Williams Corp

PHOTO: Williams Corporation managing directors Matthew Horncastle, left, and Blair Chappell. DAVID WALKER/STUFF

According to STUFF embattled housing developer Williams Corporation is making a buck converting some of its unsold townhouses into Airbnbs.

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On Biddle Cres, in the Lower Hutt suburb of Taitā, six townhouses operate as short-term accommodation on Airbnb. Each of them is still owned by Williams Corp, despite the 30-townhouse development being labelled “sold out” on the company’s website.

Drive just three minutes to Milne Cres, and you’ll find another five Airbnbs – still owned by the company, within another supposedly sold-out development.

More sites on Johnston Grove and Macky St – both within a few minutes’ drive – also include signposted Airbnbs.

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“It feels like we’re living in a motel, rather than a residential development,” said one Biddle Cres homebuyer, who didn’t want to be named for fear of blowback from Williams Corp.

He believed the company had implied the development would be “largely owner-occupied” and was nearly sold out.

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“That actually influenced our decision. We thought: ‘obviously they’re selling fast, we need to get in quickly’.”

Other townhouses, minutes away on Milne Cres, are also listed on Airbnb.
Other townhouses, minutes away on Milne Cres, are also listed on Airbnb.

Williams Corp denies misleading buyers – and says its decision to put some townhouses on Airbnb indicates good business savvy.

“The Airbnb option usually provides us with a higher return than a long-term rental would,” managing director Blair Chappell​ said.

“It’s about being smart with your product and smart with your business. Does it make sense to leave some homes completely empty, generating no revenue?”

The six Biddle Cres townhouses once had committed buyers – but “settlement issues” resulted in the sales falling through.

“They were actually sold – our marketing at the time was factually correct.”

Williams Corporation managing directors Blair Chappell, right, and Matthew Horncastle on the firm's private jet.
Williams Corporation managing directors Blair Chappell, right, and Matthew Horncastle on the firm’s private jet.

Those bad deals come at an inopportune time for Williams Corp. In November, the beleaguered developer offered some staff members voluntary redundancy, amid a sales slump.

A month later, Matthew Horncastle​, the company’s other managing director, made headlines for sharing sexist musings on social media. Both managing directors have been criticised for leading private jet lifestyles.

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In Christchurch, where Williams Corp is based, there are several other Airbnbs, located within central-city townhouse sites developed by the company, including on Madras St and Durham St North. One such listing is titled “high roller luxury casino suite”.

Williams Corp no longer owns those townhouses – a property title search revealing a bevvy of different owners.

Yet, the Airbnbs in Christchurch and Lower Hutt are linked by a common entity: Ohana Property. The company manages the townhouse-based accommodation in both cities, but has no discernible links to Williams Corp, in terms of directors or shareholders.