MALIBU—A Malibu couple is accusing a top Coldwell Banker broker—with a repertoire of celebrity clients—of swindling them out of millions when he bought and sold their Watkins Cove estate.
Zare and Seda Baghdasrian, both Iranian immigrants—hired one of Malibu’s most esteemed realtors—Chris Cortazzo, 50, to sell their 2,450 square-foot home with 100 feet of beach frontage in 2011.
The couple purchased the beach-front estate, which is located at 33618 Pacific Coast Highway and overlooks Watkins Cove, a tiny beach that has been featured in “Baywatch” and Tag Heur ads, in 2003 for approximately $4.7 million. The house is one of only six in the cove.
Zare, 56, lost stocks during the 2008 recession and the Baghdasrians were forced to put their home on the market just three years later. Zare made his fortune selling a pioneering wavelength router for Cisco systems before he turned to consulting and investing. He now works as the co-founder of his current company, Armorway, a security analytics firm that opened in 2013.
Zare and Seda Baghdasrian allege their property was appraised at a value of $12 million in 2008 and that they wanted to sell it for approximately $10 million in 2011. Cortazzo, who was recommended by the realtor that sold them their house convinced the couple to put it on the market for $8.995 million.
Over the next 14 months, the house was visited by a number of clients—some who were celebrities, but never received any offers, so Cortazzo suggested they lower the price and they did to $6.45 million.
“It was like a slow death, emotionally draining,” Seda, 54—who worked for years in themed entertainment design with corporations like Universal Studios—told the Hollywood Reporter, who was first to break the news in their August 19 issue.
Cortazzo offered to buy the property in spring 2012; he purchased the estate from the Baghdasrians for $5.795 million; almost half the original asking price.
Last winter, after the house had undergone extensive renovations, Cortazzo put it back on the market and sold it for $15 million. The Baghdasrians have filed a suit alleging that Cortazzo was aware of their dwindling funds and knew he could snap up the property for a lower price once they got desperate.
The Baghdasrian’s lawyer—Keith Gregory—said in a statement, “The price [Cortazzo] paid and the alleged appraised value of the property is the secondary part of the case. The key part of the case is [his] self-dealing and his breach of his fiduciary duty by having his interest in mind rather than [his] clients’… demonstrated with the profit he gained and how he did not explore all of the available options for his clients.”
The defendant is being represented by attorney, Neil Gunny, who said in a statement that Cortazzo “adamantly denies any allegation of wrongdoing.” The defense is arguing that they have a document from Wells Fargo appraising the value of the home at $5.8 million in 2011 and that the Malibu market has shot up since 2012, with homes values jumping more than 15 percent in 2014 alone.
Gregory alleges that the average listing price of beach-front Malibu homes—according to the Multiple Listing Service—was $8.5 million, while the average sold price was $7.4 million. He said in a statement, “It is clear that this was not the average beach home in Malibu.” The Baghdasrian’s are alleging that they were both willing and able to make their own improvements—even suggesting work on their deck and carpet, but that Cortazzo advised it wasn’t necessary.
The Baghdasrian’s are seeking $3.3 million in reparations. The case will go to trial in September 2017 at the Santa Monica Courthouse.