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The Agency's Mauricio Umansky Talks Office Turmoil, Challenging The NAR And The Reality TV Spotlight

When Mauricio Umansky first shot to fame as a real househusband of Beverly Hills, few people expected him to become one of the most successful real estate agents in the U.S. 

Fast-forward to today, and Umansky owns one of the top brokerages in the world, with more than 120 offices across 12 countries.

The last two years have shaken residential brokerage to its core, yet The Agency has forged ahead, having launched several new offices and an industry trade group despite record-high mortgage rates and a historic lack of supply. 

But Umansky is a strong proponent of striking while the iron is less than scorching.

Mauricio Umansky, co-founder of The Agency

“If you’ve followed anything I’ve done in my life, when there is a recession, when there is turmoil, that’s always the opportunity for growth,” Umansky told Bisnow. “There’s amazing opportunities to take advantage of.”

Umansky became a public figure more than a decade ago after his now-estranged wife, Kyle Richards, was cast on Bravo's The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. In the years that followed, Umansky co-founded The Agency, which has handled more than $72B in real estate transactions since 2011.

That success won him his own Netflix reality show, Buying Beverly Hills, in which Umansky is seen navigating his burgeoning real estate empire alongside his stepdaughter, Farrah Brittany, and daughters, Alexia and Sophia Umansky.

After enjoying more than a decade of relative likability and public approval, Umansky and Richards rocked the reality TV universe when they announced their separation last July. In the months that followed, Umansky found himself at the center of rumors about his 27-year marriage and what caused it to end.

Umansky sat down with Bisnow at the National Association of Real Estate Editors conference in Austin last week to discuss life under the glare, his vision for The Agency, his take on what is happening in the commercial real estate world — and whether CRE is ripe for the reality show treatment itself. 

He also spoke passionately about his latest project, the American Real Estate Association, a trade group alternative launched in the wake of the National Association of Realtors’ landmark settlement on broker commissions.

The company has already gone to Capitol Hill to advocate on behalf of veterans whose homebuying abilities are threatened by the outcome of the settlement. Those efforts resulted in a win earlier this month when the Department of Veterans Affairs announced it would remove a longstanding rule preventing veterans from financing or paying their agents.

“From my perspective, this isn’t about winning, it’s about making the industry better, an industry that I love,” Umansky said. “If I have to be the guy that’s creating the competition to make it better, I’m good with that.”

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Bisnow: Y’all are in major growth mode. You just opened an office in Tyler, [The Agency's fourth Texas location]. Why are you so bullish on Texas?

Umansky: I'm very bullish on the red states. I just think there's tremendous opportunity. There's a lot of people moving to Texas, to Florida, and I think we're going to continue to see that for many reasons — political, safety, security, great job growth, great opportunities, great lifestyle. When I think about the new businesses I’m launching, like the American Real Estate Association, and we start thinking about where we want the headquarters, to me it’s probably Dallas or maybe Austin, certainly Texas. There’s a good job pool and good people to pull from.

Bisnow: What are your future growth plans? You’re obviously not afraid of smaller, emerging markets like Tyler.

Umansky: From The Agency’s perspective, the way we’ve looked at all growth is always people-first, then market-specific second. We find great agents that want to carry The Agency flag in a market, and if we like the market, then we go forward. But it starts with a person. 

Right now we are looking at continuous growth in Texas, in Florida — we’ve barely begun to touch those areas. There’s some great opportunities for growth in the Carolinas, in Georgia. We just opened up in Cleveland, Ohio. Everybody’s been talking about Boise for quite some time, and we have a really great office there. On the West Coast, further growth into Portland and Seattle. 

From an international perspective, we’ve done very well in Portugal and Spain, but now we want to continue into the rest of Europe.

Bisnow: Higher interest rates have been a headwind for residential and commercial. Are you a Fed watcher, and how do you see this playing out? 

