Real-estate agents are now TV stars as big as the homes they sell, according to 2 men who saw potential 20 years ago

    Ryan Serhant and his team of agents want to become the No. 1 real estate firm in New York City in their new Netflix show.

    Courtesy of Netflix

    TV producers Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato created “Million Dollar Listing Los Angeles” almost 20 years ago. It launched a genre of shows following the professional pressure and personal tensions of real-estate brokers’ lives. Bailey and Barbato break down the appeal of the genre as their latest show, “Owning Manhattan” with star broker Ryan Serhant premieres.

    One Los Angeles real-estate agent might single-handedly be responsible for launching two decades of reality television.

    In 1994, producers Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato landed in Los Angeles from New York City and needed a place to live. Friends recommended agent Debby Berg and they were immediately enamored. Berg had a larger-than-life personality, drove “an enormous gold Mercedes,” and was so small she had to sit on the Yellow Pages phone book to see over the dashboard, Bailey and Barbato told Business Insider.

    “Every time you got in her car, you were kind of taking your life in your own hands,” said Bailey.

    Together, the trio cruised around LA and Berg found them a four-bedroom Hollywood Hills home she described as “Brigadoon,” the magical Scottish village from the 1954 movie.

    But the process sparked an idea: Real-estate brokers might be stars who are just as big as the homes they sell.

    Bailey and Barbato went on to produce “Million Dollar Listing Los Angeles,” which followed the lives of agents selling luxury properties in neighborhoods like Brentwood and Beverly Hills. By season 6 in 2013, episodes were averaging over 1 million viewers. As the years passed, agents like Tracy Tutor and the Altman brothers became nationally known personalities with massive social media followings.

    Bravo launched spinoffs in New York, Miami, and San Francisco, and streaming giant Netflix made its own version with shows like “Selling Sunset,” “Selling the OC,” and “Buying Beverly Hills.”

    Now Bailey and Barbato are launching another real estate show — “Owning Manhattan,” premiering June 28 on Netflix — with one of their “Million Dollar Listing New York” stars: Ryan Serhant.

    Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey are the masterminds behind “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and “Million Dollar Listing.”

    Theo Wargo/Getty Images

    Serhant, now 39, leveraged his television career into a massive social media following, with over 2 million followers on Instagram. According to his website, he’s closed $8 billion in sales to date and opened his own brokerage.

    The pair also produce “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” which, over 16 seasons, has won 29 Primetime Emmys and minted dozens of drag superstars. They told Business Insider they believe in the star power of agents and say there are marked similarities between the worlds of drag and real estate.

    “Brokers are kind of like drag queens,” said Barbato. “They’re self-made. They’re putting on a show for you.”

    It’s no mistake that many agents in Los Angeles and New York are former actors themselves, he added.

    Once, the pair were touring Gore Vidal’s Los Angeles home during an open house, and a dead rat appeared in the pool. Without missing a beat, they recalled, the agent told everyone attending it was a “sign of good luck.”

    “That’s a born entertainer,” said Bailey.

    Real estate was not an easy sell to TV executives at first

    The cast of Barbato and Bailey’s new show, “Owning Manhattan,” on Netflix.

    Courtesy of Netflix

    Early on, Bailey and Barbato said, real-estate agents were not obvious television gold.

    They said the biggest obstacle was convincing network executives that among the details of dealmaking was a storyline audiences could follow.

    Closure became a big obstacle. In real estate, deals fall through all the time, and interested parties back out at the last second. Agents could lose a client for any number of reasons, or a seller may decide to stay put after all. The producing pair has learned to trust the process and follow more storylines than might actually make the air.

    “You have to be willing to follow a story that might not end how you want it to,” said Barbato. For “Owning Manhattan,” the duo said they filmed 20 different sales listings represented by Serhant and his fellow brokers, but only seven resulted in deals.

    Audiences naturally want to peek behind the curtains to see how others live, and sometimes it’s best to let the brokers work their magic and sell the home’s fantasy, they said.

    In the first episode of “Owning Manhattan,” Serhant shows off a listing atop the world’s tallest residence, the three-story penthouse at Central Park Tower, asking $195 million. Standing on the tallest terrace in New York City, he tells another agent that one billionaire who toured the space had a very specific question.

    “If I put a ping-pong table here, would it be the tallest ping-ping table in the world?” Serhant recalled the billionaire asking.

    The producers like to focus on the business drama

    Though brokers’ big personalities may make fascinating draws, the producers say they like to focus on business, not interpersonal conflicts.

    “We’re really interested in the transactional element, not leaning on soap,” said Barbato.

    In “Owning Manhattan,” viewers get a firsthand glimpse of Serhant selling in real time as he attempts to close a deal for the tallest residence in the world.

    “You’re not just buying luxury, you’re buying scale,” he says in the first episode of the show, highlighting the windows he adds are among the largest single-pane pieces of glass in the world and emphasizing that the trophy property sits “higher than helicopters” and their usual flight path.

    Serhant then brags about his “buydar,” his ability to sniff out when a buyer is serious. Standing above the clouds, he points to another luxury building below, explaining to the agent that its penthouse just closed at $22,000 per square foot. With the Central Park Tower pad asking just $14,000 per square foot, it’s practically a steal, he argues in the show.

    Viewers will follow Serhant in “Owning Manhattan” as he attempts to make his namesake brokerage firm the No. 1 firm in New York. They’re already “the greatest real estate brokerage in the history of the known universe,” he says to the camera with a wink.

    The audience will have to wait to find out if that’s true.

    When in doubt, the producers have learned to let the houses themselves tell the story.

    “Inside these properties is a map of the human mind,” Bailey said.

    Read the original article on Business Insider


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