Most experienced real estate agents can tell you stories about open houses gone wrong. Fortunately, the majority of those don’t actually burn down the home they’re preparing to show. 

But one Australian real estate agent’s client lost a home valued at $3 million in Australian currency in a (completely avoidable) blaze that started before the open house. 

Homeowner Peter Alan Bush learned of the accident when his agent, Julie Bundock, called him to say, “Oh my God, Pete, I think I have burnt down your house.” 

Bundock had been preparing for the event when she set some laundry on a free-standing metal shelf right up against a light fixture she had turned on. 

Predictably, the heat from the light fixture ignited the fabric and started the fire that alerted the agent, giving her time to exit the building before it burned down. 

The subsequent lawsuit resulted in a judgment ordering Bundock’s employer, Domain Residential Northern Beaches, to pay more than 850,000 Australian dollars—equaling about $550,000 USD—in damages to Bush and his renters. 

More details on the fire

According to the court judgment, the fire started on the afternoon of May 25, 2019, in an affluent Sydney suburb. The only person in the building at the time of the fire was Julie Bundock, the acting real estate agent, who, as already mentioned, was preparing for an open house. 

About 20 minutes before the fire started, Bundock had placed some bedsheets and a quilt cover onto a shelf near a light fixture she had switched on. She’d then left the laundry unattended to continue preparing for the open house she was there to supervise—one of several open houses taking place ahead of a scheduled auction. 

According to Justice David Hammerschlag of the Supreme Court of New South Wales, it’s more than likely the heat generated by the light fitting caused the bed linens to ignite, starting the fire that, minutes later, engulfed the property. 

The homeowner reiterated for the court the phone conversation he’d had with Bundock, who confessed to placing the laundry “right up against the light on the wall” while tidying up. 

Bundock had even told him, “I think that’s what started the fire.” 

In the judgment, Justice Hammerschlag described Julie Bundock as an “aggressive and uncooperative witness,” while determining that, in all likelihood, she caused the fire that destroyed Bush’s home. 

That a fire might be caused by putting or throwing bedding up against a burning light is obvious…That risk was plainly foreseeable, and Bundock ought to have known this.

Justice David Hammerschlag of the Supreme Court of New South Wales

Neither Bundock nor Domain Residential have responded to requests for comment, which admittedly were sent outside normal operating hours.