The Real Deal Los Angeles

Hollywood dream house developer sues the Agency over Fortune ‘smear’ piece

Sean Sassounian claims Umansky, Chang orchestrated negative piece after being fired from project

July 26, 2016 08:30AM
By Katherine Clarke

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Blair Chang and Mauricio Umansky of the Agency with 9133 Oriole Way

Blair Chang and Mauricio Umansky of the Agency with 9133 Oriole Way

The developer of a $32 million Hollywood dream house claims his former brokers conspired to pitch a smear piece about the property to Fortune magazine after he dumped them for another firm.

Developer Sean Sassounian alleges the publication of the story entitled “Why can’t this $32 million Hollywood dream home sell?” — in which a partner from brokerage the Agency is quoted talking about the property’s alleged shortcomings — killed his chances of selling it for its rightful price.

Blair Chang and Mauricio Umansky of the Beverly Hills-based brokerage told the publication that the property, at 9133 Oriole Way, was “on the wrong side of the street,” and lacked privacy. They also indicated that the property had failed to sell after 17 months on the market because the seller’s price expectations were unrealistic, he claims.

The public shaming, Sassounian claims, was motivated by Chang’s desire to justify how he lost the listing. In order to do that, Chang had to present the seller as being irrational and unreasonable.

“Umansky and Chang hatched a plan to justify in the media how they managed to lose one of the most prominent and potentially lucrative listings in Los Angeles,” Sassounian alleges. “The goal was simple: make the Agency look good and make the property and the plaintiff look bad.”

The allegations emerged in a recent lawsuit filed by Sassounian in the Superior Court of LA County, which named Chang, Agency founder Mauricio Umansky and the Agency as defendants.

Umansky denied the allegations.

“Listings are won and lost all the time,” he told TRD. “I’ve been selling real estate for 19 years I would never put out a story to justify losing a listing.  It’s part of the game. Thankfully, I’ve won more than I’ve lost.”

He continued: “Fortune wrote a story we pitched on the property when we first put it on the market. When they saw the new listing agents’ campaign, it caught their attention that it had not sold yet so they wrote a story on that.”

The case is slated to go to trial next year.

“The article spread like wildfire among brokers of high-end real estate — particularly over social media,” the complaint says. “It was impossible for plaintiff to contain the article, much less the devastating impact of the article, because its precipitous circulation was beyond his control.”

Sassounian says the article resulted in his having to sell the home for much less than it was worth — it sold for $27 million in January — and even temporarily prevented him from acquiring financing for other projects, since banks assumed he was an “irrational seller.”

Meanwhile, Umansky and Chang contend that Sassounain passed up several offers they brought him for over $30 million and has no one to blame but himself for the ultimate sales price. Rayni and Branden Williams of Hilton & Hyland and Ben Bacal of Rodeo Realty brokered the final deal.

The Agency had the exclusive on the project from February 2014 to April 2015.

Sassounian bought the property in the depths of the recession for $4.85 million. He razed an old building on the site and then spent approximately $13 million to build the home, according to the complaint. The 12,530-square-foot house has panoramic views and three kitchens for entertaining.

Attorneys for both parties did not respond to requests for comment.