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Lawsuits Claim Hillside Home Had Fatal Flaw : Courts: Families of couple killed in quake contend that buyers were not told about an engineering report that had scared off another prospective buyer.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Marc Yobs knew he wanted the house from the moment he walked inside and, like everyone else who saw it, he was awe-struck by the view.

From its hillside perch in Sherman Oaks, nothing stood between the contemporary home’s north-facing wall of glass and the sweeping Valley vista below. “Not even rooftops,” said Yobs’ brother Dave.

The view was so compelling that Yobs, a 30-year-old manager in a film production company, stretched his budget to meet the $400,000 asking price, and with his longtime girlfriend, Karen Osterholt, moved into the house at 3855 Sherwood Place on Valentine’s Day, 1992.

Nearly two years later, they were killed when their aerie collapsed in the Northridge quake and slid down the hill.

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Whether Yobs was fatally misled during the sale has become the subject of twin wrongful death lawsuits filed last month by his and Osterholt’s families in Los Angeles Superior Court. The central allegation in both is that the sellers--a group of investors led by attorney Lawrence R. Gordon--withheld a critical engineering report that had scared off another prospective buyer.

Gordon and his alleged partners--Daniel J. Eget, Nathan J. Reese, and contractor Richard Robinson and his wife, Margarette--have either refused to comment, not returned phone calls or could not be reached.

Osterholt’s relatives, who have filed a palimony suit against Yobs’ parents over an estate that includes his $300,000 life insurance policy, also declined to be interviewed for this article.

But as Dave Yobs and his family’s attorneys described it, the story of how Osterholt and Marc Yobs got the house is filled with sad twists and turns, including the fact that Dave Yobs, a Woodland Hills real estate agent, represented his younger brother in the purchase.

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The brothers began looking in the winter of 1992, Dave Yobs said, concentrating on the Sherman Oaks-Studio City area so that Yobs would have an easy commute to his office in Hollywood.

Osterholt and Yobs’ parents came along on the day they went to Sherwood Place, and when they drove away his mother, Margaret, teased her ambitious firebrand of a younger son--"Now that’s a Marc house.”

In retrospect, Dave Yobs said, there were several unusual aspects to the sale, including the unavailability of the sellers to directly discuss the deal.

One query involved a name change on the title that the brothers noticed when the sale was about to close, from Richard and Margarette Robinson as the sellers to a company called Danat Investment. Yobs’ attorney, Alexander Robertson IV, alleges that Gordon is connected to Danat, through its partners Eget and Reese.

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When the brothers asked about the switch, according to Dave Yobs, they were told it had been done for tax purposes, which seemed plausible.

What they were not told, the lawsuits claim, was that the titleholder had changed twice--from the Robinsons to a company called Properties Du Monde Inc. and then to Danat. The day after that title transfer, Properties Du Monde--whose officers included Gordon and the Robinsons--was dissolved as a corporation, the lawsuits claim.

Robertson says both companies were used to insulate Gordon and his partners from responsibility for defects in the extensively remodeled house.

Christina S. Kruger, an associate of Robertson’s who grew up with the Yobs brothers in Woodland Hills, was approached by mutual friends at Yobs’ and Osterholt’s joint funeral and asked to investigate. Although many houses in the neighborhood suffered severe damage during the quake, theirs had been the only one to collapse.

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Once Kruger and Robertson, who specialize in construction-defect litigation, began looking into the matter, they said they found troubling evidence--including the title chain, which they said took their staff six months to piece together.

Several weeks after the funeral, someone phoned Dave Yobs and said he had some confidential information that he could not in good conscience withhold from the grieving family.

It was an engineer’s report, commissioned by the other possible buyer, that noted a serious deformation in the foundation and said further investigation was warranted to determine the cause of the bulging concrete.

The brief report by the Oro Engineering Corp. was enough to dissuade his client, a corporate manager named Jeffrey Malmberg, from going through with the sale even though he, too, had been enthralled by the view.

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