Reality TV shows based on real estate are ‘horrible’ for the industry, says brokerage CEO

A customer looks at listings on display outside a Brown Harris Stevens offices in New York.

Brendan McDermid | Reuters

The rise of reality TV shows featuring real estate has been “horrible” for the industry and the image of its brokers, a top brokerage CEO said Thursday.

“This is not who we are,” said Bess Freedman, CEO of Brown Harris Stevens, at the The Real Deal’s NYC Showcase + Forum on Thursday. “We want to make sure that we maintain the integrity of our business.”

Freedman took aim at shows like Netflix’s “Selling Sunset” and Bravo’s “Million Dollar Listing,” which highlight personal dramas and battles behind high-end real estate deals. Several of the shows’ stars have translated their newfound fame into commercial success, using social media to amplify their following and reach with clients.

“All of this stuff, like ‘Selling Sunset,’ is horrible,” Freedman said. “It makes it look like … these girls show up in gala gowns to open houses. We want to maintain the quality of what we do.”

Ryan Serhant, one of the stars of “Million Dollar Listing New York” and the founder of Serhant brokerage, shot back at Freedman on stage, saying traditional real estate brokers need to embrace the future of technology and media.

“The old way of selling real estate has completely changed,” he said.

Serhant said 25 million viewers around the world watched Bravo’s “Million Dollar Listing New York” in its first season in 2012.

Ryan Serhant visits Build Brunch to discuss “Sell It Like Serhant: How to Sell More, Earn More, and Become the Ultimate Sales Machine” at Build Studio on Sept. 20, 2018, in New York City.

Roy Rochlin | Getty Images

While many of those early viewers were younger and couldn’t afford the multimillion-dollar apartments on the show, “buyers are influenced by the kids,” Serhant said.

Serhant launched his own agency in 2020, training agents to produce videos, boost their social media followers and grow their personal brands. Last year, the firm saw over $2 billion in sales and 35% growth in its number of agents.

“I want our agents to be able to do deals everywhere, to anyone, on any platform,” he said.

But Freedman said experience with negotiating deals, relationships developed over time and deep knowledge about neighborhoods and buildings remain the cornerstones of selling real estate.

“We sell real estate, not technology,” Freedman said. “We work hard.”

Disclosure: CNBC parent NBCUniversal owns Bravo.

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