Was it a joke, or for real?
That question made the rounds in broker circles after photos posted on Instagram last month showed celebrity agent Ryan Serhant giving $10,000 to a developer.
“Instead of sending you a phone charger or a bottle of champagne, here is $10,000 in cash. Happy holidays,” read a card addressed to Silverback Development’s head of marketing, Jenna Segal, and signed by Serhant and his team.
A second photo, posted by Silverback, showed a wad of $100 bills held together by an elastic band with the caption “Best holiday gift.”
The knee-jerk reaction was shock.
“What? $10,000 in cash?” said Steve Wagner, a partner at Wagner Berkow & Brandt. “Wow… It looks like a bribe.”
One broker who said he saw the photos on Serhant’s Instagram said it surprised him.
“What kind of message are you trying to send out?” the person asked. “The message was like, Work with Ryan Serhant and he’ll give you $10,000 in cash when the holidays come up.”
Both Silverback and Serhant said the money was fake, and the developer, who had hired Serhant and his team to handle sales and marketing at a Long Island City project, produced a photo of the card with a post-script written below in the same scrawl.
“P.S. the money isn’t real, but my dedication to your business is!” it read. Both parties said the message had not been visible in the photos on social media.
Serhant said he sent out wads of pretend cash to all of his developer clients this holiday season as a gag gift. He claimed that several clients besides Silverback posted photos of the gift on social media, but declined to name names except for The Real Deal’s publisher, who confirmed receiving $10,000 in fake bills.
“People don’t want to be in The Real Deal for gifts I send them,” Serhant said. “It’s so weird… It was never meant to go on social media.”
Serhant said that his past holiday gifts were more traditional — Cartier pens, a porcelain duck-shaped piggy bank from Tiffany’s — and that this year the play money was inspired by his agent-incentive video for Magnum Real Estate’s 196 Orchard, which involved $50,000 in real cash. He said that after the shoot he learned that he could have bought realistic fake money.
Wagner, the attorney, noted that even if the greenbacks had been real, the present would not have been illegal. A gift of cash under $10,000 does not have to be reported under federal law and, so long as there are no strings attached, is fully legal.
Serhant said he has no regrets and won’t be deterred by his critics. “Those people are stupid,” he said. “It’s funny. Next year I’m going to send a fake $1 million to everybody.”
Write to Erin Hudson at [email protected]