Million Dollar Listing, the US TV show which follows real estate agents as they try to sell high-end properties, has propelled the careers of its stars and shone a positive light on the industry as a whole.
The success of the original Los Angeles show has spawned several other programmes in the franchise, yet it is still to reach this side of the Atlantic.
With the reputation of London’s estate agent industry in need of a reboot, I spoke to some of the programme’s stars, as well as high-profile UK agents, about whether a London version of Million Dollar Listing could be on the cards.
Million Dollar Listing debuted in August 2006 in Los Angeles, chronicling the professional and personal lives of four real estate agents based in Beverly Hills, Hollywood and Malibu.
The show has been hugely successful and very popular among viewers. This year it was renewed for an 11th season and its success has led to three spin-offs being created: Million Dollar Listing New York, Miami and San Francisco.
As well as giving viewers an insight into the life of super-prime agents, it provides an inside look into some of the US’ most luxurious properties.
The story lines are real attention grabbers, ranging from a woman who was a hysterical divorcee forced to sell her multimillion-dollar home, to an agent whose personal ties to the seller (her ex-fiancé) got in the way of a potential sale.
Produced by Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey, it has turned its real estate stars into celebrities, with many featured in tabloids on both sides of the pond.
Josh Altman, who has starred in the LA version of the show, has been featured as a keynote celebrity speaker and host at events such as The Luxe Event in Seattle, Century 21 Allstars Sales Rally, and Renter’s Warehouse Event.
Fredrik Eklund, meanwhile, who has starred in the New York version, makes frequent appearances in global publications – whether it’s his latest holiday, the arrival of his twins, or putting his $6.5 million New York apartment up for sale.
The New York version has been so successful that it has been nominated for an Emmy award twice, and has now been renewed for a seventh season.
Given that New York’s property market is similar to London’s, introducing a London version of the show seems like a no-brainer.
For the real estate agents who appear on the show, Million Dollar Listing has helped to propel their own stardom and brought real business benefits.
Justin Fichelson, a luxury real estate adviser who stars on Million Dollar Listing San Francisco, said TV is the best advertisement regardless of what career you are in.
“Real estate is all about being in front of potential buyers and sellers and Million Dollar Listing does this on a massive scale and around the world. Exposure is everything,” he added.
Andrew Greenwell, CEO and principal of Venture Sotheby’s International Realty in Pleasanton, also stars in the San Francisco spin-off of the programme.
He told me that given that Million Dollar Listing is one of the highest watched real estate TV shows around the world, it can’t help but boost an agent’s visibility and business.
“There’s absolutely a segment in every population who wants to work with ‘that guy from TV’. While there are some downsides to being on TV and the negative things that result, the benefits far outweigh them,” he stated.
Aside from the exposure, being on the programme is extremely financially rewarding. One source told me that the pay packets offered to the show’s stars are pretty eye-catching, so it’s no surprise that almost 20 brokers have appeared on the franchise over its 12 year history.
The US stars I spoke to reckon a London version of Million Dollar Listing makes sense and could prove to be a success – as long as it’s done properly.
“London has a lot of global wealth combined with incredible real estate,” said Fichelson. “At the end of the day, it comes down to casting above all else and getting a cast together that are all entertaining in different ways, work well together on TV, and are inspiring.”
A lot of the show’s success comes down to the willingness of homeowners to be on TV and showcase their homes to the general public.
Greenwell said this has proved to be easier in New York and Los Angeles than in San Francisco.
“The Bay Area is full of beautiful homes and billionaires but most are fiercely private,” he explained. “If wealthy homeowners in London were keen on having cameras inside their homes then there could be some success there.”
Gary Hersham, founder of Beauchamp Estates who has appeared on the BBC Two show “Under Offer: Estate Agents On The Job”, said he thinks a London version of Million Dollar Listing is a good idea, but that it’s much easier to get access to properties in the US than it is in London.
“If I asked five London-based homeowners today whether I could get access to film their property, one or two would say ‘yes’ and the rest would say ‘no’. The opposite would occur in LA. But if the show went on air in London, this could change,” he said.
Daniel Daggers, partner and super-prime agent at Knight Frank, has previously been asked to appear on a London spin-off of the programme, but in the end it didn’t go ahead.
“At the time there was a sense that homeowners were reluctant to appear on the show because the personality of clients in London is very different to the US. There was perhaps a feeling that it wouldn’t have been as well-received over here,” Daggers said.
“But I suspect that acceptance and appetite for this type of show in the UK is growing. A lot of clients want anonymity but at the same time they want exposure – that’s particularly true of developers.”
In fact, one of the show’s producers, Randy Barbato, reckons Million Dollar Listing could flourish in London.
“It seems to have all the ingredients of the hit show: fantastic properties, great personalities (on the buyer and seller side) and a hot market,” he said. “The only potential negatives are the rainy days!”
The show’s producers would also have to convince London-based estate agents to appear on the programme and have their personal lives aired to the public.
Hersham told me he would be “100% interested” on appearing on the show because it would be a good tool to promote himself and the top end of the property market.
“Since featuring on Under Offer I’m always recognised, and the programme has helped to create the image of the bigger firm,” he said.
But Camilla Dell, managing partner at Black Brick, said she would only consider appearing if it was “the right kind of show” which would positively impact London property and enhance her company.
She added that she would have major concerns about becoming a star: “Television shows are often made to entertain and that can often be at the direct expense of the people taking part in the show. It can be very damaging for a business and brand if it goes wrong.”
The majority of agents I spoke to were of the firm belief that Million Dollar Listing London could help to improve the reputation of the capital’s estate agency industry.
Fichelson reckons a London version would cause a substantial influx of young people becoming estate agents.
“It’s amazing the transformation the Million Dollar Listing series has done to the industry as a whole,” he said. “Luxury estate agents in the past were largely much older than they are today. The influx of reality TV shows featuring agents, I think, has inspired tons of young people around the globe to become agents.”
Greenwell pointed out that “all press is good press”, but added: “The show focuses on some kind of drama in a transaction or between the brokers, but people have to remember that it is just a show.
“Not every transaction evolves like they do on Million Dollar Listing and as long as people understand that then it would be great.”
The show might not give an entirely accurate picture of the estate agency industry, but it has certainly helped to glamorise the role of a luxury real estate broker.
“This will undoubtedly attract more people to a career in the industry, as well as helping to drive agents’ quality and professionalism,” said Daggers. “Before there was just negative press, but now there’s a positive story out there.”
He added that exposure is extremely important in modern real estate broking.
“TV has such a wide audience that it would undoubtedly bring a lot of benefits to London’s estate agent industry if the show went ahead,” he said.
But to have any real impact on the industry’s image, the show would need to be done properly. Dell argued that the US version puts emphasis on commissions paid to the agents and the money at stake, “we live in a day and age where that is now hugely frowned on, especially given the UK’s housing crisis,” she said.
Whether a London spin-off goes ahead remains to be seen. One source pointed out that producers’ budgets in the UK may simply be too small to afford the large pay packets required to attract high-end brokers.
There’s also a question over whether there’s space for another property programme in the UK, given that we already have shows like “Location, Location, Location” and “Escape to the Country”. ITV told me that property isn’t really an area they’re looking to programme in at the moment.
But it’s worth remembering that Brits are pretty obsessed with property. You only need to look at the portals’ most viewed properties to see people’s (largely unattainable) aspirations.
Many have argued that Londoners have a more reserved attitude than their New York counterparts, but with a constant stream of reality TV shows hitting our screens this doesn’t seem to accurately reflect society today.
I, for one, will be keeping a close eye out for news of a London spin-off, so watch this space.