“Million Dollar Listing New York” will make a return to Bravo TV May 8, and it has a new cast member to boot: Luis D. Ortiz of Keller Williams NYC, the network said yesterday. A former filmmaker and Puerto Rico native, Ortiz will join Ryan Serhant of Nest Seekers International and Fredrik Eklund of Douglas Elliman as the third cast member, replacing Michael Lorber, son of Elliman Chairman Howard Lorber.
While The Real Deal spotted Ortiz filming early scenes for the second season of the hit show on Wall Street this past September, his involvement in the show was only officially confirmed yesterday.
Following the announcement, we sat down with Ortiz on the rooftop of the former Elizabeth Arden building at 689 Fifth Avenue yesterday to talk real estate, filmmaking and butting heads with Serhant and Eklund.
Tell us a little bit about yourself…
I am from San Juan, Puerto Rico. I’m 26. I have a twin brother. His name is Daniel Ortiz. He is pretty much an extension of myself. Even when we have been in different places, we always finish in the same place.
When did you leave Puerto Rico?
I left Puerto Rico [with my brother] when I was 16 years old. We were too young to understand why we wanted to leave but we were feeling uncomfortable and suffocated by something. We didn’t know exactly what we wanted to do but we wanted to step into something that was completely different. One day we bought a one-way ticket to Florida and left a note [for our parents] in the kitchen saying we were going to the beach. We took off and never came back.
How did you mom react?
She wanted to kill us, obviously. I didn’t speak to her for the first six or seven months [we were in the U.S.]. In the note I said, “If I don’t do this, how do I know if it’s going to work or not?”
What did you do in Florida?
I started working as a stockroom boy in the back of Hollister [the clothing chain] and as a janitor in a community college, but I really wanted to do film directing. I wanted to tell stories.
You weren’t one of those guys that poses topless outside Hollister, were you?
I didn’t have the body and I don’t know I would actually have been up for that.
When did you move to New York?
In 2006, I flew to New York to go to New York Film Academy. I started living at a place called the Opal in Kew Gardens Hills close to Jamaica Center. I was the only non-Jewish person in the entire community.
Have you made any films?
I shot my first film in Bolivia in South America. I was 19 at the time. The film’s name is “Amalia.” It’s an immigration story about a girl who lived in Bolivia and was very poor. Her dad worked construction in New Jersey and sent the family money but the father had an accident and stopped sending money to the family. The story is how she gets a visa and comes here and makes it.
What came next?
I came back [to New York] in 2008 to shoot another film. I need $15,000 to shoot the film. I went out on the streets and went to every restaurant and business owner with the movie I already shot in 2006 and told them they would be investing in someone that’s going to make something great. I spoke from the heart. In one night, I made $9,000. I went to like 65 restaurants and got money from about seven. The second movie is called “The Theatre of the Absurd.” I never liked the film so I never showed it.
How come you stopped filmmaking?
I was so young that I got very upset and disappointed. I said, “Filmmaking is not for me.” I wanted to move because I was sleeping on a friend’s couch in the city. I went to Craigslist to find an apartment and picked one at 95 Wall Street, which was probably 10 times what I could afford. I liked the apartment so much that I paid six months up front by taking out a loan using my father’s credentials. The broker that got me the apartment – his name is David Yomtobian [of Blackstone Properties] – said he thought I should give it a try in real estate.
Did you like the idea right away?
When he offered me the job, I went to his office at 2 Wall Street. I saw these little kids of 21 and 22 years old in an office on Wall Street. I called my brother and said “there’s so much fire in this room. I don’t know anything about this thing but I want to give it a try.”
How did you take to real estate?
I started in real estate when the market had already crashed. I started in a time where I needed to be able to fight to make money. Money was never my main motivation — it still isn’t. I only work for the excitement of things. We had to train ourselves in such a bad time that I think I’ve been through the worst.
Did you start with rentals?
Only rentals. We were on Craigslist every day.
Did you do the bait and switch?
We had the bait and switch. Everyone had it but I was always very honest with people when they called me. I needed to feed myself. Had [the listings] been legitimate, I would probably never have gotten any calls.
Did you stay with Blackstone for long?
