The Lonely Condo Owner – My Story

I suspect that you’ve seen the article about the New Jersey firefighter, Victor Vangelakos, who is the only occupant of a 32 story condominium in Fort Myers, Florida. Mr. Vangelakos is less than thrilled about the turn of events.

From USA Today:

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 Weehawken, N.J., firefighter bought the condo from The Related Group, based in Miami, 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.

I mention this because in the mid-’80s I found myself in a similar situation, though it was one of my choosing.

I had just been transferred from San Francisco to Los Angeles and I was looking for a place to rent. The West-side of Los Angeles had just come off an orgy of condo development and there were empty units around every corner. Out of curiosity, I stopped at one that had a sales office. They had sold one unit but the bank which had taken back the property was convinced that it could move the units with creative financing.

And that’s how I came to be one of possibly the first homeowners in the United States to get a 100% mortgage. Yes, they were offering no money down, 30 year fixed rate mortgages at about a point below the prevailing mortgage rate. It seemed too good to turn down so I became the second owner in the building.

A few weeks later a third owner moved in and then the sales office closed. I have no idea why the bank abandoned the effort but from that point on, the three of us rattled around in a Brentwood condominium.

Actually, though it was eerie at times, it wasn’t that unpleasant. The units were brand new and quite nice, you never had to cope with long waits for the elevator and noisy neighbors were, of course, no problem at all.

We did have some crime — minor stuff like kids breaking in and running around — but it was truly less than a diversion. In fact, it stopped abruptly when one of the owners turned out to be affiliated with the Mafia. He was busted by the Feds and turned states evidence. They let him out on parole pending his trial but stationed Federal Marshals on a twenty-four watch pending his trial. We were never sure if they were there to make sure he didn’t hightail it out of town or to keep some of his former partners from visiting and shutting him up permanently before the trial. Anyway, we had the safest condo in LA for about six months.

By and by, the market started to recover, a group of investors bought the building for a song and hit the market just right. They made a killing and in the process pulled my fat out of the fire. I was able to turn my unit which originally cost me $230,000 for $350,000 in about three years.

I hope that someone shows Victor this post so he will know that all is not lost forever. He needs to concentrate on the positives of having the building to himself and know that sooner or later the tide will turn.

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