Exclusive: Ryan Serhant On UK Property, Purplebricks and Portals

We spoke to the star of 'Million Dollar Listing: New York' about online agents, going to war with portal giant Zillow and his newly published book.

Once a shy hand model with zero sales experience, Ryan Serhant has made a name for himself as one of the top real estate agents in the US.

As well as raking in hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of sales each year, Serhant is now a TV star, successful author and social media hit. He appears as a co-star on Million Dollar Listing New York and was the star of the 2018 spin-off show, Sell It Like Serhant. His book of the same name came out this year and made several national bestseller lists in its first week.

With such an impressive array of achievements, you wouldn’t think Serhant fell into real estate by accident.

DMZ spoke to the property sales guru to find out what makes him tick and uncover the secret behind his success.

Quick takeaway

  • Ryan Serhant is a New York based estate agent who appears to millions in TV show ‘Million Dollar Listing’
  • The 34-year-old thinks online and hybrid agents like Purplebricks will fail in New York
  • He used his social media influence to help change US property portal Zillow’s listing rules

You’ve had an exciting year – is there anything that didn’t go to plan?

“The real estate market isn’t as great as I would’ve liked. It’s tough – there’s a lot of inventory, there isn’t much urgency in New York, and there’s a lot of concern for the future of the market and the future of the economy.

“So while things day to day seem fine, people are hesitant. It has been a bit of a struggle this year to get things done, but we are prevailing.”

What three qualities make a real estate agent successful?

“It comes down to the ‘three Es’. They have to have enthusiasm, as you’re not really selling an apartment. The apartment, the home, the house will sell itself or it won’t. And then it’ll come down to price. As a sales person, what you’re selling is your enthusiasm for that property.

“The second E is empathy. You have to be right there with your client – you’re in this together and you have to be able to empathise with how they feel, whether that’s excited, sad, angry or disappointed.

“The third E is energy. You have to be able to wake up with positive energy and keep a smile on your face all day long because a sales person’s job is very tough and can feel like a rollercoaster.”

What led to the launch of your show Sell It Like Serhant?

“Since Million Dollar Listing New York launched in 2012, I’ve received emails and phone calls from sales people all over the world who’ve told me that seeing the way I negotiate and deal with clients helped them to sell more that day. And a lot of people reached out and said, ‘I need help because I’m about to be fired’.

“So in each episode of Sell It Like Serhant I help sales people, who are having a really hard time, learn how to sell better before they get fired.

“It was fun. We had eight episodes to start with and we’ll see what happens next.”

You publicly questioned US portal StreetEasy last year when it changed its listing policy. What happened that made you so annoyed?

“In New York there’s no public multiple listing service that is simple and easy to use. Most of the rest of the US has something called an MLS (the Multiple Listing Service) where the public and real estate agents can see everything that’s on the market, everything that’s been sold and the pricing.

“A decade ago a company called StreetEasy launched containing all the information on all the buildings in New York City. Every agent started using it. If you had a listing you could post it on StreetEasy and buyers and other brokers could see it, including your name as the real estate agent.

“Then Zillow bought StreetEasy [in 2013] and their primary road to profit is by making money off real estate agents. They have a lead generation platform, Premier Agent, where you can spend money on zip codes you want to sell in, and your phone starts ringing.

“As of last year, people who went onto StreetEasy didn’t see the name of the agent attached to the listing. Instead, they saw a general contact page, which would take them to another agent who wasn’t the exclusive agent for the listing. That’s what annoyed me.

“Since then it has got better. They’ve made it clearer who the agent is and I’m not as annoyed anymore.”

Do you think your feedback encouraged StreetEasy to make the changes?

“Yes, partly. StreetEasy and Zillow are great companies and I wasn’t mad at them; I was just mad at the situation.

“Since then, a lot of agents have joined in the conversation and StreetEasy has made changes that are fair and better for everybody.”

What’s your opinion of online/hybrid agents like Purplebricks?

“All of these companies have popped up in the last 10 years and that’s because the market has been strong. But it has been tried before in New York and it hasn’t worked.

“In a good market, if your house is going to sell anyway and you want to save money on broker commissions, why not sell it online?

