The Real Deal New York

Reality bites: A history of reality TV and real estate

By Jane C. Timm | March 01, 2012 07:00AM

From left: Ryan Serhant, Michael Lorber and Fredrik Eklund in “Million Dollar Listing New York”

When MTV’s “The Real World” premiered in 1992, few could guess that reality shows would eventually come to dominate prime-time TV, with monster hits like “The Bachelor” and “Jersey Shore” boosting networks’ ratings.

Manhattan real estate is a cutthroat business often involving big dollar signs, so it’s no surprise that New York brokers have made their way onto a slew of reality shows since then.

At first, real estate agents tended to be bit players on these shows — like when Citi Habitats’ Carla Kupiec rented Khloe Kardashian an apartment on “Keeping Up with the Kardashians.” Others took breaks from the real estate business in pursuit of becoming the next “Apprentice” or winning “Survivor.” But networks are now producing shows focused explicitly on New York real estate, starting, of course, with HGTV’s “Selling New York” in 2010. And March will see the premiere of two new real estate-related reality shows on Bravo — “Million Dollar Listing New York” and “Love Broker.”

This month, The Real Deal traced the evolution of New York real estate brokers on reality TV.

Survivor, 2002
After two seasons on “Survivor,” Manhattan isn’t the toughest island Corcoran’s Shii Ann Huang has worked on. The first Asian-American to appear on the CBS show, Huang was on the Thailand season in 2002 and again on the “all-stars” season in 2004, when she was the 11th player voted off the island and won a car. Huang started her real estate career shortly after her second “Survivor” stint. “I called up Barbara Corcoran and said, ‘I was on ‘Survivor,’ give me a job!’ ” Huang recalled. Now a Corcoran senior vice president, she is currently listing a $615,000 apartment at the Novo condominium in Brooklyn and a $9,500-per-month rental at 108 Waverly Place in Greenwich Village. It turns out “Survivor” was good training for real estate, she said, because they both have “a lot of different personalities and a lot of big egos.” Huang is not the only “Survivor” real estate alum in New York. Corcoran Group agent Matthew “Sash” Lenahan was one of the final three contestants on “Survivor: Nicaragua” in 2010. According to a Corcoran spokesperson, he left the firm in 2011; it’s not clear where he’s now working.

The Bachelor, 2004
Real estate pros are often selected for reality-show stardom based on their romantic potential, not just their business acumen. In 2004, for example, Halstead Property agent Jay Overbye appeared on ABC’s “The Bachelor,” competing against Nevada fisherman Byron Velvick for the starring role on the show. Overbye was eliminated, leaving Velvick to continue the season, but the Halstead executive vice president said he has no regrets, and even got a townhouse listing as a result of his participation. The daughter of a potential client ”recognized me from the show,” he said, “and that was my in.” Would he be a “Bachelor” again? “I’m living with my girlfriend,” he said, “so no!” J Companies Construction Manager J.P. Rosenbaum had better luck in 2011 on “The Bachelorette,” when star Ashley Herbert chose him to win the show — and her hand in marriage. The two are now planning their wedding, and as The Real Deal reported, recently moved into a rental apartment at the Atlas New York on 38th Street in Manhattan.

The Apprentice, 2004
Jennifer Crisafulli made headlines in 2004, when Donald Trump and Prudential Douglas Elliman both fired her in the same week. While appearing on NBC’s “The Apprentice,” Crisafulli complained that she lost a challenge due to bad reviews from “two old, Jewish fat ladies … the pinnacle of the New York jaded old bags.” The Donald fired her shortly thereafter, and Elliman, reportedly offended by her comments, did the same. Crisafulli moved back to her native upstate New York after getting married in 2005, and has stayed under the radar since. Her LinkedIn page describes her as a “Producer and Editor of Photography/Public Speaker/Graphic Illustrator.”

Date Patrol, 2004
For Bond New York’s Jodi Rothman, TLC’s “Date Patrol” was a crucial step on her way to a career in commercial and residential real estate. In 2004, the show followed a mid-20s Rothman, who worked in marketing at the time, around New York for a month. On the show, she worked with communication, style and body language coaches to improve her dating prospects. “Using the skills I learned, I met my husband a year later,” she told The Real Deal. “He was the one who told me to get into real estate!”

House Hunters, 2005
In 2005, Coldwell Banker Hunt Kennedy’s Edward Joseph appeared on an episode of HGTV’s “House Hunters,” helping a client find a fixer-upper apartment. It was a fitting choice: Before he worked in real estate, Joseph was an actor who appeared on soaps like “One Life to Live.” Now at Brown Harris Stevens, Joseph said he loved being back on camera. “Everyone was really professional,” he said. Heddings Property Group Senior Vice President Michelle Churchill also appeared on the show in 2008, while at Elliman.

Tim Gunn’s Guide to Style, 2008
Fashion designer Tim Gunn gave Citi Habitats Senior Vice President Caroline Bass a style makeover on his show in 2008, after she responded to a producer’s search for a real estate agent. “It was a little harsh to hear some things,” Bass said — the famously blunt Gunn called her style “frumpy” and “outdated.” Still, the appearance was a “great experience” overall, she said, adding: “Who could not have better style after Tim Gunn?” She repaid the favor a few months later, when she helped Gunn purchase a $1.5 million, two-bedroom condo on the Upper West Side.

