Top resi execs talk brand building, tech and politics at TRD NYC event

BHS CEO Bess Freedman, Serhant founder Ryan Serhant and Douglas Elliman CEO Scott Durkin kicked off industry discussions

UPDATED, May 20, 2022, 9:30 a.m.: Brown Harris Stevens CEO Bess Freedman is no fan of the wave of real estate reality TV shows that made Ryan Serhant, founder of the eponymous brokerage, famous – and she let him know as much during a panel discussion for The Real Deal’s New York City Showcase + Forum.

“I do think reality TV is very deflating to what we do because I think it makes it look effortless,” Freedman said, pointing to Netflix’s recent hit “Selling Sunset” as a misleading look at the industry. “It makes the consumer think all you have to do is look cute, have a fancy car and boom — you can do a deal.”

A wide-ranging discussion between Serhant, Freedman and Douglas Elliman CEO Scott Durkin at times turned into a showdown between the industry’s old guard and the new wave.

Durkin and Freedman emphasized the value of legacy firms, which they say provide infrastructure and a transfer of knowledge crucial to developing less experienced brokers, as opposed to a brand-centric approach.

“It’s a relationship business,” Freedman said. “You need technology, that’s a given, but you also need to understand the buildings and the process.”

Serhant, who built his firm around harnessing the power of his reality TV stardom, touted his firm’s in-house production team, studios and public relations team.

“To give those agents the resources to build their own brands so they can generate leads in their sleep … I wanted to create a platform where they could do that,” he said.

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The panelists’ conversation came back to relationships as they weighed Compass’ growth in recent years, which has largely taken shape by wooing and poaching agents with generous sign-on offers. Durkin cast doubt on the company’s future, which has looked rocky in recent months after the stock plummeted in the wake of its IPO before rebounding to over $5 since its last earnings report.

“If you don’t have the structure we have at our companies here, a lot of people went to the other side and they realized there isn’t much there,” Durkin said. “I’ve never been one for fixed marriages and, as Bess said, a lot of people are turning around and coming back.”

The three panelists did find common ground on the city’s politics and the future of the residential real estate market, which they said would be buoyed by tight inventory.

All three voiced optimism for New York City Mayor Eric Adams’ nascent administration, but Durkin aired a few specific requests for the new mayor.

“Clean up the damn city, it’s kind of dirty and filthy and full of garbage, get rid of those exterior restaurant sheds, they’re really awful,” Durkin said.

Freedman and Serhant voiced support for pro-business policies and policies that keep rich residents in the city.

“You have to be pro-New York, you have to be pro-industry, you have to be pro-business,” Serhant said. “It’s trickle down.”

An earlier version of this story incorrectly quoted Durkin as commenting on “mixed” marriage. The quote was changed upon review of an event recording and full context of his comment.