Umansky: I am definitely a Fed watcher. I think it’s super important. My personal opinion is that we are done raising rates. If you look at other parts of the world, they’ve begun to lower rates. It’s usually the U.S. that leads the raising and the lowering, but the U.S. in my opinion has been slow to lower. I think we will follow what the rest of the world has started to do.

The problem with the U.S. is that the [housing market] indicators we all follow are behind. I see stuff happening in the industry, but the government is not reading it until six months afterward. That’s why we are so bad at this stuff. What we need to do is get better at reading leading indicators so we can actually start predicting instead of reacting. I have some ideas on that, and I’m working on some solutions.

Mauricio Umansky sat down with Bisnow at the 2024 NAREE conference.

Bisnow: Residential has performed relatively well compared to commercial. I’m curious what your thoughts are about the pain on our side of the industry, especially within the office sector.

Umansky: I think it’s an absolute mess, and it’s super sad. It’s so hard to get people back into the office, but until we change the mentality of the behavior of the people, the office issue is not going to get resolved. The problem right now is that there is no path to changing behavior. 

A lot of CEOs have the same problem: No. 1, we are all sitting on big office leases, and we are also sitting with productivity issues. For a short period of time during Covid, everybody thought they were more productive at home. But that’s bullshit. We’re not. We need to get back into offices, and all the CEOs in every industry are struggling with how to do that. 

But even if we do, we are overbuilt on office, and I think office is in trouble for a long, long time.

Bisnow: There’s so much demand for multifamily, especially as high mortgage rates keep millennials renters. Do you see your multifamily brokerage business growing as a result? 

Umansky: I definitely see it growing as a result of this trend. If you can get residential brokers educated enough, they should be the ones brokering that asset class. The only issue is that until recently, residential brokers were housewives, if you will, so they weren’t people looking at cap rates and analyzing deals, and you need to have that analysis and research in order to get involved in multifamily.

But as residential brokerages are really getting involved in new development and dealing with branded residences, we’re having to get more educated on the commercial side.

Bisnow: You’ve been in the spotlight for many years now. I’m curious what it’s been like living your life on camera and now really living your business on camera, too. Do you ever wish you had a little more anonymity, or are you happy for the extra visibility?

Umansky: I wish all the time I had more privacy and anonymity, no question about it. I put myself out there — Kyle, my wife, and I decided to do that 13 years ago. We did it consciously. Now, I just embrace it. I’m using the spotlight, if you will, hopefully for the good, to help build the American Real Estate Association, to make money, to build The Agency. But if I knew everything I know today, if I knew the amount of sacrifices I’d have to make in order to do all that, I probably would not do it again.

Umansky in New York City

Bisnow: On that note, do you think a reality TV show about commercial real estate is something any network would ever want to pick up? 

Umansky: It would have to be about the people and not about the industry. If you had the right people who are interesting and happen to be in commercial real estate, there could be something there. 

Bisnow: What are you watching right now?

Umansky: I’m a huge sci-fi guy. I love Game of Thrones, so right now it’s House of the Dragon. I read a lot of self-help books, motivational books. Right now I’m finishing 48 Laws of Power, and I really enjoyed that. I love history, I love biographies, I love historical fiction — that’s my favorite.

Bisnow: Can you give us your real estate hot take?

Umansky: The biggest thing I’m speaking loudly about right now is my disgust toward the National Association of Realtors. A lot of people feel that way, but they aren’t speaking loudly about it. I’m upset about the way they handled the settlement agreement. They could have protected everybody by paying more money. And by the way, all the money they have comes from us.

Bisnow: You’re somebody who works all the time. What do you do when you’re not working? How do you unwind?

Umansky: My favorite thing to do in the world is ski. I travel to ski. I was in Japan, I was in Austria this year, next year I’m going to Alaska. Everything I do from the perspective of working out and staying in shape is so I can ski.

I really try hard to take advantage of time for myself. I work a lot on mindset, on meditation, on manifestation and affirmations. I’m going to basically be traveling all of July, and to start my vacation, I’m checking myself into a meditation yoga retreat in Switzerland.