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Boutique Real Estate Brokerage The Agency Aims for International Growth

What started as a small residential real estate brokerage based in Beverly Hills has grown to more than 800 agents and 50 markets with plans to expand further.  

In the 10 years since luxury boutique brokerage The Agency was founded by real estate veterans Mauricio Umansky and Billy Rose, the company has been on a rapid growth trajectory, but Rose and Umansky said it has stayed true to its roots as a boutique brokerage focused on culture and giving its agents and clients a different experience from other brokerages.

 
“I felt that the industry was very archaic and ancient in the way that they were working and didn’t feel that there was innovation happening in the industry,” Umansky said of why he started the company. He added that he felt he could teach others what he learned in his years as an agent.


Rose had started a networking group before launching The Agency after working as an entertainment lawyer and talent agent before getting into real estate. He said he moved “from one company to another” and “observed that the brokerage itself had become meaningless.”


“Brokerages had become WeWorks,” he said, adding that oftentimes agents at the same brokerage competed with each other.
When Umansky, who was in the networking group, had the idea for The Agency with the goal of making the overarching brokerage mean something, Rose said, “Let’s do it.”


One big change for the company happened last year when Rainy Austin was hired as president.


“When we started, I was wearing so many different hats — general counselor, broker of record, COO, recruiter — we’ve been and I have been fortunate that we’ve been able to expand and become large enough that we’ve been in a position to hire people to wear all those various hats,” Rose said.


He added that neither he nor Umansky had run a large-scale company before, something Austin was able to do.
Austin has been involved in real estate for more than 25 years, most recently working at Compass as head of western operations.


Austin said she missed working at a boutique firm and wanted to have a greater impact on overall strategy, which is why she joined The Agency. Under her leadership, the company has continued to grow and open more franchised locations.


Selling through showcasing

From the beginning, Umansky said, The Agency separated itself through its use of technology and a collaborative culture.

The Agency’s software, he said, allows agents to be more efficient, such as by using artificial intelligence to help people make smarter choices, according to Austin.
The brokerage also stressed the importance of showcasing an aspirational lifestyle buyers would have at the homes they were showing.


Instead of just a mailer, this meant throwing open houses that resembled lavish parties and finding creative ways to show off the home.
“We started selling real estate through storytelling,” Umansky said. “We created a dynamic change in the way that we built the company and the way that we marketed and advertised real estate.”


The company also stresses culture and collaboration.
“You can help someone who’s less experienced or moving into a new marketplace or needs a leg up by credit enhancing them by what we do as a collective agency,” Rose said. “At the other brokerages, they would kill you if you talk about one of their sales.”
High-ranking agents like Umansky often co-list with newer agents and share their big sales as an accomplishment of the brokerage and not just the individual, Austin said. Umansky added that he thinks The Agency wins listings because its agents team up rather than fight for listings.

 
“When you’re able to all work together … you’re obviously going to do a lot better than if you are doing everything on your own,” Rose said. “We’ve been able to really elevate younger agents by providing them with lots of resources.”

 
Umansky said he places a lot of importance on market share rather than the number of agents as a measure of success and works on only adding people to the company who are a good fit rather than filling a quota on numbers of agents to hire.
Austin said The Agency now has “a waiting list of individuals who reach out to us and love the brand.”


“Finding the right fit takes time and making sure the right individual is the one we bring on the first time,” she added.
And while in recent years there have been a number of agents moving from one brokerage to another, The Agency is working to retain talent by “re-recruiting our existing agents” and not just focusing on growth, according to Austin. This includes showing the value of the brokerage.

 
One big name to join The Agency early on, in 2014, was Santiago Arana. He spearheaded the company’s expansion on the Westside, running the Brentwood and Pacific Palisades offices and opening others on the Westside.
“For me, it was important to be part of building something that was great,” Arana said of why he joined, adding that he thought the traditional brokerage model “was broken.”


Arana said when he joined the company, he brought a large market share west of the 405 and a number of agents.
“From that point, it just exploded,” he said.


Growing through franchising

The company historically has not used outside capital or had private equity growth mandates or debt and has instead grown from its profit. But that strategy could change.

“We’re very excited about going forward and looking for some growth capital moving forward and are excited about bringing that in but want to be strategic about what we are bringing in,” Umansky said.
And as it eyes future growth, the company is also looking at growing through franchised offices.


It launched its first franchise office in Los Cabos, Mexico, in 2016.
Today, the company is 50% franchises and 50% company-owned and operated with about 25 of each. Umansky said he expects that to continue as the company grows.
Company executives jokingly say they want to be in cities where Umansky likes to vacation.


“We want to be in luxury locations where our clients are likely to be,” Rose added. “We want to be in places where there is movement, there’s mobility, there’s luxury.”
Company-owned and -operated locations will be in California and New York City while other areas will be franchise locations.


“We’ve found that if we’re able to find like-minded individuals … that we could create something very synergistic,” Austin said. “We are able to leverage the luxury lifestyle brand.”

 
The company’s goal now is to open new franchise locations around the world. It opened its first European office in Amsterdam this year and has additional locations planned overseas for next year.
The franchise locations are given the same technology and culture as the company-owned locations.


And looking forward, executives agree that the company is poised for continued growth.


“It’s a very, very exciting time at The Agency right now,” Rose said. “We’re seeing a consolidation within the brokerage industry right now, bigger companies gobbling up smaller ones. We’ve gotten to a place of critical mass at The Agency where there’s greater global awareness than ever.”

Hannah Madans Welk
Hannah Madans Welk
Hannah Madans covers real estate for the Los Angeles Business Journal. A USC grad, Madans has done work with publications including The Orange County Register, The Real Deal and doityourself.com.
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