How “Million Dollar Listing” Has Affected The Industry

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…

MDLLogo

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.

Anyways…

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:

MDL

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:

Luis

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.

6) Verbiage

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…

20 Comments

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  1. Paul J. Tattersall says:

    Love Million Dollar Listing NY and LA. It’s both funny and dramatic. I also love the rivalry between the agents. However, Top Million Dollar Agent (Toronto area) is hideous and simply laughable. It’s very amateur. All the characters are so contrive in the way the speak and the show’s editing so very poor. How the heck could this show make it to the airwaves?!

  2. Buckley B. Buckington says:

    Never heard of this show, but the people in the pictures I’m seeing look like they’re made of wax. I wouldn’t trust them to sell me a box of nails, much less the entire house.

  3. jeff316 says:

    Despite its awful title and the fake scenes, I thought the original Ontario-based Property Virgins was pretty interesting as it let you see the thought process (yes, manufactured) behind newbies purchasing houses as well as some of the property styles/values in GTA neighbourhoods.

    I find the current crop of real estate shows are less about property sales and process and more just about manufacturing inter-personal conflict. (Property Virgins at its Canadian end was not immune to this.) But maybe that’s just reality TV.

    1. Geoff says:

      I always thought Buy Me was a very interesting show. Creepy twilight zone guy notwithstanding.

  4. Sergio says:

    I would say the only thing clearly “fake” about the show is it’s rare prospecting is ever shown on the show. Aside from convincing a big huge developer to let them sell, their entire condo complex. It only really shows new agents the relatively easy part, not what it took to get the business in the first place. Though these shows are also not meant to be a learning tool for new agents, so that isn’t really their fault. Heck, the OREA course isn’t even a proper learning tool, they are more to blame than anything else. And from what I hear it’s completely intentional by OREA as the turnover of agents is “good for business”.

  5. Mike says:

    This is a parody piece right?

    I mean you started out talking about your potential show and how the 65-days of filming would have had a negative impact on your business then go on to talk about how fake MDL is, you’re being ironic right?

    I mean the two guys on that NDL NYC managed to sell hundreds of millions of dollars in real estate each year while filming the show and touring to promote it. I’ve only watched a few episodes and will admit that many of the scenes are there are faked but I remember watching an episode where Fredrik was taking flack from his soon to be husband about doing real estate deals rather than attend his own rehearsal dinner. A couple of months back you were complaining about phone calls on a Saturday night.

    These guys dress nice and drive nice cars because they’re successful and probably enjoy nice things, no need to say no one dresses like this in real estate. Ever met Elese Kalles? Always dressed impeccably, is the guy with the sweat pants in your office as successful as her? Then you have Robert Greenberg in her office, you can always tell his listings because he always photographs his cars in the driveways of them. Jimmy Molloy on the other hand rarely wears a suit but is always dressed impeccably with an outfit that probably costs more than any suit on MDL. The reason why? Successful people like successful people. I looked at a house in south Rosedale a while back and the Real Estate Agent was wearing leggings. Maybe I would have thought better of the house if I hadn’t been so fucked off about the fact she looked like she was on her way to yoga at our appointment.

    The reason there are so many new real estate agents is that the barrier to entry is so low. Where else can you start your own business with limited skill or experience for only a few grand and a couple months of study? It’s hard to get started but what career isn’t? If you’re willing to sacrifice and put in the hours then the success follows. The show accurately portrays that. That Luis guy has lost money on listings, taken listings for free and worked with other agents in order to establish himself and make a name for himself.

    You might want label this as “negative’ again but your own post defines negative. You’re taking shots at people you’ve most likely never met because they’ve succeeded where you’ve failed. I’m hoping something good can come out of your negative post and will keep my out for the new show “Bitter Agent” debuting on W.

    1. jeff316 says:

      Those with a bone to pick also bang the “barriers to entry” drum but when you step back from the anger it is clear that there are many fields/businesses that have low entry barriers.

      The reason there are so many new real estate agents is that the house prices and commission structure suggests to prospective agents that the risk of not making a living is low. The turnover of agents proves that’s not the reality.

      Your post makes little sense (bitter poster accuses blogger of being bitter?) but the one thing you’re completely right about is the dress issue.

