If you’re a real estate enthusiast, you might also be an avid watcher of the “Million Dollar Listing” television series, but I have a feeling that if you’re an informed, astute real estate enthusiast, you know that the show is entertainment, and not reality.
Having said that, “Million Dollar Listing” is slowly becoming one of the most successful reality television series in existence, as the original Los Angeles series has entered its eighth season, and has spawned spin-offs in New York, Miami, and San Francisco.
Let me explain what an impact this has had on the industry here in Toronto, for better or for worse…
I’m going to let the cat out of the bag here.
I think it’s been long enough.
I did a full pilot for an HGTV television series back in 2013 that was called “The Last Honest Realtor,” based on my opinions and attitudes from Toronto Realty Blog.
I was approached in 2012 by a producer who wanted to start a new real estate television series, but rather than come up with an idea, and find a person for the show, he wanted to find a person for the show, and then come up with an idea.
I was that person.
I was flattered by the offer – who wouldn’t jump at the chance?
And here I sit, four years later, thanking whatever God or Heaven I don’t believe in, that the show never got green-lit.
In short: it would have ruined my career. I’m a real estate agent, not an actor. I sell real estate, and I make a good living. To try to do both – sell real estate, and star in a show, would have been impossible.
We filmed a “Sizzle Reel” in the summer of 2012 that was 90-seconds long, and was supposed to entice the producers. It worked, and they were interested, so HGTV commissioned a full 22-minute pilot episode of “The Last Honest Realtor,” and in the spring of 2013, it was completed.
I was incredibly humbled by the fact that somebody, or a group of people, thought I was interesting enough to carry a show, and I enjoyed learning about the industry, and meeting the people involved. But as the process dragged on, I started to fear that I didn’t really like what I was doing.
I signed a contract for FIVE seasons. And now I look back and wonder how that would have changed my life, and what would have happened if I didn’t enjoy the first of those five seasons.
I didn’t like the schedule, and I didn’t like the hours. I didn’t like sitting around for an hour before filming for twenty minutes.
And above all, I didn’t like the “magic of television,” which industry-slang for “fake.”
In the end, it seemed the higher-ups at HGTV wanted more “magic” and I wondered why they needed me, when they could have just hired an actor to pretend to be a Realtor.
I mean, do you think all those goofballs on real estate TV shows are actually selling real estate? No, they’re not. They’re filming a TV show. Some of them don’t even have a real estate license.
Each of the 13 episodes of Last Honest Realtor was supposed to take five full days to film, meaning a commitment of 65 days per year, which I figured I could handle. It wasn’t until I met a director/producer while filming the CBC Doc Zone “The Condo Game” until I realized how big an underestimate that was.
He laughed at the suggestion, and asked me, “When a condo developer says the building will be finished in three years, do you take them at their word?” Great analogy, and that really hit home for me.
“Whatever they tell you,” he told me, “Double it.”
Looking back, there’s absolutely no way I could have balanced a television series and a successful real estate career, and I would have hated the life the show would have provided.
I cringe when I see Toronto real estate agents posting comments on Facebook about their “tryouts” for the next big real estate reality show. I want to tell them how their life will be altered, or how their business will suffer.
But you know what? Maybe they just want to get on TV. Maybe their inner 5-year-old, who was excited when CTV News came to film their kindergarten class, is trumping their 30-something-year-old who forgets that any jackass can put him or herself on YouTube and be a “star.”
Or maybe they’re not making money selling real estate, and thus a career as an actor or actress seems attractive.
Maybe it’s both.
But that’s the little secret I’ve been keeping for three years now, and I figured since I would never consider getting back into the television business, there’s no harm in sharing that.
I wanted to talk today about “Million Dollar Listing,” and how it’s impacted the real estate industry here in Toronto.
The show, in my opinion, and as you might assume from watching just about any “reality” television show, is an incredibly unrealistic look at the real estate industry, and yet its success has had an impact on the industry here in Toronto, as evidenced by the following:
1) More Realtors
This goes without saying, and yet I’m going to say it.
The media has absolutely sensationalized real estate over the past decade, and more so over the past few years.
As the media industry itself has changed, and we see far less importance on print media and a larger emphasis on visuals via computers, tablets, and smart phones, there’s nothing easier to provide to readers than photos of hot real estate!
Why bother writing an article when you can just throw up 20 photos of a nice house for iPhone users to scroll through?
“Real estate” is always a trending topic on the 6pm news, and there’s always yet another story right around the corner.
And of course, real estate television shows have increased about twenty-fold, as everything from building a deck to renting a chalet in the Bahamas has its own show.
Everywhere you look, in newspapers, magazines, on billboards, on television – there’s real estate.
So if you were to combine the “real estate porn” of a Toronto Life online piece, with a few good-looking and charismatic people, and the story-lines of a popular soap opera, you’d have a very hot show, loosely-based on real estate.
And that’s what MDL truly is.
Viewers don’t want to know if something is realistic, however; they just want to watch it!
And as the dollar-signs flash faster upon the screen, and the characters talk smoother, and the houses get larger, the viewer gets more and more invested – so much so, in fact, that the viewer might consider taking this up as an occupation!
I watch sports, but at no point did I decide I want to play for the New England Patriots.
