The Q & A
Founder and CEO of The Agency, Mauricio Umansky set out to create an industry-disrupting brokerage that would redefine real estate. Since its inception in 2011, The Agency has done that and much more, ranking among Inc. 5000’s list of the fastest-growing companies in the U.S. for two consecutive years. On October 5, Mauricio brought his magic to Houston where he presented awards to HAR’s 20 Under 40 Rising Stars in Real Estate. But first, he sat down with HAR President and CEO Bob Hale to talk about his phenomenal success and celebrity lifestyle among
the rich and famous.
Bob: You founded The Agency in 2011 and now control 17% of the market share of L.A., the No. 1 company in the city for per-agent production. For the past seven years you’ve been ranked by the Wall Street Journal’s REAL Trends report as being in the Top 10 agents in production. You’re always the No. 1 REALTOR® in California, selling more homes than any other REALTOR® ever, over $20 million. How did this amazing story begin?
Mauricio: I had to drop out of college. When I was in college, I was really fighting hard and my father said to me, “You either gotta concentrate and get to school or get to work.” I actually started in the fashion industry and went to work for my father. I was always in sales. My passion, growing up, was always fashion, architecture, interior design, homes. And so the only way that I could do what I was great at, which was selling, and be able to enjoy my passion, was to get into real estate. Also, I find that as a REALTOR®, one of the great things that we all have is the opportunity to be entrepreneurs, to be innovative, to be creative, to…broaden our own businesses. You get to play with marketing and creative and selling and running your books and how do you grow the company, and thinking always about how do you innovate and how do you find more leads. I don’t know of any other business in the world that you can earn as much money as in real estate, without a large investment. I mean, our investment is in ourselves. It’s in our time, it’s in photography, it’s in marketing. But we don’t have to go out and build, you know, a big building or a big business. And the capital investment is very light. So, as sales people, I think we’re very lucky to be able to have that opportunity to earn a good living.
Bob: Mauricio has a beautiful family and he’s a strong believer in work-life balance. He’s married to a very cool lady. The Real Housewife of Beverly Hills’ Kyle Richards. How has the fact you’re both celebrities in your own right affected your lives and careers?
Mauricio: We’ve used it. Reality television is part of our society today…you can’t escape it. You watch what the Kardashians have done. I mean, they’re more powerful than any of the people that we all grew up with…Tom Cruise, Madonna, I mean it’s unbelievable. But reality television has become a really important part of our society. And I have made sure that we use the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills and my wife’s fame as part of a marketing campaign. We make sure that every time we’re on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, we…always have the water bottle with the agency logo. We’ve got the hats with the agency logo, the t-shirts, the leggings, the pens. We’re product placing all the time. So we just make sure that we’re continually out there. I figure if I’m going to be on television opening up my life to the whole world, I might as well make the best of it. Social media is super important, I’ve seen a few people here that are winning their awards today do a ton of social media. Very smartly done. I think it’s fantastic.
Bob: How do you select which agents you would like to join the agency? And then, how do you know when it’s time to invite someone to maybe leave the agency?
Mauricio: Our philosophy is that if you get lucky enough to wear the agency pin or hold the agency flag, then you’re at the top of your game. So we limit the amount of agents so that we stop competition for the same listings or minimize it as much as possible. We also have a whole collaborative type of experience. If two agents are going after the same listing, they generally just share it and go after it together. I mean it’s not something that we force, just part of the culture. But in order to maintain greatness in your firm, you sometimes have to make some really difficult decisions. At one point, we had to let our No. 3 producer go because she was unethical. Constantly getting us into trouble. It was an extraordinarily tough decision. But we ended up getting three great agents that then came to the office and said, “Now I’m ready to join you, and the reason I didn’t join you is because you had her.” Sometimes making tough decisions is really difficult. But you have to make them. It’s the “No A**hole” rule. It really is our rule No. 1.
Bob: What was it like to list and sell one of the most famous homes in America the Playboy Mansion, for $100 million?
