Industry Poll: Is “Million Dollar Listing Miami” helping or hurting the business?

Chad Carroll, Samantha DeBianchi and Chris Leavitt (via Bravo)
Chad Carroll, Samantha DeBianchi and Chris Leavitt (via Bravo)

Reality TV shows tend to generate strong opinions, one way or the other. Viewers either love them or hate them. Very few who tune in are indifferent.

That’s particularly true in the South Florida real estate industry after the debut of “Million Dollar Listing Miami.” Since TRD SoFla began posting reviews of the show this season, commenters have come to the site to gripe or commend. And while the series has just finished its first season — a spokesperson for BRAVO said the network has not issued an official announcement whether “Million Dollar Listing Miami” will return for a second season — one thing remains clear: industry insiders are divided over the show’s impact on the South Florida real estate business.

“Million Dollar Listing” cast member Samantha DeBianchi, founder of DeBianchi Realty, claims the show has helped build her brand.

“The visibility that it has added for me is priceless,” she said. “When people think South Florida real estate, I am one of the top agent names that come to mind. Because of this, I have been working with many more buyers and sellers, and overall my business has grown exponentially.”

Not surprisingly, Chris Leavitt, another “Million Dollar Listing” star and an associate broker at Douglas Elliman, agrees. He said doing the show substantially boosted his business.

“I have sold in excess of $20 million, plus obtained over $100 million in listings since the few weeks that it has been off the air,” Leavitt said. “I would say that alone was worth doing the show.”

DeBianchi notes the show has not just affected her personal business in a positive way, but also the industry in general.

“I think people have always heard that South Florida was a hot spot real estate destination but never truly understood why,” she said. “[The show] gave an inside look at properties ranging from condos to single family homes to preconstruction, giving viewers an understanding of what makes South Florida real estate so unique.”

But not everyone sees the show as a positive for the industry.

ISG World principal Philip Spiegelman said the show “did not reflect well on the interests of the buyer and implied that brokers were self-interested.”

Because of this, Spiegelman voiced concern that “it may have affected both the confidence in our industry and credibility.”

To illustrate just how polarizing a topic this is, opinions differ even within the same firm.

Frank Zepeda-Campos, another associate broker at Douglas Elliman, mentioned a pitfall he has witnessed: many new agents entering the market bring an unrealistic expectation about the business.

“We have seen our brokerage flooded with new recruits,” he said. “It’s bittersweet. On one side there are new hungry agents that would love to jump in on the action, and on the other there are people that think that this business is as easy as it appears on the TV show.”

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It appears the show has indeed inspired some to get into business.

John Greer, the school director for Gold Coast Schools — the institute that “Million Dollar Listing” stars Chad Carroll and Samantha DeBianchi attended — said some of his instructors have mentioned that students discuss the show in just about every class, and he has been told “that at least a couple of students have indicated that they are getting into the business partly because of the show.”

Potentially unrealistic expectations aside, Greer contends the show has been a good learning tool. Some students in his Miami facility that watch the program have commented to their instructor that it is, “productive, dynamic and the sales tips are excellent.” Another Miami student commented that she “has learned to create a really nice open house to attract customers” and how to handle deals falling through, “as to not repeat the same mistake so you are not losing in total,” according to Greer.

Greer feels that having “some of the nicest real estate in South Florida highlighted is very good for the market” and with viewers getting to see the competitive nature of the business, “hopefully the takeaway will be that there are opportunities for those who work hard.”

Roderyck Reiter, sales director at Miami project Krystal Tower, agrees that “the show gives the South Florida market additional exposure, so I have no doubt that it has led to some additional business and interest in our local market.”

Carlos Garcia, board member of the Master Brokers Forum, an organization which represents the top 250 agents in Miami Dade County, does think the show is upping exposure of the area’s real estate. “It is a positive thing for international buyers and investors to get a peek of Miami and our beaches.” But Garcia suggests that “the show did not depict the actual daily life of a Realtor here in Miami” because it portrayed the agents making deals so easily.

“In reality, agents work extremely hard to consummate deals and earn their commissions,” said Garcia, who also blasted the show for “negative commentaries from the agents on the show regarding their clients.”

Gil Dezer, a developer who appeared in two episodes as Samantha’s client, believes the show was good for Miami overall. “Where the show lacked a bit was based on the brokers they chose,” Dezer noted. “There weren’t really any seasoned Miami brokers on the show.”

Dezer also expressed concern about the lack of diversity, pointing out that more than 50 percent of the market’s new construction sales come from South America. “One would ask how they can do a show in Miami without having Latin brokers on the show,” he said.

That seeming lack of reality in the reality series irks some industry professionals.

Mark Zilbert, president and CEO of Zilbert Realty, believes the show is “heavily contrived, scripted and exaggerated” and that the open houses are “staged and unrealistic” because “most of the broker open houses are attended by recent real estate school graduates trying to learn about local inventory and much less attended by actual brokers with buyers.”

“I happened to notice the attendees at several of these open houses — agents who I know of, who are not true top producers,” Zilbert said. “They were just there as eye candy.”

Zilbert also believes the show failed to “uncover the real secrets of why the Miami market is so hot. It merely focused on the humdrum lives of three realtors, each of whom felt they were larger than life, when the viewing audience clearly saw them as people who just couldn’t make the rest of us believe in them.”

If renewed for an additional season, it’s possible the show will be tweaked. Peter Ancona, the broker and owner of Ancona Real Estate, said “next time there should be less attention to co-brokered deals, properties outside of Miami and the personal relationships of the stars.”

[What is your take on the impact of reality television on South Florida’s real estate scene? Feel free to weigh in with your thoughts in the comment section below.]