The real estate business has been around for a long time, with the MLS (multiple listing service) concept itself dating back to the late 1800s. Back then there were only small brokers, and they were not organized within large firms. But they would meet periodically and agree among themselves to pay a part of the commission to each when a property was sold.
In 1908, the National Association of Realtors was founded to promote professionalism within the industry. In 1910, there was the first open house, and in 1925, The National Real Estate Journal introduced staging. In 1952, the first model homes entered the market in response to the postwar boom. And that’s basically it. The art and science of real estate has remained little changed for nearly 70 years, with the tiny exception of the internet of course.
“The real story here,” says Gus Ruelas, managing partner of The Agency, Pasadena, “is how a small boutique firm with only 26 offices was built on social media.” Clearly when something as powerful as the internet starts disrupting your business, you adapt or you get rolled under. The Agency was founded expressly to move how a real estate brokerage functions into the future.
“A lot of big companies are Titanics. When the iceberg is in the way you can’t turn quickly enough,” says Mauricio Umansky, founder and CEO of The Agency, who clearly saw the iceberg, or more accurately the opportunity, represented by the internet. “We have become the second-most followed real estate brand in the world, behind Sotheby’s.” To put that in perspective, the venerable auction house brand was established in 1744; The Agency is just 8 years old. “Sotheby’s has [about] 75,000 agents globally, and we have 600. Assuming they are all following each other, we are already WAY AHEAD!” Umansky says.
There is no doubt Umansky’s Real Housewives of Beverly Hills TV profile is a boon to The Agency’s notoriety. But this is no accident. It’s a matter of maximizing the value of the tools available—even previously nontraditional tools like reality TV. By design Umansky’s TV presence is incorporated in the firm’s marketing and branding efforts and integrated with the social media presence.
While media, social and otherwise, may be the spearpoint of The Agency’s effort to change the real estate model, both Umansky and Ruelas assert the importance of creating an environment where agents can thrive. That environment goes beyond the physical space occupied—no ocean of cubicles, but rather large open spaces and glass offices that encourage interaction—and includes the philosophy presented by management.
It is an attitude and method Umansky hopes to foster. “It’s the culture of the brand,” he says. “We preach it, we talk about it all the time. We have case studies that prove you can make more money collaborating than competing. … and what we are selling is a lifestyle. … Pasadena is definitely the place to sell lifestyle.”
In eight short years The Agency has stormed the gates of real estate sales tradition to great success, representing a disproportionate number of L.A. County’s priciest properties. By all accounts the foray into Pasadena should continue that trend.
Photos by Nathanial Taylor