Living alone in 32-story condo 'like a scary movie'

Sole family in 200-unit Fort Myers, Fla. condo eerily symbolic of U.S. foreclosure crisis

The Vangelakos' southwest Florida condominium has marble floors, a large pool overlooking a river and modern furnishings that speak of affluence and luxury. What they don't have in the 32-storey building is a single neighbour. [via star]

The New Jersey family of five paid $10,000 (U.S.) down on their unit four years ago in the midst of Fort Myers' housing boom, watching as an empty lot transformed into an opulent highrise that now symbolizes the foreclosure crisis.

"The future was going to be southwest Florida," said Victor Vangelakos, 45, who paid $430,000 for the unit, took out a $336,000 mortgage and planned to retire to the condo.

Most buyers in the 200-unit building didn't close and others moved to an adjacent building owned by the same company.

Their mortgage lender won't let the Vangelakos do the same, leaving them the sole tenants of Oasis Tower I.

"It's a beautiful building," said their attorney John Ewing, who represents 27 others. "The problem is it's a very lonely building."

When the Vangelakos visit from Weehawken, N.J., they have exclusive use of the pool, gym and game room but no neighbours.

"Being from the city, it's very eerie," Vangelakos said. "It's almost like a scary movie."

An outside fountain is dry. The doors to the front lobby are locked. On the front desk is a guest sign-in sheet. The last entry: Feb. 13, 2009.

"It's like time froze here six months ago," Ewing said.

The Vangelakos closed in the fall. At Christmas, they didn't think much of the emptiness. Later, the building grew more deserted.

The lights went off on the pool and parking garage. The garbage chute was sealed, replaced by a trash bin.

Security concerns arose. Late one night, someone pounded on their door. Police found no intruders, just an open pool entrance. Another morning, they awoke to find lounge chairs in the pool. Vice-president and general counsel Betsy McCoy said the Related Group's offer of a unit in the next-door building was refused. She said some deposit payers lost jobs or couldn't get a mortgage; others were unnerved by the economic collapse.

The Fort Myers area reportedly has some of the worst economic stress in terms of foreclosures, unemployment and bankruptcies in the country. Vangelakos said they don't want to move next door because they would still be paying the mortgage and maintenance costs on the condo they own.

Ewing said he filed two lawsuits for buyers because the building wasn't finished with a clubhouse, marina, cinema and restaurants. Those could be developed, but weren't promised, McCoy said.

On Friday evening, the pool area was dark, most of the doors locked. Cathy Vangelakos and her 19-year-old daughter, Amanda, stepped into an elevator to head up to their unit. "Going up," an automated voice chimed.

"Going up," Cathy Vangelakos said. "That's all we hear."

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