April 22, 2024

Maryland Heights Residents

Crazy About Home & Real Estate

Real Estate newsletter: A fraud for the ages

5 min read
Real Estate newsletter: A fraud for the ages

Welcome back to the Real Estate newsletter, which on the week of Thanksgiving finds celebrities and foreign investors with plenty to be grateful for.

Matt Damon is grateful for his real estate agent, who helped sell his Pacific Palisades mansion to Warner Bros. Chief Executive Ann Sarnoff for $18 million. It’s a nice holiday bonus for the Oscar-winning actor; he paid $15 million for the home in 2013.

Henry Rollins of Black Flag fame is grateful for L.A.’s hot housing market. He’s chasing a sizable profit in the Hollywood Hills, asking $3.9 million for a custom compound perched in Nichols Canyon that he bought for $2.2 million in 2009. Clad in concrete and steel, the hyper-masculine home comes with a rooftop patio and recording booth.

Chinese investors are grateful for the judicial system, which recently found Serena Shi guilty of using $23 million of their down payments for a phantom resort project to fuel her bougie lifestyle filled with designer clothes and luxury cars. The three-year swindle started with Shi promising to build a trendy resort in the Coachella desert and ended with her shuffling through an L.A. courtroom in a beige jail jumpsuit with chains on her wrists and shackles on her ankles.

Our account of the investigation, currently available to L.A. Times subscribers only, is a must-read.

If you’re stuffed with leftovers and sick of reading, we’ve got you covered. On the latest “Gimme Shelter” podcast, Liam Dillon dives into his investigation on how freeway construction half a century ago still harms residents living in Black and Latino neighborhoods today.

While catching up on the latest, visit and like our Facebook page, where you can find real estate stories and updates throughout the week.

Mansion moves from movie star to CEO

At the heart of the home, there’s a voluminous atrium under 35-foot mahogany vaulted ceilings.

At the heart of the home, there’s a voluminous atrium under 35-foot mahogany vaulted ceilings.

(Alexis Adams)

In one of Pacific Palisades’ priciest deals of the year, Matt Damon has sold his Zen-inspired retreat in the Riviera neighborhood for $18 million.

The buyer, records reveal, is TV executive Ann Sarnoff, who became the first female CEO of Warner Bros. in 2019 and now oversees WarnerMedia Studios and Networks.

Damon, the Oscar-winning actor who starred in the 2021 films “Stillwater” and “The Last Duel,” had been shopping the architectural abode around all year, originally listing it for $21 million in January — or $6 million more than he paid for it in 2012. He relocated to the East Coast in 2018, paying $16.7 million for a penthouse in Brooklyn.

At 13,500 square feet on two-thirds of an acre, his place in the Palisades has a bit more space. It was designed by Grant Kirkpatrick, founding partner of L.A.-based architecture firm KAA Design, who brought a tropical feel with warm wood, natural stone and Asahi glass across three stories.

Punk icon lists hyper-masculine home

Clad in concrete, the three-story home is protected by steel gates and a steel front door.

Clad in concrete, the three-story home is protected by steel gates and a steel front door.


Henry Rollins, the punk icon who rose to prominence in the 1980s as the vocalist of Black Flag, is offering up his one-of-a-kind home in the Hollywood Hills for $3.9 million.

Rollins bought the custom compound, perched in Nichols Canyon, for $2.2 million in 2009 and quickly got to work adding bold accents and a host of amenities. He’s stayed busy around L.A. during the 12-year stretch, hosting a weekly radio show on KCRW-FM and writing columns for LA Weekly.

Steel gates and steel front doors set a masculine tone at the front of the property, and the living spaces carry the same energy, with concrete walls and steel beams across three stories. A 60-foot-long living room serves as the centerpiece, opening to a balcony overlooking the surrounding canyon.

Thief’s scheme comes to an end

Serena Shi makes a sales presentation in Beijing for condos at her proposed Coachella resort in November 2015.

Serena Shi makes a sales presentation in Beijing for condos at her proposed Coachella resort in November 2015.

(James D. Clark)

Serena Shi’s taste for luxury seemed insatiable, writes Michael Finnegan.

Her bills at a Beverly Hills “lifestyle design” business that advised clients on wardrobe, cosmetics and high-end shopping hit nearly $800,000. A travel concierge service that caters to the jet set charged her $2.2 million for trips around the world.

Those trappings of the high life were gone when Shi, 37, was led into a federal courtroom in Los Angeles one recent afternoon.

Speaking through a Mandarin interpreter, Shi admitted that she’d duped scores of investors in China into making $23 million in down payments on condos in California. They thought they were buying units in a trendy resort that Shi was supposedly building on a 47-acre patch of desert in Coachella.

The project never broke ground.

Podcast probes housing investigation

Alex Contreras, left, and daughter, Alex Contreras hold photos of him at his childhood home.

Alex Contreras, left, and his daughter, Alexandria, hold photos of him at his childhood home in Boyle Heights. Contreras was showing his daughter, an activist against highway expansion in Los Angeles, where his home used to be.

(Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)

More than 200,000 people have lost their homes because of freeway construction in the last three decades across the country. And in some of the largest modern-day projects, residents living in Black and Latino neighborhoods are being disproportionately affected by the displacements, writes Liam Dillon.

A new Los Angeles Times investigation examines how highway planners’ decisions to route the U.S. Interstate Highway System through Black neighborhoods a half-century ago continues to resonate today. The Times found that expansions of existing freeways through cities in recent decades have inflicted a second round of dislocation and disruption on largely Black and now Latino communities as well.

On “Gimme Shelter: The California Housing Crisis Podcast,” Dillon discusses The Times’ findings in depth, examining the effects of modern freeway widenings in Los Angeles, Houston and Tampa. Guesting on the podcast is Alexandria Contreras, whose great-grandparents saw the 101 Freeway built a block from their home in Boyle Heights in the 1950s. Today, Contreras is fighting a proposed expansion of Interstate 5 near the home of Contreras’ parents in Downey.

What we’re reading

President Biden’s $1.75-trillion Build Back Better Act includes about $170 billion in provisions for affordable housing. CNBC took a look at where that money will go, including $65 billion to preserve and rebuild public housing and $25 billion for rental assistance.

Even in L.A.’s uber-expensive housing market, $2.4 million still goes a long way. In the online world of Decentraland, it just bought a patch of virtual real estate. The mammoth deal marks the world’s most expensive purchase to date and covers 6,090 virtual square feet in the “Fashion Street” area, according to Reuters.

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