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.

But shortly before Devlyn was scheduled to close on his new home, the financing fell through on the sale of his old house. According to his attorney, David Schlachter, the deposit Devlyn had paid Dorian was "earnest money, subject to financing. If he didn't get the financing through a particular lender in thirty days, it was refundable. It was pretty straightforward. The lender actually gave a written response that said he didn't qualify."

Devlyn's deposit didn't go into an escrow account-- although, Schlachter says, "there were representations made that it would." And when Devlyn tried to get his money back, he was directed to another lender chosen by Dorian.

"Paul said I had to talk to his financing guy," Devlyn recalls. "It was some guy at Wells Fargo who wanted me to do a one-year balloon and take out a second mortgage and a bridge loan -- it was like three loans, and my payments would have been more than my net take-home pay. It made no sense. I said, 'Why would you want to give me money that I can't pay back?'"

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

Devlyn filed suit against Dorian, Lambert and the property's real-estate brokers in August, seeking the return of his earnest money. Lambert says that while he's had people get cold feet and forfeit a deposit before, Devlyn's position regarding his contract to purchase a home is almost unique in his experience.

"I never have and never will put money into an escrow account," Lambert says. "It was never in my agreement. All the funds we get for deposit go right to our corporate account, and we can use it any way we want. Other builders operate the same way. This has nothing to do with escrow. Sometimes people want to get out of a contract, and they'll use the thirty-day contingency clause as a reason. They'll have a bogus letter written to me by a mortgage company I've never heard of."

But Lambert says he has formally agreed to refund Devlyn's money. The deposit was on his best lot in Dacre Place, he says, the one he was planning to build the Villa Bellagio on in the first place, and "I have other people who are interested in paying more money for that lot than he paid."

In Lambert's world, there is always another customer at the gate. Things may have slowed down since 9/11, but there is still a hunger for high-end, wallow-in-luxury properties on the frontiers of suburbia. And Dorian Homes is poised to accommodate them, Lambert says. Temporary cash-flow problems, some grousing from a few dissatisfied customers -- what is all that compared with the legacy of stunning-craftmanship-with-two-story-entry homes he's built across the metro area?

Compare his homes with any of the pricier models offered by the big boys, he suggests, all those numbingly identical McMansions and blown-up tract homes. Judge his work side by side with the stuff cranked out by builders who don't give a damn about quality or customer satisfaction. Take a good look at the Villa Bellagio, and find one home in the show that has a fraction of its daring, its wow factor, its one-of-a-kind dazzle.

In fact, building the villa has opened new vistas for Dorian Homes. Lambert says he's getting more inquiries about high-end custom homes now and may concentrate on that end of the market rather than the Topaz Vista/Carriage Club customer. Instead of models in the $400,000-$700,000 range, he's thinking tonier dream homes, tailored to the buyer's needs.

It may be tough to let the Bellagio go, but Paul Lambert is ready to sell it and move on. "You know, if it helps my business and cash flow and gets rid of all these liens, then I'm going to do it," he says. "I can always build it again."

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