Real Estate newsletter: Cockroaches and code violations

A woman walks a dog in front of a house.
Architects Melissa Shin, with dog Maya, and Amanda Shin enjoy the outdoor area in front of an accessory dwelling unit affectionately called “Mouse House” in Highland Park.
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

Welcome back to the Real Estate newsletter. This week we have it all: a luxury villa in Hollywood Hills, a sprawling ranch near Big Bear, a broken-down sailboat on the San Francisco Bay and a Highland Park home riddled with cockroaches.

Or at least it was, until a pair of architects turned the decrepit, code-violating residence into a “must-have home.” Lisa Boone tells the unconventional story in which the single-family residence was cut in half and now consists of a granny flat in front and a main house in back. To make a buck in this historically hot market, it helps to get creative.

The second week of November also saw two notable — but very different — listings. The first surfaced in the Hollywood Hills, where singer and “Cinderella” star Camila Cabello put her Spanish-style villa on the market for $4 million. She might be in search of a bit more security after the house was broken into earlier this year.


The other popped up in the San Bernardino Mountains outside Big Bear Lake, where a 377-acre nature resort known as Holcomb Valley Ranch listed for $12 million. By far the biggest property available in the area, the scenic retreat once served as a gold mining settlement, then a cattle ranch, before becoming a campground and event space with cabins, lodges and a few fun additions such as a climbing wall, zip line and archery range.

Orange County got some big news as well, as “Selling Sunset” star Jason Oppenheim announced a spinoff series called “Selling the OC.” The Netflix show will bring its mix of real estate and reality drama down south, and to christen the announcement, Oppenheim bought a $7-million mansion for himself in Newport Beach.

We also got a slice of life from San Francisco Bay, where a group of “anchor-outs,” or those who live illegally and rent-free aboard boats — in various states of disrepair — on the water, are facing a crackdown from authorities. In August, city officials announced a five-year plan to clear what they described as floating homeless encampments — a move that might bring an end to the nautical way of life that some have led for decades.

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From cockroaches to mini compound

Two women sit in a living room.
Architects Melissa Shin and Amanda Shin sit in the living room of Amanda’s house.
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

The five-bedroom, two-bathroom house was advertised as “a charming fixer, traditional style home in the heart of Highland Park,” writes Lisa Boone.

In reality, it was legally uninhabitable because of multiple unpermitted additions over the years that had resulted in substandard notices from the city and thousands of dollars in unpaid liens.


In 2014, the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety’s code enforcement unit cited the owners for an illegal garage conversion, which might explain why the house fell out of escrow multiple times, even in L.A.’s red-hot real estate market. Other flaws: The electrical wiring was not up to code. Nor was the plumbing. And the front door and porch had been illegally altered and were in violation of historic preservation overlay zone standards.

Despite the red flags, architects Melissa and Amanda Shin of Shin Shin Architecture purchased the property in 2019 in hopes of realizing their professional work in a personal way: by creating a home for Amanda along with an accessory dwelling unit, or ADU, rental that would subsidize the renovation and add more housing to the neighborhood.

Singer looks to sell after break-in

The rear of an upscale multiple-story home with a pool
Camila Cabello added a recording studio and vocal booth to the three-story home during her stay.
(Neue Focus)

A few months after her Hollywood Hills villa was broken into, singer Camila Cabello is shopping the property around for $4 million.

It’s a relatively short stay for the “Cinderella” star, who paid $3.375 million for the Spanish-style abode in 2019.

She found time to make some changes during the two-year stretch, converting one of the bedrooms into a recording studio and adding a vocal booth to the two-car garage. Other additions include security cameras, an intercom system and alarm.

377 acres up for grabs in the mountains

An aerial view shows land with evergreen trees and, in the background, mountains.
Holcomb Valley Ranch has plenty of land, as well as a variety of campground buildings, a climbing wall, a zip line, an archery range and an amphitheater.
(Nicholas Marx)

About four miles north of Big Bear Lake, a sprawling nature resort known as Holcomb Valley Ranch just hit the market for $12 million.

At 377 acres, it’s by far the biggest property currently available around the mountain city and also the most expensive.

Made up of meadows, forests, mountains and fields, the scenic retreat has served many purposes over the years, including as a gold mining settlement, a cattle ranch and a campsite for Boy Scouts of America, which bought the land in the 1960s. Today, it primarily serves as a campground and event space, hosting weddings, corporate retreats and music festivals.

It’s being marketed as a development opportunity, and the ranch comes with approved use as an outdoor hospitality resort with 37 buildings that combine for roughly 14,000 square feet. There’s also approval for 380 lots that could hold luxury tents or guest cabins.

A new mansion and show for reality star

An exterior view of a home shows a double garage, a stone covered entryway and the two-story mansion.
Built in 2017, the Mediterranean-style mansion fits six bedrooms, eight bathrooms and two garages into 13,000 square feet.
(The Oppenheim Group)

“Selling Sunset,” the hit Netflix series that mashes up luxury real estate and reality drama, is making its way to Orange County.

The show’s star, Jason Oppenheim, announced on Tuesday a spinoff series titled “Selling the OC,” and it looks like he’ll be spending a lot more time in the area. In October, he dropped $7 million on a 13,000-square-foot showplace in Newport Beach.

Built in 2017, the Mediterranean-style mansion sits a few miles north of the Oppenheim Group’s new office in Corona del Mar, which the brokerage opened earlier this year.

‘Floating homeless encampment’ faces extinction

A man in a beanie crouches alongside a boat moored at a dock.
Chad Wycliffe, alongside the Vadura — a nearly century-old teak yacht that’s moored in Richardson Bay — has been living on the bay on and off since he was a teenager.
(Rachel Scheier / For The Times)

Greg Baker likes to say that the only way he’s leaving his home, a broken-down 40-foot sailboat anchored in a sparkling estuary north of the Golden Gate Bridge, is in handcuffs or a black plastic bag, writes Rachel Scheier.

“I like the peace, the quiet — if I stub my toe, I can holler,” said Baker, who at 82 has been living here, in one vessel or another, for half a century.

Lately though, life has been anything but peaceful on the bay. Baker and his fellow anchor-outs, as they’re known, have long lived illegally and rent-free in the sightline of some of America’s priciest real estate, and now authorities in Sausalito and other neighboring communities want them gone. The battle has pitted the forces of gentrification against Sausalito’s fading identity as a freewheeling maritime town that has always been a refuge for rebels and dropouts.

Around 90 vessels in various states of disrepair bob amid the seagulls and paddle-boarders. To the flinty salts who occupy these rusting tugboats and de-masted sloops, Richardson Bay is sacred, a last bastion of living free on the water in a Bay Area of Apple Stores and $3,000-a-month studio apartments.

What we’re reading

While home prices soar, one Southern California community is offering up a huge bargain for low-income buyers. As part of its affordable housing program, the city of Carlsbad will soon be accepting applications for a batch of condos that start at $200,000, the San Diego Union-Tribune reports.

Con artists have come up with a scam in Detroit where they pretend to be landlords and rent out properties they don’t own. Advocates say as many as 1 in 10 tenants facing eviction fall victim to the ruse, and the culprits rarely face consequences. NBC News has the story.