Kelly Killoren Bensimon is perhaps best known for the few seasons she spent on Bravo’s “The Real Housewives of New York City.” But since she left the show in 2011, Bensimon has taken on editing, writing, social media influencing and — most recently — luxury real estate in Manhattan. Bensimon chatted with The Real Deal about her jump into the industry, her love for social media and her take on all those reality real estate shows.
Note: This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
So you were with Warburg, you were with Dolly Lenz. What made you jump over to Douglas Elliman?
I started with Dolly [Lenz Real Estate] in November of 2017, and then I went to Warburg in March of 2018. Dolly is amazing, but I was a novice. [In] real estate, there is a major learning curve. I got my license in November 2017, and then I realized I needed a more structured environment, and so that’s when I went to Warburg because it was small and I thought that would be a great idea for me to learn about the business. It’s not like I’m a normal person going into real estate, so I had to be strategic about how I went into this business. I had a lot of eyeballs on me, so I wanted to take my time so I wanted to do it correctly.
Then I went back to Dolly [for a couple of months], because I thought, maybe I was ready for something like that. [But] I have a lot of commercial clients that I needed to help as well. Dolly is incredible in the residential market; I just needed a strategic partner that could help me with both residential and commercial [deals], so that’s why I went to Elliman. That’s why I went to Holly Parker.
You have a varied background — you’ve been a model, editor, author, on Real Housewives — what made you make this jump [to real estate]?
It’s interesting you said I have a varied background. My background is very specific: My background is lifestyle. When I started working as a model, I wore clothes that alluded to a certain lifestyle. When I was working for Elle Accessories and Gotham I wrote [about] and explored and celebrated a certain lifestyle, and now, in real estate, I’m actually able to package that and tie a nice bow on everything. It’s all the same. The $5 million house has a $5 million lifestyle, so I can speak to both parts.
I think [what] separates me from other brokers is that yes, I’m a transactions person, however, I also I want you to live your best life. I’m not [the] typical face of real estate. I smile a lot, and I have a lot of energy, and I think that hopefully my enthusiasm will be contagious and people will respond to how much I love New York. I’ve been here a long time and I’m really excited for my new adventure.
Can you talk about one of [your early] deals?
One opportunity that I had when I was with Warburg was [working on] the social media [marketing] for an apartment. It was a beautiful penthouse at 350 West 14th Street and I think a lot of clients really gravitated to seeing an actual person in the apartment walking around. It’s different than when you just see an image.
It sounds like social is going to be a big part of your process, your marketing tool.
Real estate porn is going to be the new influencer. It’s really a big, big part of what people love to watch. People love to dream.
When did you come to the realization that real estate is your next step?
To be totally transparent, my mother fell ill and we needed to sell our family home [in Illinois], and I wanted to get my real estate license to oversee and make sure that everything was OK with the selling of our home. Even though I didn’t have reciprocity with Illinois, I could still oversee what was happening.
Especially on the luxury side, there’s been a bit of an oversupply [of units]. Any thoughts or strategies to tackle that?
This fall is going to be very exciting and very challenging for me. As far as the market is concerned, we see markets ebb and flow. There is a lot on the market right now, but that’s all good news because it’s a buyer’s market. So if you do have cash in your pocket, there’s a lot of amazing deals to be had — not only in New York but also in the Hamptons.
Do you ever plan to get into that world, the Hamptons real estate market?
A lot of people ask me about their houses and where they should rent and buy and sell. And the person that’s living in New York is the same person that’s living in the Hamptons and they’re all looking at the same thing.
To be honest with you, the past year has been such a massive learning curve. I wanted to make sure people recognize my value and respected the work that I do. I didn’t want to just be hustling my friends. I want to be a value add. Right now, I’m at such a beginning stage of my career that I don’t want to tell you that I’m working in one [area] and it could be something later. I want to be open to the evolution of my career.
I know you left Bravo—
—in the Ice Age.
What’s it been like, now a decade [on], looking back at that experience? How has it prepared you for the New York City real estate world?
I literally swam with sharks on Plum TV even before I was on Housewives, so I’m not really worried about swimming with the sharks in New York City.
How do real estate shows contrast with real life?
I think those shows are amazing. Those shows are incredible because they’re showing to the American public and to investors all over the world that [they should] invest in America. Is it really fun to watch someone’s new kitchen, someone’s new bathroom, someone’s new vertical garden, someone’s new outdoor space in New York City? Absolutely. And so the more eyeballs are on how great America is and how you should invest in America — yes please.
What’s your long-term vision for [your real estate career]?
I’m an empty nester right now, so it’s been, like, eight months since both of my girls have been in college, and it’s just kind of a brave new world for me. I’m really looking forward to sinking my teeth into this market, and the good thing about the past year is I’ve done my homework.
I definitely would like to work in Florida because I love spending time in Florida. I have a lot of people that I know in the Texas area and in Illinois obviously because I grew up there. I’m not sure exactly what my business plan is going to be for the next year. I know that from now until December I’m 100 percent focused on New York.
Where in Florida are you most interested in?
Probably Miami or Palm Beach. I took the Florida [licensing course] and then I just have to take the state [test]. I have to buckle down in September to do that.
Do you have any plans to move down to Florida?
Again, I am an empty nester so I’m open to a lot of possibilities. Wherever my clients are and wherever I see I’m working well is where I’ll be.
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