This article has been republished. It was first published in September 2020.

Neighbourly scuttlebutt has long surrounded 81 Sarsfield St, nestled in Auckland's posh enclave of Herne Bay.

The latest in a series of eyebrow-raising episodes is the current owner’s decision to demolish the almost-completed top two levels of his newly built 1,100 square metre, steel and precast home.

Up until five years ago, the property, on the corner of Sarsfield St and Sentinel Rd, was home to a derelict mansion once used as a film production studio.

A Herne Bay resident told BusinessDesk that in recent years the Tuscan-style terracotta mansion had become an eyesore, attracting squatters and party goers until it was bought in 2015 by Watchman Holdings, whose directors are listed as Graeme Murphy and John Kendrick. 

After reputedly paying $4.3 million for the 913 sqm beachfront property, the business partners were granted rights to demolish the old mansion in 2016.

Plans were then developed for a four-level, Cape Cod-style build which included two lifts, an eight-car garage and a level two pool built on a suspended slab. 

The home also boasts a large custom cellar on the bottom two floors, a high tech movie room, as well as a lounge and outdoor area capable of hosting a crowd bigger than allowable under current pandemic restrictions.

Construction started in late 2018, and the plan was to turn the home into two separate, 550 sqm living spaces. The bottom unit was duly completed with new owners taking occupancy in May.


But Murphy, a builder by trade and commercial property developer for the past 40 years, said the problems had started from the third level up, his half of the property investment. 

“Unfortunately, the architect got it completely wrong. The bedroom doors couldn’t even be opened, it was unfixable.” With the roof already on, what had started as a dream home quickly turned into a $550,000 nightmare. 

But architect David Delamare said the home had originally been designed according to the initial brief, with the build constrained by height and boundary limits under the old Auckland City Council rules. This was prior to changes under the unitary plan where upper storey allowable building volume was "greatly increased."

So after watching the multi-million dollar house rise up, neighbours have since witnessed it being dismantled over the past several weeks. 

Now, with a new team in place, including builders Lindesay Construction and architect Julian Guthrie - who also worked on the neighbouring home of Briscoe’s majority shareholder Rod Duke - Murphy is hoping to have the top floors rebuilt by next March.

The property also abuts the grounds of Cook Property Group owner Ben Cook, who paid $24 million five years ago for his 4,000 sqm estate at 64 Sentinel Rd, which features a helipad.

On paper, 81 Sarsfield St is valued at $7.9 million, though Murphy estimates his personal investment at more than that already, pending completion of the top two floors.

Neighbour Duke has also been the subject of some interest in the country’s most expensive postcode, following his latest application for Environment Court consent for increased helicopter take-offs and landings from his reconstructed boat shed.

Murphy told BusinessDesk while he had no problems with other neighbours landing helicopters on their properties, he kept his own at nearby Ardmore Airport.

Highest prices

Property data group Corelogic's latest market map, shows Herne Bay's median property value is $2.71 million, making it easily the highest priced suburb in Auckland.

Neighbouring St Mary's Bay comes in at $2.3 million with the more vibrant Ponsonby at $1.85 million.

Average house prices in Remuera are currently at $2.1 million with the Eastern Bay suburbs of Mission Bay, Kohimarama and St Heliers figuring in at a more manageable $1.8 million.

Property economist Kelvin Davidson said while practically all suburbs across the city had seen substantive value rises over the past year, top performers had been Dannemore, up 16.2 percent with Sunnyhills and Kingsland up about 12 percent.

For the record, Herne Bay's median house price increased by 7.8 percent over the past year, reflecting an average price increase of almost $200,000.

By comparison, the priciest suburb in Wellington is Seatoun, which boasts a median price of $1.48 million, up 5.3 percent last year. The equivalent South Island suburb is Scarborough, outside Christchurch, with a  median property value of $1.16 million while buyers can still pick up a home in the most expensive suburb in Dunedin, Maori Hill, for under $860,000.

Or you could buy a boatshed helipad instead.