Keeping Up With the Kardashians, 2009
The cost of New York City real estate can be shocking — even for the luxury-loving stars of E!’s “Keeping Up with the Kardashians.” Citi Habitats agents Carla Kupiec and Tim Drucker learned that the hard way in 2009, when Khloe Kardashian (before her marriage to basketball star Lamar Odom) hired them to find her an apartment for a temporary stay in New York. As the cameras rolled, the two agents showed the California native everything from a $20,000-per-month townhouse on Greene Street to a $1,500 basement apartment in the East Village, as she gaped at city prices and tiny studio apartments. “We walked into a room and I said, ‘This is called a studio,’” Kupiec recalled. “And she goes, ‘So, I eat in the same room that I sleep?’” After filming the episode, the team eventually found her a two-bedroom downtown for around $5,000 per month.

The Real Housewives of New York City, 2010
In 2010, Citi Habitats agent Jason Saft appeared on “The Real Housewives” while looking for an Upper West Side apartment for cast member LuAnn de Lesseps, a.k.a. Countess LuAnn. His appearance was brief — “it’s fun to see a 12-hour day edited down to 2.5 minutes,” he said. While the Countess didn’t end up renting an apartment with him, choosing instead to move in to her Hamptons house full-time, Saft said constant reruns of the show have helped him get clients. He even reconnected with distant relatives, who recognized him on the show and contacted him via Facebook. As for the Countess, who often appears prickly on TV: “She’s very funny, very direct and very charming,” he said.

Selling New York, 2010
The success of “Selling New York” — which features brokers from New York firms Gumley Haft Kleier, Core and Warburg Realty — proved that a show purely about Manhattan real estate could find a loyal viewership. The show now garners roughly 2 million viewers a week, according to HGTV. And unlike some reality TV, it is never sensational, said series regular Deborah Luppard of Warburg. “We’re not egging people on to do stupid things,” she said. “It just feels like someone following me around while I do my job.” Warburg President Frederick Peters said the show has been incredibly beneficial for business. Meanwhile, the dog-toting Kleier clan (comprised of matriarch Michele Kleier and daughters Samantha and Sabrina) even scored a HarperCollins book deal thanks to their newfound fame. Their novel, “Hot Property,” came out in September.

Home by Novogratz, 2011
As if Bob and Cortney Novogratz weren’t busy enough with a Manhattan-based design firm and seven kids, they signed on to star in the Bravo reality show “9 by Design” in 2010. It was shelved last year, but HGTV picked up a new show about the couple, which premiered last summer. Called “Home by Novogratz,” this iteration focuses more on the design business and less on the Novogratz offspring. Currently filming its second season, the show will return next month.

Why Am I Still Single? 2011
Miron Properties’ Rich Awn has appeared twice on VH1’s matchmaking show “Why Am I Still Single?” and he has already earned a healthy 15 minutes of fame for his “Richisms” (“I’m like the George Clooney of Brooklyn”). Awn said he enjoys hamming it up on the show: One scene showed him gardening in a kimono, while sipping Kombucha out of a cocktail glass. He was even proud to be lambasted by Joel McHale, host of “The Soup” on E! “I was picked on by Joel McHale,” he told The Real Deal. “That is next to godliness!” When he’s not on TV, he focuses on rentals in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, which surprises some clients. “I was working with a customer who had seen the show,” Awn said, “and it dawned on them halfway through the appointment.”

Sweet Home Alabama, 2011
Bond New York’s Michael Chadwick finished in the top 10 last year on “Sweet Home Alabama,” a dating reality show on Country Music Television. In addition to renting apartments in Midtown West and the Upper West Side, Chadwick is an actor who recently starred in an off-off Broadway production entitled “The Stranger Inside.” To him, “Sweet Home Alabama” felt like a “paid vacation,” he said. Back in New York, Chadwick’s acting chops are good for business — he recently started showing apartments to a paparazzo he met on the red carpet.

Love Broker, 2012 (premieres March 5)
After a decade of finding people homes, real estate broker Jennifer Zucher wanted to help them find love, too. So Zucher, a principal at the Upper East Side boutique brokerage Plaza Real Estate Group, started the matchmaking company Project Soulmate with her best friend, Lori Zaslow. Three years later, as The Real Deal reported, Bravo has selected them as the stars of its new reality show, “Love Broker.” Plaza Real Estate is a family business, run by Zucher’s husband and her mother, and Zucher specializes in high-end condo sales. While matchmaking has been a very successful venture, she said she’s “not ready” to give up real estate.

Million Dollar Listing New York, 2012 (premieres March 7)
Unlike the more sedate “Selling New York,” “Million Dollar Listing New York” focuses on the big egos and behind-the-scenes drama of New York real estate. In one scene, a snake is delivered to the office of Nest Seekers’ Ryan Serhant, with an anonymous note that says, “Saw this and thought of you.” A spin-off of the California-based “Million Dollar Listing,” the New York show stars 27-year-old Serhant, Swedish adult film star-turned-broker Fredrik Eklund and real estate royal Michael Lorber, the son of Elliman Chairman Howard Lorber. Asked whether the show could deter potential clients, Serhant said he’s not worried. “You can’t please everybody,” he said. Overall, Serhant said the show is a crucial way to set him apart from competitors. “Everyone’s advertising, everyone knows people, and everyone works all the time,” he said. “But not everyone has ‘Million Dollar Listing’ on Bravo.”

  • guest

    Bravo’s original Million Dollar Listing from 2006 (set in LA) is conspicuously missing from this piece given the extremely loose ties to the industry some of the shows listed (Date Patrol- really?) have.