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How Real Estate Became Showbiz and Agents Became Stars

The crowd began gathering at 5 p.m., into the movie-perfect backyard of a 1920s Spanish-style Los Angeles estate once owned by Madonna. The air was so soft and eucalyptus-scented you could wrap yourself in it. Glasses clinked. The pool glinted in the slinking sun. In the Santa Monica Mountains above, the Hollywood sign gleamed like a row of perfectly capped teeth.

Into that golden light stepped Mauricio Umansky, fresh off his debut the night before on “Dancing With the Stars.” He made his way to a crystal podium and began cracking jokes for the attendees, who were there for a star-studded awards show.

Unlike the Oscars or the Golden Globes, these awards didn’t go to actors, directors or screenwriters. They went to real estate agents, crowned in categories like “Stratospheric Sale of the Year.” (The winner of that award was Kurt Rappaport, who represented Beyoncé and Jay-Z as they closed on a $190 million Malibu pad last May.) As a real estate broker with two seasons of “Buying Beverly Hills” and 13 seasons as a real husband on “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” under his belt, Mr. Umansky was the consummate M.C. for the evening’s Power Broker Awards.

After the Power Broker Awards wrapped, the attendees loaded into Ubers and headed to the Hollywood Hills for an after-party at the Californication House, a $38 million custom-built James Bond-inspired mansion with a fire pit sunken inside its infinity pool.Credit…Ariana Drehsler for The New York Times

Celebrity has transfixed the real estate world. Agents in markets like Los Angeles and New York chase stardom as fervently as they chase deals.

They rose to glitzy heights during the pandemic, floating into living rooms on shows like “Million Dollar Listing,” “Million Dollar Beach House” and “Buying Beverly Hills.” Captive audiences watched agents rake in six-figure commissions and wrangle personal dramas as they listed, bought and sold some of America’s most eye-popping real estate. “Selling Sunset,” in which an ensemble cast of couture-clad agents bickers and bids in six-inch heels, premiered in 2019 and quickly became one of Netflix’s most popular shows.

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