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Mauricio Umansky, the broker who founded The Agency and has since gone on to become a reality TV star, argued Wednesday that the real estate industry needs to improve. And for that reason, he and a partner are launching a new organization to rival the National Association of Realtors.
The American Real Estate Association “is built by Realtors, for Realtors,” Umansky declared in the first session Wednesday morning of Inman Connect New York.
The comments effectively represented the formal debut of the American Real Estate Association, or AREA. Though news of the organization leaked Monday in The New York Times, Wednesday’s Connect session offered Umansky a platform from which to more thoroughly make his case that NAR is no longer cutting it — and that the time is right for a replacement. During the session, Umansky ultimately laid out a detailed case for what he believes is wrong with NAR, though information about what exactly AREA might look like was sparser.
While on the Connect stage Wednesday, Umansky identified many issues he has with NAR. Among other things, he argued that NAR has not “taken seriously enough” the threat from a slew of commission lawsuits, the first of which went to trial in October and resulted in a defeat for the trade organization.
Umansky also pointed to the so-called “mansion tax” in Los Angeles, which levies a fee against homes in the city that sell for more than $5 million. He sharply criticized the tax, saying it has “absolutely destroyed” segments of the market in his hometown. And he argued that NAR should have been more involved in the legislation.
The implication was that, in Umansky’s view, L.A. passing a mansion tax reflects a policy and lobbying failure on NAR’s part.
“Right now I don’t feel like anybody is caring; we’re in a lot of trouble,” Umansky said, arguing at another point, “We need better advocacy, we need better lobbying, we need to make sure we’re taken care of.”
Presumably, AREA is meant to address those needs.
When session moderator Brad Inman later asked why Umansky doesn’t simply try to reform NAR from within, the broker brushed the idea aside, saying that another problem with NAR is that it’s difficult to communicate with the organization. He added that his AREA partner Haber has sent scores of letters to NAR about the organization’s issues, but never received a response.
Umansky’s complaints about NAR are likely to strike a nerve with at least some members of the industry. In mid-2023, now-former NAR President Kenny Parcell was accused of sexual and racial harassment. The scandal eventually led to Parcell’s resignation and set off a firestorm of criticism. However, criticism continued after Parcell’s ouster, and against that backdrop, and following the October legal defeat in the Sitzer | Burnett commission trial, long-serving CEO Bob Goldberg also stepped down.
Earlier this month, Parcell’s replacement, Tracy Kasper, also resigned, alleging that she was being blackmailed.
The months of chaos have emboldened NAR’s critics, and many in the industry have discussed the possibility of some other entity rising to take the trade organization’s place. Still, building an alternative would not be an easy feat; NAR is more than a century old, boasts more than 1.5 million members, and is the largest trade organization in the U.S.
During Wednesday’s session, Umansky offered few details about how exactly his and Haber’s AREA might look, or how it might specifically solve any of NAR’s shortcomings. Umansky said that the organization will advocate on both the national and local scale, and he urged industry professionals in the packed ballroom to sign up for updates on AREA’s website.
But he was also upfront that unanswered questions remain at this point, saying about the future that “We don’t know” exactly what will happen.
One possibility is that AREA ends up being less a rival to NAR than a way to put pressure on the organization. Umansky said, for instance, “I’m not here to destroy NAR,” adding that “If you guys decide NAR is the best way to go, go with NAR, I don’t care, but let’s make them better.”
The comment drew applause from the audience.
The takeaway from such remarks was that AREA’s future is apparently not yet mapped out exactly, and that at this point it’s more the result of discontent with the status quo than with a very specific vision for what ought to come next.
Eventually, Umansky pivoted away from AREA and discussed other parts of his career. He recalled, for example, working during a previous downturn when most agents pulled back on their marketing. Umansky, on the other hand, kept advertising in his local paper, the L.A. Times, and managed to grow his business by 400 percent.
“The perception was that I was the only one doing business,” he said.
His point was that in hard times agents need to invest, which is what his brokerage The Agency, is doing as it gradually expands across the globe.
“We’re in the middle of a recession, people are starting to retract,” Umansky said. “But we’re moving forward.”
Session attendees also got a preview of Umansky’s dancing skills. He entered the stage to the much-memed song “More passion more energy more footwork,” and true to the song’s lyrics, Umansky danced across the space to his chair. When the music finally stopped, Umansky told Inman he had never danced before receiving an invitation to appear on Dancing with the Stars last year. In order to participate in the show, Umansky trained for hours each day, and he said the experience “was an amazing thing because it was so outside of my comfort zone.”
Later in the session, Inman wondered aloud if anyone wanted to dance with Umansky. When Rose Ryley — a Martha’s Vineyard-based agent with Sandpiper Realty — rushed to the stage, Inman called for the music to resume and Umansky briefly whisked her across the floor.
Umansky ultimately related his time on Dancing with the Stars back to real estate, saying that, in both cases, “You have to go outside your comfort zone if you want to do something great.”
Near the end of the session, Umansky also briefly weighed in on the market, saying that a low point came last fall. Conditions now appear to be improving, but either way, he urged agents to “get to work.”
“It’s the time to go work; it’s the time to go do things,” Umansky said. “We’re lucky to be in one of the best businesses in the world. Go have fun with this thing, it’s incredible.”
Update: This post was updated after publication with the name and agency of the Connect attendee Umansky danced with on stage.