Mauricio: It was fun, and it was extraordinary….it’s probably the most iconic house in the country, without question. It’s the first house in Los Angeles to actually sell for $100 million. To get this house listed, I actually went the extra step. For the listing appointment and for the presentation, I actually pre-prepared the entire marketing campaign for them. We arrived with a video that had a Playboy bunny walking over the mansion. We had all the ads built, we had the entire campaign built as if we already had the listing. And Playboy Enterprises was so impressed by that. We said to them, “We’re ready to launch tomorrow.” And then they loved the campaign, they thought it was so creative. A lot of our campaigns are not about selling. One of the things that we try to do to redefine real estate is that we don’t sell “4 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, 2,800 square feet.” What we sell is a lifestyle, right? So we always go out there and tell people what their lifestyle is going to be like in that house. In the community, what schools, what locations, what parks. You’re walking, you’re riding your bike to the beach, whatever it is that you’re doing. And so that’s kind of the angle that we take in terms of creative marketing. I gotta tell you that every time I got a call to show this house, I let nobody else do the showings. I did absolutely every single showing. The grotto was a ton of fun to go into. The funnest thing about the Playboy Mansion, quite honestly, is the zoo. Hugh…obviously he just passed away recently…has an amazing zoo, the most beautiful birds, the most beautiful animals, and peacocks, and all kinds of crazy stuff in there. And it was just a great sale.
Bob: Did you meet Hugh Hefner?
Mauricio: I did! I actually had a chance to have lunch at the Playboy Mansion. And I had lunch with him and with the CEO of Playboy Enterprises and it was a great experience.
Bob: Mauricio has clients like everyone in this room does. Hugh Hefner. Michael Jordan. Michael Jackson. He used to babysit Michael Jackson’s kids, by the way. Prince. Lady Gaga. Kim Kardashian. Sofia Vergara. And many, many, many others. What is it like to work with famous clients?
Mauricio: Well, it’s a ton of fun. The beauty of it is that it’s the same as every other client. I mean, all these people are people, right? I remember showing Michael Jackson’s home…we’re in a corridor, and we walk past a spot that he just thought the sound was perfect. And he took two steps back and started to sing a cappella, right there. And it was just like, ah. I mean…one of the most beautiful things in the world. Then, of course, my wife was asked to do a music video for Lady Gaga, and they filmed it at the Hearst Castle. About four weeks later we’re going to Vegas and she’s doing a concert…and my wife reaches out…and they put us in some really nice seats. Well, two songs before the concert is going to end, we get called backstage…we’re drinking wine, Gaga comes in and, you know, she’s a fan of Housewives. And she goes, “Mauricio, so you know, tell me. I’ve been working my butt off. I haven’t really bought anything for myself yet. I don’t even really know how to like, go through the process of buying a property.” And I said, “Well, what do you want?” And she starts describing what she wants and she says, “You know, I want a paparazzi-proof property. I want chickens, I want animals. I want, you know, the beach, I want land…” And I say to her, I go, “Well, I only know of one house.” And I literally pull out my phone and I show her the house and she’s looking at it and goes, “Huh, pretty cool.” She says, “I’m going to be in Los Angeles in two days, can you show me the house?” I go, “Well, I’m going to be in Europe but I’ll have somebody open the house for you.” I leave to Europe, I call up my partner, I say, “Santiago, I’m sending you Lady Gaga.” He goes, “What?” I go, “Yeah, yeah.” I go, “You’re going to go pick her up at the hotel, take her to see this house, and let’s see what happens, right?” So sure enough we do that, he sends her to see the house and she buys the house. I never asked her how much, it was north of $20 million. I never asked her what her budget was. I never asked her anything. She just described to me what it is that she wanted, and I pulled out the only house I could think of that matched that. So sometimes you’ve got to just take a chance and not be scared. My wife says, “How’d you know she’d spend that much?” And I said, “I had no idea, that was just the house she described.”
Bob: What advice would you share with our young Houston REALTORS®?
Mauricio: First…the clients have so much knowledge available to them. It’s all on the internet…and when you show up and they know more than you, that’s a problem. You have to understand what’s going on, have knowledge of not only the inventory, but your purchase and sale contracts. Be able to explain them, be able to recite them, be able to memorize them. I mean I could recite all 48 clauses in our contract. I find that one of the things that holds us back is fear. You’ve got to get over your fear. It’s a fear of rejection, fear of being turned down, fear of making the call. Go, be direct. And, you know, the truth always wins. Communicate with your clients, communicate with truth. Have knowledge so that you don’t stumble on it. Whenever they catch you on a tiny bit of a lie, that’s when it’s all over.
Bob: Members of HAR’s YPN are very passionate about giving back to their community. And I know that you are a big supporter of the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles. What does giving back mean to you?
Mauricio: Everything. It’s our social responsibility, it’s a social responsibility to give back. The Agency gives back through Giveback Homes, for Habitat for Humanity, and I think we raised…over $250,000 last year. All of our agents give back. 100% participation among the agents. It’s not mandatory, they just all give back. And we always give back on behalf of the client…in the client’s name. And like I said, personally, I kind of owe my life to the Children’s Hospital.