It amazes me that legions of MDL viewers have observed this unrealistic and fake portrayal of the industry and said, “That is what I want to do with my life.”
2) Younger Realtors
Picture a 23-year-old who has been watching MDL since he or she was 15-years-old. Imagine going through high school and university, watching the show, getting excited by the storylines and the properties being featured, and then finishing school and looking for a “career.”
Is it any wonder there are so many kids trying their hand at real estate right out of university?
When I got into the business, I was told, very accurately, that real estate is best practiced as a “second career,” since it’s a people-business, and you know a lot more people after you’ve been a high school principal for twenty years.
The advances in technology have made it easier for people to communicate, as well as share information, so I can see how younger people might have an easier time breaking into the business than in years’ past.
But I also see no barriers to entry in the business, and if somebody watched “House of Cards” and decided he or she wanted to be an actor or an actress, they can’t just walk onto the set of a movie in Hollywood and quickly “become an actor.” Yet somebody watching “Million Dollar Listing,” who decides he or she wants to be a Realtor, can get licensed and “hired” by a brokerage in a few months.
The agents portrayed in the MDL franchise are all young, and they’re also good-looking, flashy, and charismatic – all traits that resonate with today’s youth.
3) The Way Realtors Dress
Is this what you think of when you picture a real estate agent in your mind’s eye:
Some of the most successful agents I know show up to the office in jogging pants.
One of my colleagues is usually covered in cat-hair, often disheveled, and yet she continues to attract clients who value her services, and is among the industry leaders.
MDL is a television show. It’s scripted. And when you have “characters” going to “wardrobe,” surely you have to know that even their appearance is fake.
And yet I see this new dawn of young real estate agents out there, with their sockless-shoes, and their pocket squares, and their purple-on-yellow outfits that would make Don Cherry feel uncomfortable.
I understand that we’re in a service business, and people want to feel that the person whose services they have acquired is a professional in every way.
But at the same time, when a 24-year-old, with zero sales under his belt, runs out to buy a Rolex watch so he can “look the part,” does a buyer or seller really
4) Lower Standards
Again, I don’t want to hit on the “youth” in real estate, since I started in this business at 23-years-old, but today’s young, MDL-obsessed real estate agents are getting caught up in the “sales” aspect of the show, and are often ignoring the customer-service.
Think of the average MDL episode, and how much the agents talk about commission.
In fact, think about how every time a property is mentioned, this graphic shows up on the screen:
“Josh’s Potential Commission: $75,000.”
The show glorifies big, fat, paycheques, and guys that act like this:
That’s a classic.
That’s what I think of when I think of MDL – a self-obsessed little weasel who thinks he’s more important than he actually is, just itching to get another dollar in his pocket.
I tell the rookie agents, “Build a career; don’t chase a paycheque.”
We have a 25-year-old in our office that did twenty-eight leases last year (and one sale!) who clearly is learning the city, building a client list, and getting experienced – all in attempts to build a career. But the industry also has kids like that d-bag from the GIF image above, who sit around and daydream about taking a $50,000 cheque to the bank, when in reality, it’s never going to happen.
5) The Way They Do Business
Every episode of MDL features some sort of cat-fight between two over-dressed ego-maniacs who yell and scream at each other, when in reality, agents are almost always cordial.
Real estate might be a “dirty business” but we don’t fight the way they do on TV.
And so over the past few years, I’ve noticed more and more agents who act like they’re on TV, whether it’s pandering to the non-existent cameras, or getting aggressive for no reason.
I presented an offer earlier this year to a guy that, I swear, thought he was being filmed. He was sitting with his client in the conference room at his brokerage, and he asked me all these rhetorical or leading questions, as though it was a scripted scene, and he kept pausing for effect.
I finally had enough, and said, “Where the fuck are the cameras?”
I’ve also had some very, very aggressive agents jump down my throat for no reason, and I think they’re influenced by the amount of fights that break out on MDL.
I usually just hang up on them, and continue to do so until they calm down, and show some respect.
You can’t consistently converse and negotiate in a confrontational manner, where every sentence starts with “You need to realize,” or “Unless you…” like it does on MDL.
The most successful agents are those that can win while smiling, and remaining calm.
This is a dead give-away that an agent has been watching MDL.
An agent tried to “woo” me the other day by promising he could “Have a cheque in escrow within 48 hours,” even though in Toronto, our “deposit” cheques are required within 24 hours, as per the boiler-plate section of OREA’s standard Agreement of Purchase & Sale.
I’ve heard people refer to the “broker’s open” rather than the “agent’s open house,” and there are a host of other buzz-words that exist on MDL that don’t exist in our market.
Sooner or later, these agents will change their verbiage as they realize that they’re giving away their lack of experience, but I don’t go a week without hearing a few examples of the MDL vernacular.
As long as people keep watching MDL, the producers will keep making episodes, and probably run more spin-offs.
I’m surprised there hasn’t been an MDL Toronto version, although I’ve been told there’s an awful, low-budget rip-off of the show based in our city.
I’m sure film and television can have an impact on just about any industry, or on any job.
I suppose it’s just our turn right now. And the effects, as I’ve pointed out above, have been quite apparent…