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'Million Dollar' Real Estate Advice. Star broker Ryan Serhant on finding a good agent, why the L.A. and NYC markets are so different, and negotiating deals on TV.

'Million Dollar' Real Estate Advice. Star broker Ryan Serhant on finding a good agent, why the L.A. and NYC markets are so different, and negotiating deals on TV.

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It's pretty hard not to like Ryan Serhant. One of three high-powered real estate brokers starring in 'Million Dollar Listing New York,' Serhant is suave, funny, confident yet somehow self-effacing, and pretty unpredictable at times. (We'll cover that infamous pool incident later.) The former soap opera star turned super-agent has also landed a role in the upcoming Noah Baumbach indie 'While We're Young' with Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts. 

But for all his charismatic charm, Serhant is a serious player in real estate. Before he goes on hiatus from MDL (the season finale airs tonight, June 11 at 9pm on Bravo), I wanted to pick his expert brain on how people can find their own superstar broker, why it's so much harder to get deals done in Los Angeles, and what's real -- and not -- on the show.

Ryan Serhant, top broker and star of Bravo's 'Million Dollar Listing New York'.

Your main business is in New York City. But you recently opened an office in Los Angeles. Is one more challenging than the other?
Ryan: "I've expanded my team out there, Nest Seekers opened an office. And I had a client who wanted me to negotiate a deal for him. So he flew me out and I negotiated a deal New York-style. Which was very strange... I never do home inspections. We sell town houses all the time too, and sometimes people do inspections, but the deals sometimes move so quickly people forgo them. If it's an old house, they know they're going to rip it apart anyway, so why do one? If it's a brand new house, they might do one, but in L.A. -- the agents draw up all the contracts and there's just an escrow agent that holds all the money. And that's crazy for me. We're not even allowed to touch a contract. Deals out there [in L.A.] die because of inspections. And all these houses are built on cliffs, and the cliffs are falling down, and no one knew, and a lot of other factors come into play that we don't have to deal with in new York."
Most people would love to have Ryan Serhant as their agent, but you're dealing in the multi-millions. How can regular people get a superstar broker without superstar money?
Ryan: "That's a very good question. I'm really happy that you asked that. My fee, my commission as a real estate agent is not higher than a real estate agent that just got into the business. When you're selling your home in the U.S. you're going to pay 5 or 6 percent to your broker. And then if there's another broker that brings the buyer, that fee is going to be split with them. Just because I'm on a TV show doesn't mean I go into listings and say well, I want 10 percent." 

"I have an entire team underneath me who sell everything. My personal time is building my business. Personally it's harder for me to show smaller listings, but all of the marketing we do, all of the exposure we do, my entire team are just offshoots of myself, so absolutely we will sell $600,000 listings. I'm not that pompous."
So what should people look for in a quality broker?
Ryan: "You want a broker who is knowledgeable about the area. That's it. What you're paying a fee for on the buy side and the sell side is for someone who is in the know. Someone who has sold in the area, someone who knows the other brokers in the area. Someone who knows the school district. Someone who can tell you why this building is better than that building, or why you should stage this room instead of that room. Someone who has experience -- because that's the make or break sometimes. And that's why you see a lot of younger agents who mean well, but they sometimes have a harder time making deals because they didn't know as much. They didn't know to tell their client this, or to tell their seller that."
Staging a property can make such a difference. Do brokers usually stage, or do they hire someone?
Ryan: "Some agents will do it on their own but you want to work with a professional. Personally I have a stager I work with pretty exclusively and she does the staging. I don't have a warehouse full of furniture. I have a say in it. But she's so good at what she does she now knows what I like. She just tells me when it's done, I show up, I say oh my god it's awesome, we take pictures and we rock and roll." 

"One of the first things I learned in this business is the power of delegation. You can't do everything. You can't be the broker negotiating it, the plumber, the painter, the contractor, the guy who's changing the microwave and the stager at the same time. A lot of brokers try to do that because they fear a lack of control. And they fear that if they don't do everything that their client's going to fire them. But I'd much rather hire a professional who does staging every single day all day than pretend I know what I'm doing."
Does a good broker cherry-pick potential homes for me? Or do I have to do that and they concentrate more on the deal?
Ryan: "It totally depends. Some clients, they have a job, right? And that's where they make their money. That money is going to be used to buy a home. So 
that's why you work with a buyer's broker. To pick the listings for you. To send you listings and say I think you'll really like this. This is great for you because of XYZ, and let's get in there on Sunday. But then some clients like to be very controlling and they think they know what they want and so they do their own research, comb, and then send the listings to the broker for feedback." 

"It's kind of like Fidelity. The stocks are public but you work with an investment manager who's going to advise you on what you just don't have time to know about. That's 99 percent of the buyers out there. You meet the broker first, you tell them what you want, what your budget is, the broker then helps clarify everything. Because maybe you then realize that what you wanted was not within your budget -- which happens a lot. Or maybe you didn't realize you actually can afford a little more, so you can look in that area you didn't think you could buy in. So that initial conversation is the most important. Every buyer that I or my team works with, we never meet anywhere the first time except for at my office or their office. We just sit for half an hour and talk about what they want to do, why they want to move, what what they're looking for. Because it'll save like a year's worth of time."
You use some unconventional tactics for selling, which play out on TV. How do you feel about how you've been represented by the show?
Ryan: "This season's really interesting. I'll be up front and say that I come off like an asshole. But there's a rhyme and reason to everything and I think that's what makes this show so interesting. Otherwise it would just be a show about a bunch of brokers sending emails and watching paint dry. And I don't think anyone would want to watch that show. I think I've always been somewhat of a cowboy in this business. Because I'm not going to the company that everybody works at. I'm not marketing properties the way everyone markets them. And I'm not bending to the rules. That's just not something I've ever been interested in, with real estate or anything."
On the show, viewers see what appears to be a real negotiation. Do any of your clients ever get upset about how it went down?
Ryan: "No. These deals don't happen in four minutes. We're real estate brokers. I'm a middle man. I don't put a gun to someone's head and force them to sell something. I don't think I've had any instance personally where I've had a client be angry. My girlfriend now -- she gets angry if I say something stupid or she doesn't look good -- and I completely understand that. But people understand the deals they're doing, they understand the comparables, and if they want to sell, they sell. And by the time [the episode] airs, the apartments have closed, the people have moved in, they've started their renovations, and you know everyone's kind of moved on."
The controversial pool incident, when you jumped in at another broker's party. Does the show tell you to do things like that to stir up drama?
Ryan: "No they do not tell me to do anything. I wish. It would make my life so much easier if the show was scripted because we could do it really quickly. But the show takes like 8 months to film. I'm sitting in the back of the car right now, in traffic, hoping to make it to Central Park to lock up a deal and they're waiting for me, the cameras and stuff." 

"The pool was because Fredrik pissed me off. And sometimes... I do things when I'm angry that maybe I shouldn't do. But I think I have enough of a problem with authority that if someone came up to me and said the cameras are here, you have to go do this -- I definitely wouldn't do it."
Do you really hate Fredrik, or are you secret besties?
Ryan: "Hate is a very strong word. I think this is a competitive business, and I think that a lot of people from all over the world who are working here in New York City doing this business all have different ideas of how business should be done. They have different ideas of how you should treat people, they have different ideas of what a relationship means. And it's something we have to navigate every single day."

Ryan Serhant is a real estate broker at Nest Seekers International. See him on Bravo's 'Million Dollar Listing New York,' airing Wednesdays at 9pm. Follow him on Twitter@RyanSerhant.

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Licensed Associate Real Estate Broker

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