The New York Times
May 2, 2013
When last we checked in with the aggressive trio of brokers on “Million Dollar Listing New York,” the former hand model and soap actor Ryan Serhant was working the deal of his career at a SoHo loft, while the former Swedish porn actor Fredrik Eklund had opened himself up to love.
Fans of the reality show will be rewarded in Season 2, which is to start May 8 on Bravo, with more catfights and dirty tricks among the brokers, and in the season finale, Mr. Eklund’s emotional wedding on an island inSouth Florida.
After success with the original “Million Dollar Listing” in Los Angeles, the New York show pulled in an average of more than a million viewers an episode and was sold to almost 100 countries. Now the cable network is in discussions about “Million Dollar Listings” in both Miamiand San Francisco, according to a person familiar with Bravo’s plans. The Los Angeles show, which is returning this summer for its sixth season, averaged 1.28 million viewers per show last year.
And why not? Real estate is on fire again, certainly in New York, and lately in Miami as well. Mr. Serhant and Mr. Eklund had a year of huge sales and credit the show for at least part of their success.
But television can be a messy business, and efforts to make good television can clash with the challenges of representing the realities of real estate transactions. And as “Million Dollar Listing” shows, it can be the fame-seeking brokers themselves who drive the faux drama that keeps the ratings up, sometimes to the distraction of real-life owners.
Mr. Eklund saw his team’s gross commissions nearly double, to $5.27 million, and last year he and his partner, John Gomes, and 10 others were the second-ranked broker team within Douglas Elliman, the city’s largest brokerage, having risen from eighth place the year before. Mr. Serhant, a broker with Nestseekers, moved from an office over a burger joint on 49th Street to his own space in TriBeCa, and went from having one assistant to a team of 12, with perks including a chauffeur-driven Escalade.
“They could pay us nothing and we would probably still do it,” said Mr. Serhant, 28, “because the advertising is something you can’t buy.”
But just as buyers of million-dollar apartments should beware of the not-so-pleasant details of any listing, so too should viewers understand that “M.D.L.N.Y.” sometimes offers an alternate form of reality.
Michael Lorber, a broker at Elliman and the son of its chairman, Howard Lorber, said he decided to quit the show after the first season because it did little for his business. It is filled with scenes recreated for the cameras, he said. Scenes of the brokers waking up in the morning, for instance, were often filmed in the afternoon. One time the producers asked him to dress in winter clothing in the summer to walk into a building, for a shot that would be added to a show that had been taped long before. “It was so stupid,” he said.
“Most of my clients don’t watch the show,” he added, noting that the thrust of his sales — co-ops — have never been represented on “M.D.L.N.Y.” because notoriously thorny co-op boards want nothing to do with it. “People do it for the fun and to be famous.”
With the production team insisting on capturing the brokers’ home life, Mr. Eklund hit an early snag when the condo board at 21 Astor Place, where he lived, refused to allow seven months of filming (even after he offered to pay them, he said). So he rented a second apartment a few blocks away; there, he said, the film crew shot scenes of him waking up and hanging around the kitchen.
The pace of real estate is such that even with Bravo’s seven-month shooting schedule, deals can fall apart and viewers may not get the whole story. Mr. Serhant’s double-unit sale at 95 Greene Street in SoHo became a shadow of its former self — whittled down to a single unit — due to legal issues, after the cameras stopped shooting, something that was awkwardly noted in quick on-screen text in the season’s closing seconds.
Some things are never explained. In the Season 2 premiere, Mr. Eklund asks Stuart Parr, a film producer, if he is the owner of the Marble House, a town house in TriBeCa. Mr. Parr replies that he is the “owner, designer and actual contractor.” He gives Mr. Eklund 30 days to sell the residence for $17.5 million. What is not revealed is that Mr. Parr was not the actual owner, but an old equity partner in the company that previously owned the building; he was trying to flip the apartment before he was contractually obligated to acquire it, said Justin Ehrlich, a partner at VE Equities, which owns the building.
Mr. Eklund said he had not found out about the ownership situation “until much later.” Mr. Parr said this week that although VE Equities owned the unit, “I controlled the right to sell it.”
The Marble House ended up being a kind of Waterloo for Mr. Eklund. He noted on the show that he spent $40,000 trying to market it, even trying publications aimed at wealthy Chinese and Russian buyers. In the end Mr. Parr ran out of time; in March he had to buy it for $9.46 million or lose it.
He blamed the Bravo show for problems selling the place. He forbade Mr. Eklund to film at Marble House after the second episode, saying Mr. Eklund’s need to sell within the time frame of the show was interfering with his own attempts to sell.
Mr. Eklund responded by saying, “We worked incredibly hard to sell this property and, unfortunately, did not succeed.” He added that he sold 38 apartments in the second season.
Last year Holly Parker, an Elliman broker, said the show had staged a broker party at a penthouse at 100 11th Avenue that she had sold for $19.4 million. So brokers were ostensibly being introduced to the listing after Ms. Parker already had a signed contract. She referred to the show as “all make-believe.”
Shari Levine, a senior vice president of Bravo, defended the show’s realism. “The level of reality is very high,” she said.
And these sorts of issues don’t really bother Dottie Herman, the chief executive of Elliman. She says the bottom line is what matters to her, not the messy details.
“They might throw an extra party or two,” she said, “but there would be nothing that would be false false.”
The brokers insisted that they themselves drive the drama, not the producers. In the Season 2 premiere, Mr. Serhant shows up at Mr. Eklund’s open house for the Marble House. After Mr. Eklund ribs him about his collapsed deal in SoHo, Mr. Serhant strips off his shirt and dives into the pool.
“I think I got a little too cavalier” and jumped in to irritate him, Mr. Serhant said.
Mr. Eklund later shows up at Mr. Serhant’s office unannounced to complain about the stunt, and the two trade nasty put-downs.
Last week Mr. Eklund said he was still annoyed. “But does one part of me acknowledge that this could be good TV?” he said. “Perhaps. It is a fine line.”
Luis D. Ortiz, the Keller Williams broker who replaced Mr. Lorber, and who plays up his Puerto Rican heritage on the show, enlists the help of a doorman at 15 Broad Street to divert people from Mr. Serhant’s open house to his own listing in the building, where he offers salsa lessons. And in a later episode Mr. Ortiz, 26, enlists his twin brother, Daniel, to alter photos of an apartment in bad need of a kitchen remodel.
After an open house at which potential buyers question Mr. Ortiz’s honesty, his bosses at Keller Williams put him on probation. “I don’t regret it,” he said last week. “It was part of a learning process.”
Mr. Ortiz has run-ins with both of his cast mates in Season 2. And the tension between Mr. Serhant and Mr. Eklund never lets up. The animosity is delicious, of course, for the cameras.
It came as no surprise to Mr. Serhant that Mr. Eklund didn’t invite him to his February wedding to Derek Kaplan, 38, on Little Palm Island in the Florida Keys. Although Mr. Serhant was not there, a Bravo film crew of 16 joined the 64 guests at the resort for four days. Cameras captured uncomfortable talk of a prenuptial agreement and monogamy, Mr. Eklund said.
“Filming a reality show is like jumping out of an airplane,” Mr. Eklund said. “You just hope at some point on the way down that parachute is going to go off. I am a control freak in real estate. But you cannot control this, there is no way.”
Licensed Associate Real Estate Broker