The Closing: Mauricio Umansky on his “no assholes” policy and why he thinks Compass will be out of business in 5 years
From the April issue: Mauricio Umanksy is the founder and CEO of the Beverly Hills-based residential brokerage the Agency, which he launched with Billy Rose and Blair Chang in 2011. Before starting the firm, Umansky worked under the auspices of his brother-in-law Rick Hilton at Hilton & Hyland. At the same time, he became a household name by appearing alongside his wife, Kyle Richards, on “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.” While leading the Agency, Umansky has maintained his position as one of the top agents in L.A.’s luxury market. Last year, he was involved in the record-breaking $100 million sale of the Playboy Mansion to Hostess heir Daren Metropoulos. The broker, who is not afraid to speak his mind, is equally unafraid to step into other parts of the real estate business, and he has recently partnered on a major mansion development
DOB: June 25, 1970
Hometown: Mexico City
Lives in: Bel Air
Family: Married; four daughters
What was your childhood like? My first six years were in Mexico City. I was born with a blood disease, so I spent the first six years of my life pretty much in and out of children’s hospitals.
Once you recovered, what were you like as kid? I played every sport you could think of. I became an amazing skier. I tried to make the Olympics. I always wanted, needed to be the best. Some people are motivated by fear. Other people are motivated by greed, which I think is the worst motivator. I happen to be motivated by my competitive nature. I just need to win.
What did your parents do for a living? My father was in textiles — a really fun, entertaining business. He owned maquiladoras in Mexico. My mother is a psychologist. She holds two postdoctorates in sexual therapy. So you could say it was a pretty interesting household.
How did you break into the real estate business? My wife, Kyle [Richards]. After my father closed the businesses, I went to work for someone else in clothing, but I got fired right before Christmas. We had just had our second child. We already had Farrah, my stepdaughter, who is over there [in the office]. My brother-in-law [Rick Hilton] was in real estate. So I thought maybe I could become a broker because I’m a great salesperson. I got my license in real estate sales, then started [at Hilton & Hyland].
How did you, Billy Rose and Blair Chang come to the decision to start your own brokerage? When we were coming out of the recession, in 2011, I felt there was opportunity in real estate. I didn’t have enough money to [invest]. I did have enough money in savings to start a real estate brokerage business. I also felt the business model of real estate was archaic and broken. Nobody had come in to disrupt it, to revolutionize it, to innovate it. We felt that we were in a great place to do it because, during a recession, nobody spends money. So during that time is when we decided to start the business. We’re still [young], yet we seem to be the leaders in marketing, innovation and technology.
How does being a known figure in the TV world impact your business? I think it impacts it in a really positive fashion. It’s the same way Donald Trump got elected to be our president. I’m not sure he deserved it, but that’s a different story. He used the power of television and celebrity to get himself elected. Please, don’t think I have the same idealisms as Donald Trump. What I’m saying is that television is a very powerful thing. I use it to our advantage for the Agency, to promote what we’re doing, to promote giving back. But, I mean, I forget I am on television all the time.
As more brokerages like Douglas Elliman and Compass have entered L.A., we’ve seen this agent-poaching frenzy. What’s your take on the competition over top agents? I think what Compass is doing from a poaching perspective is absolutely horrendous and disgusting to the industry. I think the fact that they cannot build a company that people want to go to without having to pay them to go to it — there’s no way you can have a good culture there. Period. End of story.
So when the Agency has hired brokers from other firms, there haven’t been bonuses or compensation packages involved? I can tell you, at the Agency, we have never ever recruited or poached an agent or a person that works here. Every person that works here knocked on our door, and everyone that works here wants to work here.
Has Compass’ poaching tactics influenced broker splits in the industry, and at the Agency? Yes, Compass has affected broker splits. No, we have not changed our splits to attract agents.
Does the old adage that competition makes everyone better come into play here? I think a market should be competitive. Douglas Elliman, I find to be one of the best companies out there, and I think the competitiveness makes us both better. However, having said that, I also see all other brokerages or agents as collaborators and colleagues. I would say that at least 50 to 60 percent of our transactions occur with other brokerages and agencies. So we need them to love us and we need to love them back. I think the market was going in that direction. Unfortunately, Compass is really turning this world back into this competitive nastiness — you know, who has got more money. I think their model is unsustainable. My prediction is that they’re going to go out of business in five years. Sorry, Robert Reffkin.
Explain the Agency’s slogan, “no assholes.” This is a very cutthroat business. People steal clients and listings from each other. Everybody kind of keeps everything to themselves. That’s not what we are, so in order to define that it just came very easily — we just said, “well, you know, those guys are assholes.” So at the Agency, we have no assholes. Everything is open, you can see [in the office]. Everybody around us right now can hear what we’re talking about. There’s no secrets. It’s all collaborative.
What is the definition of an asshole? You’re either an asshole, or you’re not an asshole. It’s self-defined. If you think you’re an asshole, you’re an asshole.