- Ranked among the Top Ten agents in the U.S. for 7 years in a row
- Has sold more $100 million properties in the U.S. than any other agent
- Has sold more $20 million properties in the U.S. than any other agent
- Has represented some of the world’s most noteworthy properties, including the Playboy Mansion, the first house in L.A. to sell above the $100M mark, Walt Disney Estate, and residences owned by Michael Jackson, Michael Jordan and Prince
With a personable and engaging demeanor that is highly contra-indicated given his Hollywood-celebrity background, Mauricio Umansky is in the process of building a real estate empire the old-fashioned way – one that straddles the worlds of relationship-intensive luxury property sales and a disruptive brokerage industry riven by mass consolidation and diminishing loyalties. When he departed Hilton & Hyland to start The Agency from scratch in 2011, his was a small team that included his father, daughter and a few agents who chose to join him without his asking. Today the firm boasts 600 agents, spread across 30 offices world-wide, who generate more than $5 billion dollars in annual sales.
On the early years
My four grandparents immigrated to Mexico from Eastern Europe – two from Russia, one from Lithuania, and one from Greece. I was born in Mexico City with a serious blood disease and basically spent the first six years of my life in and out of hospitals. Because of that, I erased the memory of those early years and developed a sense of self-confidence that has carried me throughout my entire life.
We migrated to the U.S. in 1976 for two reasons – to escape political instability and to diversify the family textile business. Interestingly, my mother came to the U.S. to study for a PHD in Psychology at USC because she was a women’s right advocate, and Mexico was very much backward on women’s rights issues. Today, she’s a practicing psychologist, television personality and sex therapist. My father sold his textile business many years ago and now works with me at The Agency. Two of my daughters also work with me at The Agency.
I never took college seriously – I was enjoying life and partying. But a family financial crisis forced me to make a decision between hard study or going to work. Still in my 20’s, I went to work with my father selling textiles and piece goods. He gave me all the bad accounts, but within a year, bad accounts and all, I became his #1 salesman. I always knew I was great at sales. It was what I was meant to do in life.
On the philosophies that drive him
In 1996, Kyle Richards (actress and television personality) and I got married, followed soon after by a career shift to real estate, specifically, Hilton & Hyland where I remained for 14 years. Ironically, my first sale was to Kyle’s ex-husband, a $7,500,000 home. My strategy about life is to keep everybody close – including ex-husbands.
I’m a competitive man. I need to win. I was the # 1 agent at Hilton & Hyland during the Recession of 2008 and was responsible for 20% of their business. While everybody stopped advertising, I “owned” the media. Every time you opened up the L.A. Times, all you saw were my listings. That catapulted me from the herd to being the #1 agent in LA, and ultimately California.
When I’m hiring agents, I’m looking for somebody with integrity who can maneuver a room. For example, you walk into a restaurant. It’s 9:59. You ask the receptionist, “Can I get a table?” with the response, “We’re closing at 10:00.” Most people will open an App and look for another restaurant”. I want the candidate who says, “I’ve got a minute before the kitchen closes. Sit me down and I’ll order really fast.” I want the person who pushes the envelope. Two of our agents, James and David Harris, who appear on “Million Dollar Listing LA”, are great examples. They don’t know how to take “no” for an answer. And yet they’re very elegant in the way that they approach their business.
Glen Spiro, the former head of Christie’s Jewelry department is a close friend and great mentor. He had an uncanny ability to understand how to tell a story ― how to read people, and how to not get in the way of a transaction. That’s a mistake that a lot of salespeople make. The reason they get in the way of the transaction is their own fear. They have to battle those demons. Most transactions are out-of-the-box – they’re not all cookie-cutter. Agents don’t understand that. They say, “No, you can’t do it that way.” What do you mean you can’t do it that way? You can do it any way.
On building The Agency
I want to build The Agency into a branded real estate luxury boutique, not too large, not too small, that has a national and global reach, that serves as a true consigliere to its clients and genuinely cares for its agents’ business success. It’s still a work in progress – a brand in the making, but we’re making great strides towards those goals, including international prominence.
The Agency is built for growth. We created a powerful mid-management layer― more than we needed at the start― so now all of the vertical operational components are well covered and it’s just a matter of adding qualified staff as we continue to grow. We have a robust marketing function ― a technology division with seven programmers who, among other tasks, built a proprietary CRM system, and departments that manage Events, PR and New Development strategy.
