search
Sheldon Kirshner

Buying Beverly Hills

Beverly Hills, a bucolic suburb of Los Angeles, is synonymous with ostentatious wealth and materialism. Multimillionaires, billionaires and celebrities are at home here. The luxurious mansions in which they live are beyond the reach of 99 percent of Americans. They are reserved for the super-rich, the pampered and self-centred individuals who are blithely immune to soaring inflation and deaf to the increasingly staggering price of food, households goods, services and real estate.

Homes in this exclusive neighborhood, with their spaciousness, exquisite finishes and luxuriant gardens, usually run into the high millions of dollars. The agents who sell them have prospered.

Mauricio Umansky, a 53-year-old Mexican Jew who immigrated to the United States as a teenager, is one of the most successful realtors in this class. As one of the founders and chief executive officer of The Agency, a company with offices around North America and the world, his net worth is reportedly $100 million.

Umansky has parlayed his expertise into the entertainment field. His Netflix reality show, Buying Beverly Hills, is currently in its second season and most probably will be extended by at least one more year.

I tuned in because I like the Mediterranean ambience of Los Angeles, where my eldest daughter once lived. I’m talking about the nearly constant mild weather, the frequent bright sunshine, the lush wooded hills, the stately palm trees, and the semi-tropical vegetation.

If you’re economically secure, this is the place to be.

And if you’re even remotely interested in architecture, as I am, the finest homes in Beverly Hills are invariably marvels of design and construction, a tasteful melange of concrete, brick, hardwood, marble, tile and glass that is the last word in refinement.

Umansky, a seasoned agent, knows his way around this terrain, his company having sold a long list of properties valued at upwards of $1 billion.

Several generations ago, when discriminatory restrictive covenants kept Jews, African Americans and Asians at bay here, a person like him would have been like a fish out of water in Beverly Hills. But times have changed, thankfully, and Beverly Hills is now his playground and fount of wealth.

Buying Beverly Hills is far more than a show about the hustle and bustle of real estate. It is also a fizzy soap opera, with Umansky as its shining star and his daughters and employees filling in as secondary yet important planets.

Apart from Umansky, the central characters are his two daughters, Alexia, 27, and Sophia, 24, and his 36-year-old step-daughter, Farrah, all of whom are his employees.

Farrah’s mother, Kyle Richards, an actress born and raised in Hollywood and a recurring figure in The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, converted to Judaism before marrying Umansky 27 years ago. Richards’ first husband, an Indonesian businessman, is of Dutch and Arab descent.

The Agency’s top agents, Ben Belack, Joey Ben-Zvi and Zach Goldsmith, are Jewish. Umansky’s close associate, a Latin American named Santiago Arana, wears a crucifix.

An African American agent and gay man, Brandon Graves, is thrown into the mix, as is Michelle Schwartz, a pushy and overly  ambitious agent who arouses Umansky’s ire at one critical point.

Once in a while, Umansky’s father, a man of few words, makes a fleeting appearance.

The most interesting segments revolve around open houses, which resemble backyard cocktail parties, and agent inspection tours of the homes that are due to be sold. Properties of this magnitude and quality are usually only seen in glossy magazines. Yet there are enough affluent buyers out there who think nothing of spending tens of millions of dollars on one-of-a-kind residences, with all the bells and whistles, overlooking the hazy skyline of Los Angeles.

Of far less interest is the idle chatter, the catty gossip and the sobs that punctuate Buying Beverly Hills. Alexia and Sophia, though earnest and decent, come across as quintessential JAPs, Jewish American princesses. Farrah seems like a more serious and solid person.

The agents, from Ben Belack on down, are portrayed as cut-throat connivers who have perfected the art of the deal and are not necessarily honest and sincere in their interactions with each other.

Umamsky is seen as a caring father, an avid partygoer and a calculating entrepreneur on high alert for the next great business opportunity. As the ten episodes unfold, his heretofore durable marriage incrementally disintegrates as his wife coldly distances herself from him, leaving their daughters distraught.

Although primarily set in the greater Los Angeles area, Buying Beverly Hills partially unfolds in Miami Beach, where the Umansky team lands a lucrative contract to sell ultra-expensive condominiums in Sunny Isles, and in the chic mountain resort town of Aspen, where the Umanskys as a family unwind.

This well-crafted series, featuring alluring drone footage of Beverly Hills and environs, is reasonably entertaining and illuminating in the sense that it provides an accurate and timely overview of the pricey real estate market in one of America’s poshest suburbs. But its personal dramas and melodramas, dripping with pathos, can be boring and irrelevant.

 

About the Author
Sheldon Kirshner is a journalist in Toronto. He writes at his online journal, SheldonKirshner.com