Is “Million Dollar Listing NY” helping or hurting the business?

Some say TV series is good for sales; others say little is real in the reality show

Sep.September 12, 2014 03:55 PM

For better or worse, reality TV is now a staple of the television industry. The real estate business in New York City has not escaped the trend, with series like “Selling New York” and “Million Dollar Listing New York” running regularly on major cable networks. “Million Dollar Listing” in particular has garnered large ratings, a devoted following and an Emmy nomination. While that’s good news for Bravo, which airs the show, industry insiders are divided over reality TV’s impact on the New York real estate business.

Edan Pinkas, a real estate attorney with Friedberg Pinkas PLLC, who has seen every episode of MDLNY and represented many of the buyers and sellers filmed for the show, said he thinks the series has accurately portrayed the highs and lows of the real estate process – and boosted business. “The large viewership of the show in the U.S. has made purchasing property in New York by out-of-staters more prevalent,” he told The Real Deal.

He added that the social media focus of the show’s stars – Ryan Serhant, Fredrik Eklund and Luis Ortiz – has altered industry thinking about social networking.  “I think the show has changed how real estate is bought and sold in New York by showing how social media is an essential tool for being successful as a broker.”

Others, however, don’t see a lot of good coming from “Million Dollar Listing” or shows like it. “The basis of the client-broker relationship should have a fiduciary obligation that is cemented in trust and discretion,” said the founder of a residential brokerage who declined to be named. “The reality TV show is the complete opposite of reality. It is staged and appeals mostly to an unsophisticated audience.”

Eklund, an associate broker at Elliman, said that appearing on “Million Dollar Listing New York” has been great for his business, doubling it several times over. “Everyone told me not to do it, but I followed my gut,” he said, adding that developers in particular understand the power of a show that airs in 110 countries around the globe.

Leonard Steinberg, president of Urban Compass, acknowledged that “Million Dollar Listing” has been a wonderful “infomercial mechanism for the brokers whose careers it has fueled.” But Steinberg, a star broker in his own right, said he has concerns about how the series depicts the business of selling real estate. Indeed, Steinberg believes that some of the antics on the show have set the image of the brokerage profession “back a few decades.”

Even supporters of the reality series concede the show can, at times, stretch the bounds of believability. But Eddie Shapiro, owner of Nestseekers – Serhant’s firm – said he doesn’t see that as a major problem. “Buyers and sellers are not stupid,” he said. “They can differentiate between the entertainment parts and real business parts — it’s a conversation piece.”

“If I can have 20 agents in 20 different shows, I would jump on it,” he added.

Certainly, the publicity is hard to beat. In fact, the popularity of real estate reality shows is reshaping the business in some unexpected ways.

“Look at how crowded the real estate schools are today with those interested in getting their licenses,” said Jason Haber, an associate broker at Warburg Realty who appeared on “Selling New York.” “The same thing happened in journalism in 1976 when ‘All the President’s Men’ came out. Journalism became glamorized thanks to Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman, and then everyone then wanted to become a journalist.”

Stephen Gilpin, director of the New York Real Estate Institute, pointed out that most of his students watch the show. At Gilpin’s request, “Million Dollar Listing New York” stars Ortiz and Serhant have visited the school to speak to his students.

He did add, however, that he uses mistakes made in the series as teaching opportunities. In one episode of the show, for instance, Ortiz was investigated and reprimanded for altering property photos. “That was a topic of conversation with students for at least two weeks,” Gilpin said.

Still, Steinberg said he isn’t convinced that “Million Dollar Listing New York” is the best introduction to the business. By his lights, the series has “harmed new brokers terribly who enter an industry plagued with a bad reputation. For those wanting to enter the industry, [the show] makes it look so easy and quick … which is not the case. The level of inaccuracies is alarming.”

What is your take on the impact of reality television on New York’s real estate scene? Please weigh in with your thoughts in the comment section below.

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