood by previous predictions that Aussie property prices could plunge by as much as 40 per cent in a “worst case scenario”.

“I still think that we could see (a) 40 per cent plus fall over two, three years … it’s not going to happen overnight, but 20 to 30 per cent is my best guess for a local crisis, without that international context, which will take us even into more negative territory,” he told the program.

Former NSW treasury secretary Michael Lambert told Mr Greenwood “thousands” of buildings across the state could be hiding serious defects like the Opal Tower.

Mr Lambert, who undertook a review of building standards after a horrific 2012 fire in a Bankstown apartment, told the program “virtually none” of the 150 recommendations covering 10 major areas of reform he made had been acted on.

He said he was concerned Australia’s “construction boom” had caused people to try and get buildings on the market as quickly as possible — and that there was a “high risk” many had been “cutting corners” as a result.

Continue the conversation @carey_alexis | alexis.carey@news.com.au

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