The Agency forum: NAR, optimism and very expensive cowboy hats

Fresh off a six-week stint on “Dancing With the Stars,” the Agency founder and CEO Mauricio Umansky still has some pep in his step.

On Wednesday morning, Umansky shuffled an energetic two-step just off stage at his company’s annual forum, which is taking place this year at the Omni Barton Creek Resort and Spa in Austin. As he psyched himself up, a sizzle reel of landscapes and glamor shots ticked off the exotic locations where his brokers now sell homes. Some 800 agents had come to Central Texas for the forum, and as their home markets flashed across the screen, they let off whoops, giving it the feel of a political party convention.

Umansky, sporting a dark suit with black-and-red Air Jordans, convened his troops at a time when many in the residential brokerage industry feel at siege. High mortgage rates have stifled home buying activity across the country, and a landmark lawsuit threatens the profession’s largest trade group with billions of dollars in damages. New copycat cases crop up seemingly every day.

Conventions like these always traffic in optimism, but unlike the boom years of 2021 and 2022, this time the industry actually needed some soothsaying.

There was Elevated Texana in every corner. A man dressed not unlike Woody from Toy Story stitched custom bandanas, and the luxe boutique Kemo Sabe ran a pop-up shop outside the ballroom. Suggested attire on schedules was “Business Casual or Western Wear,” with a high number of attendees at least partially choosing the latter.

In his speech, Umansky flattered the audience while also exhorting it to grind harder than ever before. There’s no need to jump through hoops setting up meetings, as he sees it: “As soon as you’ve got somebody on the phone, you’ve got that meeting,” he said.

Matthew Gardner of Windermere Economics gave a talk on the state of luxury home sales. Gardner understands the lock-in effect keeping homeowners with low-rate mortgages from selling their homes: he has one himself.

“You’ll have to pry that mortgage from my cold, dead fingers,” he said, pointing to data that shows some 80 percent of mortgage holders have a mortgage at under 5 percent interest rate.

He expects rates to peak this quarter at 7.35 percent and decline to 6 percent by this time next year, settling into a range between 5 and 5.5 percent long term. But, he cautioned, the halcyon days of sub-3 percent mortgages are gone, not to return any time soon.

“Next year, it will be better than this year,” he said, before adding that he has always been a “glass-half-full economist.”

“I see a market that’s getting better and getting back on its feet.” But, he cautioned, “it won’t be 2021, 2022 again.”

After Gardner’s presentation, the Agency’s president, Rainy Austin, gave a stirring talk about her life story, detailing a rise from living in a family friend’s backyard to earning an MBA from Oxford. The theme of the story was resilience, something she encouraged the audience to cultivate in the face of the industry’s recent troubles.

As for the NAR verdict and its potential to upend commission structures, Austin saw it a different way. “Think of it as an opportunity,” she said. “It’s an opportunity to go in and say I want more than the industry standard.” It also presented a chance to educate clients about commissions, stoking deeper connections, she said. 

In a year that has seen commercial and residential real estate upended, from debt markets to development budgets, residential brokerages face an uncertain path forward, one that may change the nature of an agent’s job itself. 

Toward the end of Austin’s presentation, she framed that uncertainty as yet another opportunity: “Reimagine your job title,” her slide read. “You might have to wear a few more hats this year. Grow your offerings. Seize new opportunities. Find new niches, and own them.”READ MORE LINKS:,,

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