Ryan Serhant fires back at Bess Freedman, calls legacy brokerages “scared”

“Million Dollar Listing” star responds to BHS CEO’s claims that reality TV harms real estate industry

Ryan Serhant and Bess Freedman (iStock, Illustration by Kevin Cifuentes for The Real Deal)
Ryan Serhant and Bess Freedman (iStock, Illustration by Kevin Cifuentes for The Real Deal)

Ryan Serhant is pushing back on claims made by Brown Harris Stevens CEO Bess Freedman at The Real Deal’s New York City Showcase + Forum last week that reality television shows are harmful to the public’s perception of the real estate industry.

Sharing a panel with Douglas Elliman CEO Scott Durkin and Serhant, who has starred on “Million Dollar Listing New York” since it premiered in 2012, Freedman told TRD’s Hiten Samtani that “reality TV is very deflating to what we do because I think it makes it look effortless.”

“It makes the consumer think all you have to do is look cute, have a fancy car and boom — you can do a deal,” she said.

Freedman elaborated in a story published by Inman Friday, arguing that reality shows about real estate could open the industry to further scrutiny.

“The real estate industry is under attack by lawmakers over the commission structure,” Freedman told the publication. “And I think these shows perpetuate a myth that real estate is glamorous, get-rich-quick, easy, and that’s why it’s sort of fair game to come after the real estate professionals.”

Freedman also took aim at the “over-sexualization of women on shows like ‘Selling Sunset.’”

“It’s all women with very short skirts, their boobs are out, sometimes they don’t even have [pants] on the bottom,” she told Inman. “What does that say to women who want to go into the real estate industry?”

In an edited, five-minute “raw response” video posted on his Instagram page Sunday evening, Serhant argued that reality shows about real estate have benefited the industry by encouraging young people to enter it.

He went on to say that legacy firms like BHS and Elliman, which he seemed to compare to AOL and Blockbuster, are ill-equipped to take advantage of the opportunities reality television creates and “kind of scared.”

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Shows like “Million Dollar Listing New York” have “put the idea that being a real estate agent… is something that you can do for anybody to millions and millions of people,” Serhant said. “It has made the business of being a real estate agent more diverse, made it more open to more groups of people, and made it something young people would actually want to do.”

Serhant went on to say that reality shows “sparked the future of sales” by ushering in a content-based approach to selling property and building brands around agents.

“We are 20 months old, building the firm of the future, competing with firms that have either been around for hundreds of years or have billions of dollars, or both, and we are being super competitive. And people are kind of scared,” he said.

Brown Harris Stevens did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Legacy brands do have a presence on reality television, including through one of Serhant’s long-time “Million Dollar Listing” castmates, Douglas Elliman’s Fredrik Eklund, who in January announced he was leaving the show after 11 years. Elliman alone has had an additional 17 agents on reality shows.

Serhant, who started his real estate career in 2008 with Nest Seekers International, rose to fame in 2010 when he was cast on “Million Dollar Listing New York.” By 2015, Serhant’s exclusives accounted for more than half of Nest Seekers’ listings, and in 2016 he placed second in The Real Deal’s ranking of Manhattan’s top brokers by sales volume.

He left Nestseekers in 2020 to start his own firm, which placed 11th on TRD’s 2021 Manhattan brokerage rankings. Serhant himself ranked fourth among the borough’s top individual brokerage teams.