Mark McDermott

The Emoji House is put on the market

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The Emoji House. Photo by JP Cordero/Civic Couch

By Mark McDermott

The Emoji House, the duplex on 39th Street in El Porto adorned with a pair of large long-lashed would-be smiley faces, except painted with a lolling tongue and a zipper mouth instead, was put up for sale on Monday morning. The listing price is $1.75 million.

The sale is being handled by Johnnie Stiegler, vice president of Lyon Stahl Investment Real Estate. He said his phone rang off the hook on the listing’s very first day. 

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“I’ve never had a listing where the marketing is already done for me,” said Stiegler.

The story of Emoji House has reached as far as Israel and England and appeared on both national and LA area television news. Google, to the chagrin of neighbors, now lists the house as a tourist attraction in Manhattan Beach. Current owner Kathyrn Kidd operated the house as a short-term rental, which is illegal in the city, until neighbors reported her and she was fined $4,000.

In late May, after being fined, Kidd had the house painted shocking pink and commissioned artist ZtheArt to draw the two emojis. Their particular features, including the eyelashes and the zipper mouth (which in emoji parlance means “Shut up,”) appeared to be intended for her neighbors, one of whom wears eyelash extensions. 

Kidd denied that she was attempting to taunt her neighbors, insisting that her “happy building” was her way of expressing herself and was mainly intended to bring a little fun and joy to the neighborhood. 

“You don’t even have to write a word anymore to let people know how you feel,” Kidd said at the time. “If you are sad you send a sad face, and if you are happy you send a happy face.” 

Neighbors were offended, and attended a July 10 Planning Commission meeting to attempt to get the city to force Kidd to remove the emojis. Assistant City Attorney Michael Estrada said the owner of the house was protected by her First Amendment rights. 

“If it’s private property, no public funding or involvement, and it meets the definition of a mural and it is not a sign, we have very little if any ability to prevent it,” Estrada said, later adding, “Any attempt to regulate content, including the use of offensive words, is almost always turned over by the court.” 

Neighbor Susan Wieland told the commission the Emoji House was indeed a sign. 

“It’s a sign directed at me personally as well as the people who live on my street,” she said. “This has been deliberately placed on our street to let us know that this person who lives in our neighborhood is very unhappy with the rules in Manhattan Beach and she doesn’t want to follow our laws.” 

The matter will be revisited by the Commission on Aug. 28. Meanwhile, neighbors are hopeful that the matter will be resolved by the marketplace. 

Stiegler said the house sells itself. 

“Absolutely,” he said. “Just location-wise, whether you want to develop it or keep it as it is, $1.75 million for that part of Manhattan Beach is a good price. We’ve been seeing a lot of duplexes in the area go for a little bit more, two-bedroom unit fix-me-ups in the $2.3 million range. So it’s a good deal.” 

The listing describes the home as a “charming 1,528 sq. ft. duplex” built-in 1931 that includes four garage parking spaces and a current rental income of $7,000 per month. “This property is just a short walk away from the beach and is the quintessential oceanside living experience,” the listing says. “This is a perfect investment opportunity for anyone looking to rent out both units with very strong rent appeal or a homeowner looking to live by the ocean and rent out the other unit.”

The house was listed by the same agent in January for $1.99 million. Stiegler said that was an exploratory listing but this time Kidd is more serious about selling the home, because she has a so-called “1031 exchange” lined up — a type of transaction that involves buying another property and qualifies for tax exemptions. 

“We just went live [Monday] but my phone has been blowing up,” Stiegler said. “Actually, I had a few neighbors inquire on the property.” 

Dave Fratello, a local Realtor who publishes the real estate blog MB Confidential, said that one of the unwritten laws of the industry is that a property is always worth more to its neighbors. But the curious case of the Emoji House, Fratello said, is a bit harder to judge by real estate norms. 

“There’s never been any house in the Beach Cities that got more press,” Fratello said. “So what does that mean? How does that translate? I don’t know. If the house was boring and beige like it used to be, nothing special, it would be like any other investment property…Now this cobbled together duplex is kind of a sensation, but it’s only a sensation when it’s got the paint job, right? If this paint job adds value, then you’ve raised the risk the person who buys it is going to be someone who very much wants to keep it…So the neighbors may be willing to pay more than anyone else, because that may be the only way to shut it down.” 

This is the third time in the last 18 months the home, located a block west of Highland on 39th, has been on the market. Local builder Kim Komick purchased the property for $1.25 million in December 2017, then sold it to Kidd in March 2018 for $1.35 million. Fratello said he toured the property with a client at the time. 

“I just didn’t see the potential,” he said. “It’s just a really difficult unit. The layout is just cobbled together, it’s old, and it was in bad disrepair. It looked like it didn’t have much of a future.” 

Even so, at the right price, Fratello said, the place is a prototypical El Porto property and probably a great investment. 

“The truth about El Porto is little dumpy duplexes are a dime a dozen down there,” he added. “That is the housing stock. Obviously, there are exceptions, newer and fancier buildings, but it fits the mold…El Porto rentals are extremely reliable in their rental rates…Those properties are perfect for a twenty-something surfer who doesn’t care about anything but board storage and living space. There’s an endless demand. Nothing stays vacant in El Porto long.”

The last long term renter was, in fact, just that — a young surfer who also happened to be U.S. Air Force airman. He ran into conflict with Kidd at the end of his lease when she threatened to hold his deposit, and an attorney acquaintance paid her a visit that resulted in her calling 911. That lawyer, Michael Molfetta, said that on the day the initial Emoji House story was published in Easy Reader, on Aug. 1 — in which Molfetta described Kidd as a “bully” and a “liar” — the house was apparently put on the market as some kind of a joke on the airman. His number was listed in the advertisement. 

Molfetta said the airman received more than 20 calls inquiring about the house for sale that day. 

As I stated before, she is a bully, and posting his number online is yet another crime that she committed,” Molfetta said. “As for anyone who would ever do business with her, know this: if her lips are moving, she is lying. And when she is asleep, she is lying to herself in her dreams.” 

But the attorney said that by actually putting the house on the market, Kidd may finally have done right by her neighbors 

“On previous occasions, Kidd has stated that her intent was to bring joy to the neighborhood,” Molfetta said. “She finally figured out how: by going away.”

Kidd, in an interview this week, said she had nothing to do with posting her former tenant’s phone number and was surprised anyone did. “Oh god, no,” she said. “I’m not vindictive.” 

She said she had two offers on the house before she even put it on the market, and that she is selling the house because of Manhattan Beach’s restrictive policies. 

“I’m sick of Manhattan Beach. They won’t let me do short-term rentals,” Kidd said. “I’ve always catered to middle-class families who can afford one vacation a year. Hotels are very expensive in Manhattan Beach and it’s prohibitive for families who aren’t millionaires to vacation here. I only rented to families because I was one of those families at one point in my life. My son and I would go camping at Lake Cachuma. I didn’t even have a tent; we had a Mork and Mindy sleeping bag and we slept in it together.” 

“I was a poor young mother. I’ve done well in life, thank god, and that’s why I love to cater to middle class, hard-working families. And that’s why I am going to take my money elsewhere, where I can do short-term rentals and rent to families with children…It’s unfortunate these snobby people in Manhattan Beach don’t want ‘riff raff’ and people who make less money than they do in our neighborhood.”

Kidd said many of her intentions have been misunderstood. She said she operated an employment agency for 25 years in which her main goal was to help people do better and enjoy life more, sometimes even dressing them in her or her son’s old clothes to help them do well at job interviews. These days, she said, she volunteers with Fridays for Harvest House, a transition home for single mothers. 

“It’s important to me,” she said. 

Kidd said she’s had some fun with her newfound celebrity. On the night after the home’s sale was announced, NBC News interviewed her while she ate dinner at Slay in downtown Manhattan Beach. 

“I never would have guessed all this would happen,” Kidd said. 

The attention hasn’t all been positive. “I’ve had two somewhat death threats,” she said. “One telling me to go live in North Korea and stop breathing came through as a text message, another one was sent through the mail, all typed black…I haven’t turned them into the police but if I get anymore, I will.” 

The neighborhood surf shop has been making Emoji House t-shirts, and Kidd stopped by to note they’d failed to ask her permission. She was given some free t-shirts. 

“I said, ‘You don’t want to hear from my attorney!’” she said. “It’s so freaking crazy. It’s really something. But you know, at least for a little bit, it’s taken the seriousness away from our crazy world. Look at the news, how sad it is — at least this is something we can laugh about, and that’s what this is really meant to be.” 

Later this week, Kidd said she intends to unveil a new emoji on the house, although she won’t reveal what the emoji will be. Meanwhile, on Tuesday she received a letter from the City of Manhattan Beach asking her to take part in mediation. 

“I am not doing mediation,” Kidd said. “I didn’t do anything wrong. I’m not mediating over anything.”

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