Home & Leisure

They bought their dream homes from the 'King of Coconut Grove.' They still can't move in

Linda Robertson, Miami Herald on

Published in Home and Consumer News

Twelve new townhouses line a block of Coconut Avenue. Lushly landscaped, outfitted with high-end appliances and spacious closets, they’re in move-in condition. Yet the Coconut City Villas are empty, as empty as their backyard swimming pools and unsullied trash bins sitting in unoccupied driveways.

Instead of “For Sale” signs, house hunters see “No Trespassing” notices posted along the street and “Do Not Enter” decals stuck to the front doors, a curious contrast in Coconut Grove, one of the most hotly desired neighborhoods in the country, where housing prices have nearly doubled over the past three years.

The lack of residents can’t be explained by lack of demand. The 4,000-square-foot townhouses, originally priced from $1.2 million to $1.8 million, are under contract to buyers who put down as much as $500,000 starting as far back as 2018. They were told by developer Doug Cox their homes would be ready in 45 to 90 days, or at the latest six months.

They’ve been waiting ever since. Their plans have been perpetually postponed by Cox, owner of Drive Development, who has not closed a house sale in four years despite a booming market. His completion dates teased buyers as the houses beckoned. But their dreams of a dream home have gone bust.

They have been locked out and led into a dead end darkened by threats, lawsuits, non-disclosure agreements and unsavory lenders, buyers say.

The delays have turned buyers and their families into nomads — moving from one expensive rental to another, cramming in with relatives while living out of suitcases — draining their finances and testing their marriages. When they go past their houses they are tantalized by memories not made — cooking in the kitchen, playing in the pool, celebrating birthdays, hosting block parties.


“We’ve spent three Christmases in limbo,” said Alan Lombardi, who signed a contract three years ago with the assurance that he, his husband and their newborn twin daughters would move in by summer 2020. The twins are now age 3. “The developer has kept us hanging on his hook, ruining people’s lives by deceiving us with false promises, just like Bernie Madoff.”

Lombardi has asked the FBI to investigate Cox for running a Ponzi scheme.

The buyers can’t move in because Cox has failed to complete inspections and get certificates of occupancy from city of Miami building department officials, whose lack of oversight enabled Cox to ignore expired permits and a Stop Work order and avoid applying finishing touches on houses for years. The city, which has ceased responding to buyers’ calls and emails, says it can’t intervene in a private dispute.

The buyers got caught in the fallout from Miami’s COVID-driven housing gold rush. Some are transplants from New York, Chicago and California who were eager to sign purchase agreements for new homes that looked — outside and inside — like they were ready to sleep in, missing only a mirror, some paint, a fence. They want their plight to serve as a warning: Don’t make one-sided deals with developers.


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