Originally, we were viewed as a Southern California brand, but that’s changing as we expand into Northern California and continue to attract international clients from China and London. “Million Dollar Listing LA” has helped spread the word. Client-wise, we represent some of the wealthiest billionaires on the planet, as well as major pop stars and celebrities, not to mention a local mom-and-pop clientele, which represents a heavy percentage of our transactions. Our client is not the person looking for a discount brokerage – it’s the client who sits in the front of the plane, not in the back.
The Future of The Agency excites me. We will continue to aggressively franchise in the U.S., Mexico and Canada, where we’ve already opened up our first branches. We’re about to announce a new television show called “The Agency” that will help us build the brand, sell franchises, and continue this mission that we’re on.
On the person
I wear my feelings on my sleeve. I’m not a tough guy. I don’t scream and shout or pound the walls. But I work my ass off. The majority of my clients will tell you, “He’s one of the hardest workers I know.” Because of that, they refer me a ton of business. I have an uncanny ability to find people homes very quickly because I listen intensely before I speak. That, and my knowledge of the market allows me to place them in the first house I show them.
I would hope that the majority of my peers say I’m an honest guy. However, I can tell you the one negative thing they say in an attempt to beat me on a listing, “He’s way too busy. He’s going to pass you off to somebody.” My response is, “If you want to get something done, always give it to the busiest guy in the room.” Don’t forget, I’m still very much in the fray – for instance, in 2019 we did $554 million in transactions.
On current strategies and direction
We represent some of the world’s top developers and resort brands, including One&Only, Six Senses and Ritz-Carlton. The only downside to the development business is that you have to create the pipeline, and that’s a long-term hold. In California, you can’t collect commissions until a building is completed, which can take three to five years.
I think there is tremendous opportunity in the Bay Area, particularly for a brokerage like ours which attracts agents who want to work at a luxury boutique firm rather than Walmart-type mass brokerage. We already have offices serving Healdsburg and Sonoma wine country, the East Bay in Alamo, Carmel in the Monterey Peninsula, Marin County, the Castro in San Francisco and Silicon Valley. And we’re looking for a location on the north side, near Pacific Heights. We’re also heavily invested in the development of Yerba Buena Island where a concentration of condominiums, flats and townhomes just 10 minutes from downtown San Francisco represents incredible opportunity. We’re 100% committed to the Bay Area.
Unlike the L.A. real estate market which is heavily glitz and glamour, San Francisco is very eclectic – conservative, yet very liberal – and that combination intrigues me. People in the Bay Area are not ostentatious. They’re not driving around in Lamborghinis, yet they’ve got as much money as the folks who live in Beverly Hills. So, in all of the markets that we enter, we try not to transfer our L.A. culture. We adapt and involve ourselves in those communities. And we rely entirely on the people we hire to guide us. In the Bay Area, we’re transferring our brand and systems, but not our L.A. culture, which would fail miserably up here.
On trial and tribulation
I don’t like the recruitment style of some of our competitors. Look, I love and believe in free competition. But the way that they’re recruiting and buying the business is evil and nasty. Their recruiters call my agent, and my agent says, “I’m happy.” Thirty minutes later the recruiter calls again, “By the way did I tell you…” “I’m happy. Please don’t call me again.” Thirty minutes later, they call again. It’s just poor ethics. Win because you’re great and can create a great company in the process. And if any of my agents want to leave to join you, they’re welcome to do so. I don’t keep them in handcuffs. I’ve never bought an agent, and I don’t intend to start now.
On the future
It feels like there’s got to be some sort of correction in spite of the fact that there’s a housing shortage and interest rates remain low. We may skip another recession, but a price adjustment is inevitable give the over-greed of the majority of sellers. Also, a lot of developers have poorly underwritten projects, so I do believe we’re going to see a price adjustment in that arena as well. But overall, I don’t see these challenges affecting absorption of demand.
Ten years out, if there is vulnerability in the industry, it will result from a commoditized real estate industry and planned urban developments that are housing pancakes. I’m not worried about the Zillows of the world because that’s not my market. There will have to be vast improvement in technology for the online players to succeed. Until we see 20% of the population buying their cars on the internet, our online competitors won’t have a significant impact on the current state of the industry and agents will remain safe. Thirty years out, who knows!