After doling out panini sandwiches outside of The Late Show with David Letterman and being a lousy bartender, Fredrik Eklund, an arrival from Sweden in 2003, thought he would give real estate a try.

Described as “quirky” by others, Eklund was numbers-driven and could understand an Excel spreadsheet. His colleagues taught him little at his first brokerage, but one day he had his first client with a $550,000 listing, and he was on his way.

“I was starting to get new listings. I saw every person walking down the street as an unsigned commission check on legs,” Eklund said while speaking at Inman Connect New York.

Now the top broker at Douglas Elliman and co-founder of the Eklund Gomes Team in Manhattan, Eklund has secured over $5 billion in closed sales since arriving in New York.  In January 2016 alone, