Does reality TV pay?

A look at how small-screen exposure impacts the sales prospects and prices of featured properties

Fredrik Eklund (right) with developer Zach Vella at 471 Washington Street, on “Million Dollar Listing New York.”

Citi Habitats agent Jason Saft famously appeared on Bravo’s “The Real Housewives of New York” in 2010, while looking for an apartment for cast member LuAnn de Lesseps, a.k.a. Countess LuAnn.

The Countess didn’t end up renting an apartment from Saft, but the episode was far from a waste of his time. While on camera, he showed her an apartment at 1 Seventh Avenue South, where he had several listings. In the weeks after the show aired, he said, he saw an enormous uptick in interest in the Greenwich Village building.

One $7,500-per-month apartment, which became available a week after the show aired, found a tenant within two days, he said. Most of the interested parties referenced “Real Housewives.”

“It was the fastest turnaround we’d had of any apartment in the building,” Saft said. The TV appearance “added a certain cachet,” he added.

A listing at the Urban Glass House, camera-ready for an appearance on “Selling New York.”
A bevy of reality TV shows — like HGTV’s “Selling New York” and Bravo’s new show “Million Dollar Listing New York” — now feature New York City real estate, and seem to revel in showing off Manhattan’s luxurious, multimillion-dollar apartments. But how does all this exposure actually impact prices and sales activity?

As Saft discovered, a reality show appearance can boost activity for a property on the market. Listings that have lingered for months or years can suddenly gain traction after appearing on TV, brokers said. And television exposure can also speed up sales at a new condo or even spur interest in buildings by a particular developer, brokers said.

Core’s Shaun Osher and Emily Beare tour the rooftop terrace of 812 Fifth Avenue on “Selling New York.”
“A seller can get to 2.5 million people in one 30-minute show, which is more exposure than most listings will get in a lifetime,” said Sabrina Kleier Morgenstern of Gumley Haft Kleier, a regular on “Selling New York.”

That said, while reality shows may lead to more activity, they don’t seem to significantly impact a unit’s final sales price, brokers said. And sometimes the strategy can backfire: There’s always a chance that producers might emphasize an apartment’s less-than-stellar features, deterring potential buyers.

“Anytime you go on TV, it’s a double-edged sword,” said Prudential Douglas Elliman broker Victoria Shtainer. “You never know what you’re going to get.”

Speeding up sales

Morgenstern recently represented a buyer at 50 Gramercy Park North, an apartment building attached to the Gramercy Park Hotel. Due in part to high maintenance fees, Morgenstern said, the unit had been sitting on the market for more than a year.

Then it appeared on “Selling New York” with listing broker Kirk Rundhaug of Core. Activity picked up, with several potential buyers touring the property.

“The exposure on any kind of national TV show helps tremendously just because it reaches such a large audience,” Rundhaug said.

Morgenstern’s client heard about the unit through the show, she said. He was interested in seeing it because he owned a condo in a hotel in Boston, Morgenstern said, and wanted something similar in New York. Within a few weeks, he’d signed a contract to buy the apartment.

The very act of filming inside a unit helps get attention within the brokerage community, often spurring deals before the footage even airs, Rundhaug said. At a penthouse unit Rundhaug listed a few years ago at 433 East 74th Street, he said, he received an offer on the day of filming, he said.

Leslie Modell, an associate broker at Warburg Realty and a “Selling New York” regular, said the very promise that an apartment will be featured on TV is enough to give prospective buyers a shove in the right direction.

“They think, ‘We better wrap this up before it airs,’ ” she said.

When Modell listed a unit at 301 East 78th Street earlier this year, the unit had spent 287 days on the market without finding a buyer, she said.

Then, when the owner agreed to have the apartment featured on the show, “I started marketing it in print as featured on the hit show ‘Selling New York,’” she recalled. “I also told all buyers that it was going to be on the show, and that attracted a lot of interest. … People think if it’s been on the show, it must be special.”

The unit went into contract a few weeks after the episode aired, Modell said.

While the show helped draw attention to the listing, it didn’t seem to do much for the price: The unit closed for just $995,000, almost $200,000 below the $1.18 million asking price. That was also the case at Morgenstern’s Gramercy Park deal, which sold for 23 percent off the $5.45 million asking price.

While TV exposure can help pique buyers’ interest in a unit, they don’t seem willing to pay extra just because an apartment has appeared on the small screen, said Shaun Osher, CEO of Core and another “Selling New York” regular.

“The market’s the market,” Osher said, “so I don’t think [TV] generally affects the sales price.”

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Saft found that renters were willing to pay slightly more at 1 Seventh Avenue South after seeing it on “Real Housewives.” Still, it’s very difficult to tell how much the added publicity impacted the sale price, and how much was simply market fluctuation.

Before the show, “we were getting 3 to 5 percent less” for units in the building compared to after the show aired, Saft said. But then again, “market conditions had improved” by the time of the airing.

And reality TV can also harm a listing, as Elliman’s Shtainer discovered when a three-bedroom Yorkville apartment she’d listed appeared on “Selling New York.”

The client viewing the apartment was an elderly lady; appalled by the thought of moving further east than Park Avenue, she harshly criticized the unit on camera. Luckily, the apartment had been sold a month before the show aired; if not, the appearance would likely have hurt its chances of selling.

“If the apartment hadn’t already gone into contract,” Shtainer said, “I would have lost the listing.”

But that’s the risk brokers take when they agree to have their listings filmed. Clients often disparage the apartments they see, both in the real world and on TV, Modell said.

“They say ‘I don’t like the view’ or ‘I don’t like the way it’s decorated,’ ” she said. “All publicity’s good publicity, but you don’t want someone ripping your apartment to shreds on a national TV show.”

Modell takes steps in advance of filming to reduce the possibility of a strong negative reaction from buyers, she said; selecting a “neutral” color palate, for example.

Sellers in glass houses

Reality TV also comes in handy when brokers want to change perceptions about a building or neighborhood, or even counteract negative publicity.

At the Urban Glass House condo in Soho, for example, sales had virtually stalled because of a much-publicized odor problem from a sanitation facility next door. An agent with two listings in the building, Core’s Tom Postilio, decided to spread the word about newly unveiled city plans for a new building to house the odorous garbage trucks.

“I spearheaded an effort, through ‘Selling New York,’ to show how fabulous the building is, factoring in the city’s plans,” said Postilio, who arranged an on-camera meeting with other brokers to strategize about how to reinvent the building’s image.

The episode, which aired in January 2011, also showed Postilio and Osher taking a tour through the building, pointing out its strengths: great views of the Statue of Liberty and generous layouts. It also painted the new sanitation facility as attractive-looking; “We called it a ‘condominium for garbage trucks,’ ” Postilio said.

The strategy worked: Four of six available units in the building sold within three months of the show’s broadcast.

“After the show aired, there was tons of extra traffic,” Postilio said. “There were at least 100 people through the door in the first 30 days, and a lot of them referenced the show.”

Developers, too, are seeing the benefit of TV’s current obsession with New York real estate.

“Million Dollar Listing New York” doesn’t have much impact on deals for individual listings, since the show airs almost a year after it’s filmed, when most units have already sold. (By contrast, “Selling New York,” appears only a few months after it’s shot.)

But developer Zach Vella said he’s seen a bump in activity at his properties, due in part to “Million Dollar Listing.”

While the show was being taped, Elliman’s Fredrik Eklund was marketing two of Vella’s new condo developments, 471 Washington Street and 939 Park Avenue.

Those two buildings are now sold out. But while filming, Eklund said he made sure to refer to Vella — who also appeared on camera — as one of “the hottest developers of the moment.”

Since “Million Dollar Listing” began airing in March, Vella said there’s been a definite uptick in interest in his other properties, including 60 Collister Street, a 15-unit condominium.

It’s hard to tell whether the interest comes from the show or from increasing demand for boutique downtown condos, Vella said. Still, he’s confident that the show has helped his properties.

“When people are buying multimillion-dollar apartments, they want to see other projects you’ve done,” he said.

This summer, the company will begin marketing another development, 250 Bowery. There’s already a waiting list of potential buyers, Eklund said.