UPDATED, July 15, 4:45 p.m.: For nearly two years it was the biggest mystery roiling the Los Angeles real estate community.
With its cheeky language and quirky prose, the seemingly female voice behind Yolanda’s Little Black Book revealed many unseen details about some of the priciest celebrity real estate deals in the area. More often than not, the site would publish its scoops before the deals closed.
Yolanda “seemed to get all the details,” said Joyce Rey, a Coldwell Banker luxury broker whom the blog has written about. “It’s not just the real estate they’re buying, but other real estate they own and every detail of their life.”
But there was one detail Yolanda wasn’t revealing: “her” true identity.
On Friday, an investigation by the Los Angeles Times outed the blogger as James McClain, a Compass finance manager who was laid off in April. McClain, who had access to many of Compass’ deals in California during the year-and-a-half he worked there, was let go due to a restructuring, the company said.
“We discovered evidence suggesting that we were the victim of a malicious former employee, James McClain, who we believe was stealing company information for personal gain,” said Julie Binder, a Compass spokesperson. “We will prosecute this individual to the fullest extent of the law.”
But since McClain’s departure, Yolanda has published over 35 articles, leading some real estate professionals to wonder who really is behind the site, and whether it will disappear from the scene now that Yolanda has been revealed to be McClain.
Several high-level executives and prominent agents said they suspected McClain was not a lone wolf and may have had help from external sources.
“Compass has no share of the high-end market,” said Jeff Hyland, co-founder at Hilton & Hyland, who has had several deals exposed on the blog. “He didn’t get it just by working for Compass. He got it because he has tentacles who were letting him know what was going on out there.”
Aaron Kirman at Pacific Union International said he thinks an “internal network at Compass” may have been aiding McClain.
“Rome wasn’t built in a day,” Kirman said. “There are probably more people within Compass who probably have had some level of participation in that site.”
Beth Styne, a regional executive at Coldwell Banker, agreed. “I don’t think this is the only Yolanda,” she said.
A Compass spokesperson said the company confirmed the identity of Yolanda as McClain Thursday evening, three months after they say they let him go in a restructuring.
Even that assertion has raised some eyebrows in the real estate community, which has been skeptical of Compass since the firm first made waves in L.A. a few years ago.
“For a company that does nothing but tout their expansion I find it very interesting that they are saying that they let him go in a restructuring,” Stein said.
Last year, Compass set out to capture a 20 percent market share in 20 U.S. cities by 2020. Since receiving a $450 million investment from SoftBank in December, the six-year-old company, now valued at $2.2 billion, has grown largely through poaching agents and acquiring other firms.
Just this week, the firm acquired Paragon, a 255-agent brokerage in San Francisco that closed $2.3 billion in sales last year. Locally, the venture capitalist-funded firm recently expanded by hiring Sally Forster Jones and her team of 25 agents and staff. Among its more notable poaches are Tomer Fridman, Kofi Nartey and Charles Black.
Agents victimized by Yolanda said they were relieved that McClain had been outed and hoped the Little Black Book had been silenced.
“We make every effort to keep real estate transactions private,” said Marc Shevin, an agent with Berkshire Hathaway who represents dozens of celebrity clients, including Kanye West and the Kardashians. “It absolutely bothers us and we find it an intrusion on their privacy when someone somehow obtains information on those transactions and publishes it. I would like to see that stopped.”
In some cases, incensed clients had been working quietly to try to solve the mystery.
Rayni Williams, who had a $33 million deal exposed by Yolanda, said she had two clients who were actively pursuing their own probes. “People don’t want their business known,” Williams said. “He thinks he’s just writing a blog but he’s not. He’s really messing with people’s security and family.”
McClain was bound by a nondisclosure agreement that banned him from disclosing information on business dealings, a source close to the company confirmed.
Williams said Compass is “doing the right thing” by seeking to prosecute. “This could’ve happened to anybody. You never know if you have an employee like this.”
Mark McLaughlin, CEO of Pacific Union, said he would take a similar approach if the same situation happened at his firm. He doesn’t anticipate any long-term effects on the brokerage’s brand.
“There will be a lot of noise but they’ll get through it,” McLaughlin said. “They’ll survive.”
But Styne said Friday’s reveal may raise more questions than it answers.
“For years everyone wondered who Yolanda was and where the information was coming from,” she said. “It is going to be very interesting to the real estate community that this person came from Compass. It makes everyone question everything about Compass’ credibility.”
Correction: An earlier version incorrectly stated that James McClain had access to all of Compass’ deals in California for two years. He had access to many of Compass’ deals during the time he worked there, from October of 2016 to April of 2018.