Viva Las Villa!

Builder Paul Lambert's dream house is the hit of the show homes, but homebuyers and creditors are raining on his parade.

Lambert's personal travails appear to have had little effect on his business -- or on his plans to build a dream house for his children and Liza, whom he married shortly after the divorce became final. Over the past few years, he's built dozens of homes in Province Center and Carriage Club Estates, two well-situated subdivisions in the thriving southeast corridor. He was within days of breaking ground for his villa in Carriage Club Estates, he says, when he learned that the Parade of Homes organizers had decided to switch the 2002 site from a development in Aurora to Daniel's Gate.

Lambert had acquired lots in Daniel's Gate last fall, in the wake of the real-estate slump triggered by the September 11 terrorist attacks. Recognizing that a home in the parade would help build traffic for his lots down the street, an area known as Topaz Vista, Lambert scrambled to build the Villa Bellagio in five months.

"I was the last one to get started," he says. "What delayed us was all the tile from Italy. Some of it was stuck in Customs."

John Johnston
Up at the villa: The backyard pedestal lineup.
John Johnston
Up at the villa: The backyard pedestal lineup.

Three weeks after the parade began, the villa still wasn't quite finished. It may be the first time in the history of the tour that paying customers have had the opportunity to peep into a master bath or Roman spa and glimpse workmen laying tile or sealing fixtures. But Lambert regards the entire effort, from assembling the financing to marshaling hundreds of artisans and laborers for months of painstaking, twelve-hour workdays, as his greatest triumph. In a time of tight money and lean budgets, he threw the dice on the ne plus ultra of parade homes.

It's a huge gamble, but one that could pay off handsomely. The sale of the villa and the properties he plans to build in Topaz Vista will go a long way, Lambert acknowledges, toward correcting his company's recent cash-flow problems. The shock waves of September 11 rattled housing markets across the nation, and Denver was no exception. Dorian's sales, like those of many upscale builders, dropped off dramatically; within weeks of the attacks, the company had five cancellations.

In recent months, several subcontractors and suppliers -- companies dealing in lumber and roofing, drywall and foundations, doors and floors -- have gone to court to collect on hundred of thousands of dollars' worth of mechanic's liens filed against Dorian properties in the Carriage Club Estates. In some instances, Dorian has worked out payment plans, but others are still pressing for reimbursement.

Although he's clashed with some of his subs over the sums involved or the quality of work performed, Lambert says the situation is largely a result of his resources getting stretched by the post-9/11 downturn. "I did fall behind, and it definitely hurts," he says. "The liens are basically past-due bills from my subs. But as these houses sell, they're getting paid off. In the last few weeks I've sold two of them, and I've got two left to go."

A recent flier on the two homes remaining in Dorian's Carriage Club development stresses that the models are available at "closeout pricing." The less expensive of the pair, the Suffolk II, comes with four bedrooms, three and a half baths, a four-car garage, "gourmet kitchen with bayed nook and adjacent butler's pantry" -- all for $630,000, price slashed from $649,646.

A few months ago, Hugh Devlyn took his wife, Lori, and their children to Carriage Club to see the lot where their future Dorian home would soon be built. The experience was a memorable one: Devlyn had scarcely emerged from his car when some of his prospective neighbors on Dacre Place showed up -- not to welcome him, but to try to discourage him from moving there.

"We had three different people come up to us on the street," Devlyn recalls. "One guy said he was ready to go to litigation because his house leaks every time it rains. He said, 'You guys don't want to go forward with this. If I had it to do over again, I never would have done it.'"

One of the homeowners who approached Devlyn that day was Richard Hallett, who'd moved to Dacre Place in 2001 and soon discovered water seeping into the house around windows during spring storms. Dorian resolved some of his complaints during his one-year warranty period, he says, but the leakage problem persists.

"If we get a hard rain, I have to put towels by the door," Hallett says. "There are some windows, the paint along the windowsills is chipped off because water comes in around them."

Dorian provides one-year warranty service to homebuyers through an independent company, which evaluates claims based on accepted industry standards. (The company also offers a limited ten-year warranty that covers major structural defects but excludes many other items.) Hallett says he was caught in a frustrating loop in which Dorian referred his complaints to the warranty company, which sent him back to Dorian, telling him they were having difficulty getting subcontractors to work on the Dacre Place homes.

"I don't think there's anybody in the neighborhood who has anything good to say about Dorian," Hallett says. "They all love living here because it's a beautiful area. But the way Paul has handled things wasn't even close to being professional. In that price range, you'd think you'd get a little bit of customer service."

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