A flood of agents have over the last year abandoned The Agency, a high-profile Los Angeles-area brokerage founded by the husband of a Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star, and in several cases decamped for a rival firm that has a history of drama with their former company.
The departures also come as The Agency founder Mauricio Umansky and his brokerage battle a multimillion dollar lawsuit filed by the vice president of Equatorial Guinea, a nation in West Africa.
The exodus began a year ago, when Leonard Rabinowitz and Jack Friedkin both left The Agency and joined Hilton & Hyland, another Los Angeles-area brokerage. The agents’ choice of Hilton & Hyland was especially significant because Umansky himself had previously spent years at that brokerage, which was co-founded by his brother-in-law Rick Hilton.
Umansky left Hilton & Hyland in 2011 to found his own company.
Umansky’s wife Kyle Umansky, a star of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, is the sister of Hilton’s wife Kathy Hilton and the two families have a long history of drama between them. According to E! News, that drama stems from Hilton’s refusal to make Umansky a partner at Hilton & Hyland, which prompted Umansky to strike out on his own and start his own brokerage “behind Rick’s back.”
In any case, the departures of Rabinowitz and Friedkin were just the beginning.
A month later, Jay Harris also jumped ship for Hilton & Hyland. He had previously been a director at The Agency and spent eight years at the company before leaving, according to his LinkedIn profile.
Shortly thereafter, Danny Brown, who had been at The Agency for three years, left as well, according to his LinkedIn profile. He joined Compass, where he remains today.
All four of those agents who left in the final months of 2018 had high profiles. Rabinowitz and Friedkin, for example, got the listing for Frank Sinatra’s old Malibu home soon after leaving The Agency.
But the exodus didn’t stop there.
Earlier this year, Cindy Ambuehl — whose current profile page says she is “arguably LA’s most sought-after real estate professional” — left The Agency for Compass. David Kelmenson, who spent about two and a half years at The Agency, also jumped ship for Compass earlier this year, according to LinkedIn.
In the ensuing months, Don Heller, Stephen Sigoloff and Dan Urbach all left The Agency for Compass, according to their respective online profile pages.
The Real Deal first reported on the collective departures, saying that in total The Agency has lost 15 percent of its more than 300 agents over the last year and a half (the firm has also reportedly hired new agents to replenish its ranks). Neither The Agency nor a number of agents who have recently left the brokerage immediately responded to Inman’s request for comment Wednesday.
The departures no doubt have been driven by multiple factors. High-profile agents across the country joining Compass has become something of a trend, for example, and the upstart brokerage’s aggressive recruiting tactics are in fact the subject of a current lawsuit filed by Realogy.
But significantly, The Agency also conspicuously has an albatross around its neck right now in the form of a high profile lawsuit of its own. The suit was filed last year and stems from the 2016 sale of a 15,000-square-foot estate in Malibu, California. The home closed for $32.5 million with Umansky representing the seller, Equatorial Guinea vice president Teodoro Nguema Obiang.
However, in the suit Obiang alleges that Umansky conspired with the buyer to close the deal at well under market value in order to flip the house for $69.9 million a year later.
Obiang — who is also the son of Equatorial Guinea’s long-serving top leader — sold the property after settling a case with the U.S. Justice Department over his alleged use of stolen funds.
At the time the suit was filed, a spokesperson for The Agency told Inman that the firm and Umansky “exerted the highest level of integrity and honesty in this transaction” and that they would defend themselves in court.
The case is still winding its way through the courts. But even at this stage it highlights the many eyebrow-raising details — lawsuits with foreign dignitaries, reality TV, interfamily drama, etc. — that surround what appears to be a migration of high-profile agents out of The Agency.
Correction: Rick Hilton is married to Kathy Hilton. This post originally misidentified Rick’s spouse as Kathy’s sister Kim.