On April 29 the real estate brokerage business will get a big dose of reality — that’s the debut for a reality television series about a group of real estate professionals who work in northern New Jersey.
The cast of “Bought & Sold,” which will appear on home-and-garden cable network HGTV, includes 11 real estate agents and a broker for RE/MAX Village Square Realtors. The show was filmed from September through November last year, at a time when the market was slowing from a prolonged period of rapid price appreciation.
HGTV notes this market transition in its promotion of the new show: “Meet 12 tough Realtors, in one of the toughest markets.” The network has made a name in the industry with a series of other shows that appeal to consumers and real estate professionals alike, such as “House Hunters,” “Curb Appeal” and “Designed to Sell,” though the network has categorized this latest series as a “docudrama” rather than a “how-to” program.
It took some time to get used to the camera crews, said Steven Gendel, a fourth-generation real estate agent who five years ago chose to follow the career path of his great-grandfather, grandmother and mother. His father now works in the industry, too. Gendel’s wife also was born into a real estate family — her father and grandfather have been in the business.
“I was hesitant at first,” Gendel said about his participation in the series. But he saw the series as an opportunity to showcase his work.
“The first day was a little overwhelming. It was weird to have a camera following you. By the second or third time you kind of got used to it. The camera crew … would just follow us around. They became less intrusive as I found out how the process worked. They were really great about being unobtrusive. They purposely kept a low profile.” On one night the camera crews stayed with him to film until about 10 p.m.
Gendel, 36, who is the lead agent in a four-person real estate team, said the show will hopefully help consumers appreciate the behind-the-scenes work that agents do and shed some light on his personal life as the father of a 7-year-old son who has multiple disabilities. “I’m a very big advocate of families with special needs,” he said.
Before turning to real estate, Gendel was working in corporate America until an unexpected event brought major change for his family. “In 2002 my son had lifesaving brain surgery and I got fired the next day.” He hopes the show will help raise awareness for families who have children with disabilities and also to “make them feel a little more comfortable.”
The flexibility of the real estate business has allowed Gendel to maintain a career even through his son’s lengthy hospital visits. “I’ve done transactions from the hospital. I’ve had people come to the hospital and sign contracts.” He has used the fax machine at a nurse’s station to print out transaction documents.
Viewers of the series, Gendel said, will hopefully “see that 90 percent of my job is not in front of them. They don’t see the amount of deals that go back and forth,” he said, such as all the communication among title insurers and lenders and the preparation of reports. He markets properties on about 30 Web sites and prepares other forms of advertising.
“I’m not trying to complain about it,” he said. “I actually love what I do. It’s just awesome. This is fun. I hope that comes across on the show. I have a good time doing this. If I can’t bring passion I wouldn’t like doing this.”
While some agents lock their clients into written agreements with a specified timeline, Gendel has a different approach — he allows clients to fire him at any time. He also offers a service package to sellers through which he will buy their home if he isn’t able to secure a buyer for the property. That incentive didn’t draw too much interest when houses were selling like hotcakes, he said. “Then 2006 happened and all of the sudden my phone got busy — real busy. I became known as the guy who buys houses.” So far he has found buyers before he’s had to buy a home himself, he said.
The market is still moving — he works in an area that includes bedroom communities for Manhattan, and among them are some very upscale neighborhoods. In Short Hills, for example, the average sales price is about $1.5 million. He is based out of Livingston, where homes are priced from about $400,000 to $4 million, and residents include an eclectic mix of financial services and legal professionals who work in Manhattan.
Gendel said he only appeared for about 30 seconds in the first episode of “Bought & Sold,” and that is the only show he was able to preview. The series will air on Sundays at 10 p.m. Eastern Time.
Maybe the show could lead to new business, Gendel said, adding that he is somewhat worried about the show’s editing and how he will appear to viewers. “I think I came across OK,” he said. “I think I came across as the kind of person who fights for his clients, and I think they’re going to show that.”
And he is glad to have seized the opportunity. “It was an awesome experience. If they did it again and asked me I would do it.”
Rumors of a second season are already swirling, said Roberta Baldwin, another agent who participated in the show. Baldwin, like Gendel, also leads a small real estate team: The “Baldwin Dream Team.”
Baldwin is no stranger to the entertainment industry. She has worked as a freelance writer, book author, newspaper editor and marketing and publishing executive, produced an off-Broadway musical and is the official biographer for singer Lionel Richie. Her real estate team ranked among the top five RE/MAX teams in New Jersey last year.
She said it was during her participation in the filming of the series that she realized, “I was suddenly looking at myself as a character. I know how the industry works. I was aware of myself — wondering how I would report the story that I was in.”
Other participants also have some comfort level with the spotlight — among the other participants in the series are former actresses, a creative director for a department store, and a figure skater with dance and voice training.
Show titles for the early episodes include: “Double Offers and Big Deals”; “Splitting Up and Selling”; “Facing Home Inspections”; “Pricing High and Staging”; and “Tackling House Hunting Challenges.”
“Our broker-owner, Roy Scott, comes out of a performance background. I think he felt this might be an opportunity for us. We are a highly entrepreneurial company — he was interested in seeing what this could do for our company.”
Participants weren’t paid to appear in the show — and they didn’t have a makeup artist or someone to fluff their hair, Baldwin noted. It was a rudimentary crew, she said, that included a producer, cameraman and an assistant.
“I would say to the producer, ‘How do I look today?’ ” Baldwin said, and the producer would typically respond, “Fine, fine, you look just great.” Baldwin added, “Part of reality television — you don’t stop to powder your nose.”
At her blog, SuburbanDigs.com, she commented that she was worried about her appearance on the show, and that she “spent all last summer worrying about being chosen. With so many derogatory stereotypes in my profession, I wondered how realistic it was to believe I would come through such a project in one piece. A relative who is … in the reality-TV biz actually told me not to get involved.”
During filming, she became less self-conscious as she became more comfortable with the camera crew. “In the beginning we were more concerned with how we looked and how we came across,” she said, but after about 11 or 12 weeks of filming it was “a long time to be worried about the niceties,” she said. “My own particular work ethic probably kicked in, as I think most of my colleagues felt the same way. It didn’t really matter that the cameras were there. We had to do our job.”
And she believes that will show through in the final product. There is a warmth, she said, about how real estate agents do their jobs. “It’s really about how hard you work. I think we were triumphant in the end — that’s what the stories were about.”
Television enjoys tidy stories that have a beginning, middle and end — though in the real estate business those are not always abundant and clear, Baldwin said. In one instance during filming she had a client “who was a fascinating character and lovely man” who decided he did not want to participate in a transaction, and that is part of the business, too, she said. “For me it’s about the relationships I have,” she said
There was another time during filming when a happy ending played out for a couple who bought a home. The couple brought both sets of parents to see the home. “They were obviously very moved at the fact that they have achieved something in their life. There’s a moment when the husband almost breaks into tears — he is so overcome by this moment where he has been aware of his own achievement as a husband and a father and a working man,” Baldwin said.
“At that moment I was aware that they were filming this. I thought, ‘You cannot bottle this.’ “
The producer asked her about the success element to the business, and what it was like to be a top producer in her field. While it does take a tremendous amount of effort to do well in the business, she said, “I also take it really personally. It’s a business but it also is so much about people, and that’s what I hope the show will convey.”