    2. Kyle says:

      Don’t get me wrong, I love the Internet…but I’ve noticed with it’s increase in popularity there has been a rise in a certain condition that afflicts some people who use it, mainly men. I don’t know whether there is a medical name for the condition, I just call it “brother-in-law-itis”. And it results in some people who clearly have no real world exposure to a subject to feel that because they’ve read some shit on a subject written by Internet “experts”, that they themselves are now imminently more qualified to speak about that subject than someone who has made a successful career practicing that subject day in day out for well over a decade. FFS Mike, give it a rest.

      1. condodweller says:

        And cue Kyle running to David’s defense again. It’s funny when I read Mike’s post I know Kyle would run to the rescue. Anytime anyone says something negative about David’s posts you can count on Kyle showing up. Kyle, David wrote he doesn’t mind laying it all out on his blog for everyone to criticize. Why do you feel the need to rush in and protect him? I’m no expert but I think you may be developing some unhealthy relationship with David. Unless of course you are his Dad.

        1. Kyle says:

          Actually condodweller you came straight to mind when I was describing the condition. Your case of brother-in-law-itis, is pretty severe, frankly it’s basically chronic. I thought i made it quite clear why I spoke up against you that last time when you were being a complete douche, perhaps you should re-read those comments. It’s really very simple if you don’t want to be called out for (or in your case, can’t handle) being a douche, then don’t be a douche. But something tells me after reading your many comments that even simple things are very hard for you.

  6. Wut says:

    It’s a decent show, better than the awful acting on top million dollar agent.

    You missed another affect these shows could have. Many people may see these young wealthy agents and resent how much money they take from a transaction. Unlike property taxes, there’s no mill rate so as prices go up the commission goes up. 50k from a 1 million dollar transaction is too high, even if there is 2 agents and 2 brokerages involved.

    Lowering the standard commissions would probably help fix the other points you brought up as well.

  7. Sabrina says:

    Very good decision on your part. The same thing happened with journalism after “All the President’s Men.” Kids got attracted to the “glory” of journalism. Huh? And now it’ happening with cooking. I hear these kids say they want to be a “celebrity chef,” not a chef. And they have no idea how much work is involved. This fantasy-reality stuff manages to degrade whatever profession it hits.

  8. condodweller says:

    I actually like watching the MDL shows but not for the reasons David listed. I like to see what properties are like in other countries ( I also watch house hunting international). I especially like the condos shown in NYC. I find that house/condo designs are much more geared towards the homeowner’s needs where some thought went into the design rather than the minimalistic builds we see in Toronto to maximize the builder’s profit.

    As far as the brokers go, I know it’s entertainment and have a good laugh at the bickering that goes on, and the display of the egomaniacs.

    1. AndrewB says:

      New condo development is a lot different in the US too. Most states the condos and even houses are pre built and then you get to buy what you see. They’ll usually leave out things you’d pick like finishes but you get to actually see dimensions, etc not just a floorplan.

  9. The graduate says:

    I think the show does over simplify just how much work goes into helping clients buy and sell real estate. It has impacted everyone within the business, sellers don’t think it’s a full-time job (comfree & property guys) with many FSBO’s overpriced & expired. Buyers don’t understand that value is derived as a function of what someone else will pay and realtors are a dime a dozen, with 70% of them not worth the paper their business cards are printed on. I have my undergrad in business and a concentration in real estate and at the time I was going to school Big City Broker was the show in Toronto, these shows have been around for a while. Lastly the barriers to entry don’t exist the level of education required to be a realtor is pitiful, the system needs a complete overhaul but what do I really know. You write a great blog David I really enjoy it.

  10. Fro Jo says:

    Next stop: Bond villains. “Choose your next offer carefully, Mr. Bond. It may be your last.”

  11. AndrewB says:

    I second the cars, rocking their lease Queen 320i’s.

    As for an MDL Toronto it simply wouldn’t catch on I think. General society is fascinated with the rich and famous. They’ll totally eat up whatever rich couple is buying the next big property in West Village or the Upper East Side because NYC is cosmopolitan and “chic”. Toronto? Meh. It lacks that global panache and scale that would attract wide viewership.

  12. GinaTO says:

    I forget which language has a delightful colloquial expression that means “A face in need of a fist”. Yep.

    1. Glenn says:

      The Germans have a word for everything, lol. “Backpfeifengesicht “.

  13. Dave says:

    I’m surprised that you haven’t included the cars – for the young 20-somethings, it’s all about the BMW 3-series or Audi A4. The car salesmen must have dollar signs in their eyes when one of the rookie agents come through the doors with a pad-folio and enough hair gel in their hair to survive a hurricane.

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