Victor Vangelakos, lives in a luxury condominium tower in Downtown Fort Myers, Fla. He never has to worry about the neighbors making too much noise because there are no neighbors.
Vangelakos, 45, his wife Cathy and their three children are the only residents in the 32-story Oasis I condo on the east edge of downtown Fort Myers.
The 45-year-old Weehawken, N.J., firefighter bought the condo from Miami-based The Related Group for $430,000 and closed on it in November. He planned to make it a vacation getaway and eventually his full-time residence when he retires in four years.
But prices have fallen hard since the real estate bubble burst in early 2006. Only a handful of those who put down deposits on the tower’s units actually closed on the deal. Those who did have swapped their Oasis I units for condos in Oasis II next door.
Vangelakos didn’t, because he was unable to convince his lender to agree to the swap, said Betsy Lu McCoy, vice president and associate corporate counsel for Related.
That leaves the Vangelakos family splitting their time between New Jersey and a creepy, surreal life in Oasis I.
They’re the only ones using a well-appointed clubhouse, but they can’t watch the big plasma TV.
“We haven’t found the remote controls,” Victor said.
Pause for a moment anywhere in the building during the day and the silence is deafening.
At night, Vangelakos said, they often hear people on the grounds or even inside the building itself. It’s not hard to break in one of the many entrances.
Once, late at night, “Somebody banged on our door,” Vanelakos said.
It wouldn’t have been hard to find the person in the otherwise darkened building.
“At night,” he said, “you can see our TV from the street.” Especially popular for intruders is the swimming pool, Vangelakos said. They heard people there one night “and the next day all our chairs were in the pool.”
His relationship with Related is testy at best. Once, he said, when management turned off his water to fix a leak in a pipe, “we came back 10 days later and the water was off but our TV was on.”
Now, after months of exchanging letters with Related about building maintenance and other issues, Vangelakos said he just wants out.
He hasn’t filed a lawsuit but his attorney, Fort Lauderdale-based John Ewing, said Related hasn’t delivered the marina, pro shop and fancy restaurants that were promised.
“They have the ability to buy him out,” Ewing said. “They can resolve this in a fair way.”
McCoy said it’s not that simple.
“His concerns have not fallen on deaf ears,” she said, but it isn’t Related’s fault he hasn’t been able to persuade his lender, JP Morgan Chase Bank, to transfer the mortgage to a unit in Oasis II.
“What he paid went to our lender, it didn’t come to us,” McCoy noted, so Related would have to pay off the mortgage before it got the unit back.
Besides, she said, the situation is the result of market forces beyond anyone’s control.
“We did not foresee, nor did anyone else foresee, the collapse of the real estate business and the concurrent collapse of the lending industry,” McCoy said. “They’re caught and we’re caught.”