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Mauricio Umanksy has been selling real estate for almost two decades, and he remembers his first client — George Santo Pietro — who told him if he wanted to make more money, he needed to increase the size of his deal.

“That’s when I went after luxury,” he said. “I learned to make the calls and ask the favors. Generally speaking, people like to help. What stops most sales agents is the fear of failure.”

Astrid Storey /

Astrid Storey /

So how did he land the Playboy Mansion? A request for proposal went out to the top brokerages in Los Angeles, and The Agency “arrived with the entire team,” said Umanksy. “We basically created a brand for the Playboy Mansion. We arrived with a book telling them what their brand was.” He told Hefner he would take that brand and one of the most iconic mansions in the world and would go after the PR.

Umansky noted that he encourages agents to go back to basics. Ask for jobs, call up past clients, ask for referrals. “You have to ask for business,” he noted.

And building that business requires a laser focus on customer service. Umansky remembered staying in a nice hotel for his 20th wedding anniversary and noted that the elevation of customer service possible was almost exponential. The hotel could have used Facebook or Twitter to discover his favorite foods or that he prefers white wine to red and sent a welcoming gift.

Agents have the same opportunities, he said.

Umansky teaches his agents using case studies — whether those case studies are successful or whether they didn’t get the sale.

Another thing that sets The Agency apart is the company brand. “You have to think about it as you’re hiring The Agency, not the agent,” said Umansky. This becomes a unique selling proposition that sets The Agency apart as a brokerage, noted moderator Marti Gallardo, global head of real estate and vertical markets at The Wall Street Journal.

Luxury properties can have their own issues — people who might be qualified to buy a home but who have no intention of ever purchasing it; they just want to walk through. He suggests qualifying buyers on a different level — asking buyers why they’re interested in the house, the qualities that drew them in and their lifestyle.

“There are 2,300 billionaires in the world,” Umansky said. “That’s who will buy this house.”

Email Amber Taufen.

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