Q&A: Christopher Kromer of “Beat the House”

Reality star and longtime Halstead broker talks value, New York candor and keeping cool under pressure

Christopher Kromer
Christopher Kromer

Christopher Kromer, an 18-year veteran of New York City real estate and Halstead Property broker, is co-starring in HGTV’s latest real estate reality venture “Beat the House,” a show aiming to convince buyers who have already found a new home that a better buy is available. The show, produced by Ardaban, a division of Shine America, premieres Jan. 7.

Kromer, who began his career in Halstead’s Upper West Side office and is now based out of the firm’s Greenwich Village location, recently worked on the sale of NASCAR superstar Jeff Gordon’s $25 million condominium at 15 Central Park West. He has also hosted the television show “Cool in your Code” on NYC TV and previously appeared on HGTV’s “25 Biggest Real Estate Mistakes.” He co-stars with JoJo Jones, a Macon, Ga.-based broker at Sheridan, Solomon & Associates and owner of clothing store the Midnight Pickle.

In his first interview about the show, Kromer sat down with The Real Deal to discuss the first episodes, expanding his broker expertise beyond the five boroughs and how he determines value.

What can we expect to see on “Beat the House”?
JoJo and I are charged with finding homes for sale that surpass the wishes of homebuyers who think they’ve already found a home — they have house in mind, then are shown houses that maybe provides things they originally overlooked. My focus is on finding the smartest investment, while her passion is pairing people with their dream home.

Where is the show going to take place?
The first couple of episodes are in the Tri-state area: Long Island, Westchester and New Jersey.

Are there certain challenges you face in the New York City market that you don’t in other areas, or vice versa?
I wasn’t as experienced in selling houses as condominiums, co-ops and townhouses, where there are different expectations. New Yorkers are comfortable with a certain size bedroom, but most buyers are aghast when they see certain sized bedrooms and will totally dismiss [the house]. New Yorkers are more versatile and will make things work. Me, for instance, I’m expecting my first child in February, and we’re trying to carve out a baby’s room from a home office.

But there are lots of similarities too. Everyone wants to know where and how the school district is, how close to school and family and work they’re going to be, what the neighborhood is like.

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What about this particular real estate reality show appealed to you?
It’s more about the process of looking for a home, as opposed to a drama-filled reality show. I’m obviously interested in that whole process and know a lot of people who aren’t familiar with it but want to know about real estate – you go to a party and everybody wants to hear about real estate, is looking for a house or was looking for a house. I thought there would be a lot of good takeaways for buyers.

Your particular focus is on finding the smartest investment. How do you determine that? What are you looking for?
You start with understanding value – in particular, this house and how its offerings tie in with the buyer’s needs. You have to consider any unexpected expenses that might come up, the condition of the house, costs they might not have accounted for, such as renovations if they’re at the top end of their budget. A lot of people don’t necessarily figure that in.

It’s a combination of buyer-specific value and how the market values the property, if they’re overpaying for it, for example. If it’s a great value but over their budget, that’s not a good buy at all.

This being TV, you are of course on a schedule. How did that challenge you?
Normally, working with a buyer, you have a process to learn about what their needs are. And even though you learn pretty quickly about their must-haves and what they can do without, in this case we only had a two- to three-hour introduction to the buying couple, then [we] toured the house they’re interested in and [then] had to go off on our own and find something that was a better value and fit. It was challenging with such a limited timeframe to get to know them and intuitively decide where they might compromise.

Did your background as a New York broker bring certain strengths, or give you an approach that is different from JoJo’s?
New York is like the school of hard knocks. It really is such a challenging, tough, competitive market that I’ve learned to compete with the best. I do that by serving my clients the best, being quick to the bat and really understanding value quickly, which helped on this show because we had a limited time frame. I also think that as a New York broker my approach is no B.S. – I cut to the chase and get straight to the point, which serves you well with a lot of clients.

You’re pretty cool under pressure then?
I’m extremely cool under pressure. I grew up with my mom as a broker. She was also a very shrewd negotiator, aggressive for her clients, and I learned to make that my own.

A number of firms have balked at having their brokers participate in reality TV shows. What are your thoughts on that, and what was Halstead’s reaction to “Beat the House”?
I can understand the hesitation with some of the more gossip-oriented shows. This isn’t so drama-filled; it’s more focused on the process of the search. Halstead has done nothing but embrace me and the opportunity – I have their full support.