“The problem is when the market changes, when things become slower, and when you have to start reducing your price. No salaried agent from any of these online firms is going to help you; it’s not in their job. They are there to list your home and you have to do everything else yourself.

“So when the market gets tough, these discount brokerages will do exactly what they’re built for. They’re not going to be on the phone with you figuring out how to get your home sold because they’re not incentivised.

“A good example is Compass. They started in New York City as Urban Compass and their model was to challenge the traditional real estate agent business – but they failed. Now they’re a regular brokerage that calls themselves a tech company.”

Are you worried the traditional agency model is going to be disrupted?

“As more technology comes out there’s actually a greater need for real estate agents because it is almost too overwhelming. There are so many places where you can advertise your home that you need an adviser to guide you.

“I think it was easier to sell your home without a real estate agent, or through a discount broker, 10 years, 20 years or 30 years ago. You’d put your home in the newspaper and, if it was priced correctly, you could sell it without an agent.

“Now, no one goes to the newspaper. You need have adverts everywhere, let every agent know about your property through all the different portals, have a social media presence and create videos of your home on YouTube.

“You’ve got to be everywhere, so in my opinion real estate agents are needed more than ever before.”

What’s the appetite like from domestic and foreign buyers in New York?

“New York City is always a local market. There are a lot of foreigners that do own property here – more so than in any other city in the US – but New York is a financial powerhouse with great job opportunities. A lot of people live and work in New York City and the majority of home sales are to them.

“There is, however, still good demand from foreign markets. If people have the means, they’re interested in owning property in New York at some point in time – whether that’s for schooling or a vacation home.

“It ebbs and flows based on currency, taxes and the legal situation, but if it’s not the Russians one year it’s the Asian market; if it’s not the Asian market it’s the South African market; if it’s not the South Africans it’s the Canadians or the South Americans.”

What impact has Trump had on New York’s real estate market since taking Presidency, given that US equity indices are at all time high?

“When equity markets are very strong, as they are now, real estate suffers because buyers have a fear of missing out. They want to keep their money invested rather than pulling it out and putting it into real estate. So that drives the real estate market down.

“It almost goes against common sense, but when the equity markets suffer as they did in 2008-09, it gives way to the strongest real estate markets you’ll ever see, which is exactly what happened in 2010 to 2015. It was a five year boom market.”

Are you in contact with any real estate agents in the UK?

“I’ve spoken to a handful over the years and I’ve done some referral deals for clients who want to be in the UK, but I don’t get there that often. I have done a few deals with James Upton-Prowse at Savills, who has always been a pleasure to work with.

“If we could, my wife [Emelia, who was educated in the UK] and I would be in London every week, but my work, my shows and our whole lives are in New York City. It’s a seven day a week job.”

What encouraged you to write your book?

“I’m not a natural sales person. I wasn’t born with a gift like some people are and I wasn’t comfortable being in a room with lots of people or starting a conversation with strangers – all the things you’d expect a sales person in New York City would know how to do.

“But in 2008 I had my back up against a wall. I’d run out of money and I didn’t know what else to do. I didn’t want to go home and admit defeat, so I got my real estate licence because I thought that would be flexible way of making some extra dollars to pay my rent.

“I’ve taught myself how to sell ever since, and if I can do it anyone can. I wanted to put everything I know about sales – how to negotiate, make extra profit, get yourself out of debt and increase your lifestyle through that muscle of sales – into a book.”

What are the main takeaways you want people to have?

“I want people to realise that even if they don’t think they’re a natural born sales person, that’s ok. There is a scientific, almost mathematical, process you can put into play every day to become a better sales person.

“It should make them feel hopeful for the future because everyone is in sales, in some shape or form, all day long.”

What’s next on your agenda? 

“I’ve got a book signing in New Jersey, my wife and I are renovating a house we recently bought, and I’m just trying to do more every day.

“I hope next year will be as exciting as this year. I always hope for a strong real estate market and that buyers will continue to be excited at the prospect of owning a home.”

Ryan’s new book ‘Sell It Like Serhant: How to Sell More, Earn More, and Become the Ultimate Sales Machine’ is available at Amazon now.

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