I went from Blackstone to a company called Prodigy Network. I lasted six or seven months. I’ve been through a lot of companies, not because I am not a reliable person but the fact that I always reach a point where I find myself at the top of the firm but I’m still nobody. I’m not learning anymore because nobody is teaching me. Prodigy is where I started doing sales and then I moved to Synergy.
How was Synergy?
At Synergy, I worked with Elie Pariente, [the president and CEO]. He was someone that was young and doing something incredible. Everyone respected him. He gave me a chance to represent Cipriani at 55 Wall Street exclusively and the Setai [on Broad Street]. Since it’s not that corporate [at Synergy], I was able to do things my way.
Do you remember your first sale?
Yes. It was to a Goldman Sachs partner that I’d rented an apartment to in Battery Park City for $7,000 or $8,000 a month. He called me saying he wanted to buy something. I came into that meeting with him more prepared than I’d ever been in my life. I made him believe that I had been doing sales for 15 years. I spent nights in the office studying and tried to bill myself as someone that was doing sales. His budget was up to $6 million. We ended up closing a $5.9 million sale in Battery Park, a combination of two apartments.
How did you hear about “Million Dollar Listing New York”?
I didn’t even watch the show before I was cast in it, but everyone had always been telling me I should be on that show. I came out of 55 Wall Street one day and got a call from an 818 number. There was this girl on the line with a very sweet voice. She said, “Have you heard about ‘Million Dollar Listing New York’?” That conversation took over an hour. I have no idea [who recommended me].
What was the audition process like?
I had to do some paperwork, filling out questions, and then we did an interview on Skype. After that, the casting director came to New York to the Thompson Hotel and we did an interview on camera. They asked me about how competitive I am. I said I don’t compete with anyone but myself. When the interview was over, she said, “I think you’re way too nice for this show.” I thought, “Maybe I am not the guy for this thing.” I started really wanting it but at that point I thought I was not going to get it.
Who else was in the running?
One day at Synergy, the admin in the office said she’d been on the Upper East Side having drinks with some friends and she met a guy who said he was going to be the new cast member on “Million Dollar Listing.” My heart went down to the ground. He told her the agreement was already in place and they were waiting for the contract to be signed. I booked myself a ticket for Los Angeles to go that afternoon and smash into the offices [of the executive producer] and give them a reason to choose no one but me. All the girls in the office said I was being too aggressive.
What did you do instead?
I called the casting director. She said they hadn’t even sent the tapes to the producers yet. I asked her if she was lying. She said, “No, but now you’re being annoying.” Two days later, the executive producers called me and said it was between me and another guy. They were also worried about the fact that I was moving companies, since all my listings were tied to Synergy. I rolled the dice.
How did you approach Ilan Bracha, the founder of Keller Williams NYC, about the show?
I sent him an email but I didn’t get a response so I went to Eric Barron [CEO of Keller Williams NYC]. I told him everything about the show. He put me in the office with Ilan and I told him how I was going to go to the end of the world to make things happen. He has a cameo on the show when I first come to the firm.
When did you find out you got the gig?
They never actually told me I got it. For all I knew, I was shooting alongside another guy. I just figured that at some point we’d been shooting for so long [I must have gotten it].
What are your interactions like with Fredrik and Ryan in Season 2?
I like everybody because I understand that everyone has a reason they are the way they are, but we live in a very competitive world. When it came down to a listing appointment where Fredrik and I were both pitching the same seller, our friendship was set aside. I respect them both but we’re competing. There was a development that we both pitched at the same time. He got it.
What about Ryan?
Ryan is a very interesting guy. I don’t hang out with him – in fact, we’re not really allowed to speak to each other to keep the authenticity of the show. When I was with him on camera, he was coming into my open houses and trying to ruin an amazing vibe that I had spent weeks trying to create. We had open houses by chance in the same building and I was trying to direct all the people coming to his open house to mine and he was trying to direct them to his. We’re all sharks in our own way. The three of us going at it is fast-paced.
Your brother is also with KWNYC now. Will he be in the show?
He has a lot of cameos. He’s the total opposite of me. He’s very introverted. He’s very shy. But he’s the smartest guy I’ve ever seen. We’re talking, the camera starts rolling and he freezes. He’s not himself. But I said ‘the cameras not here.’ He got used to it.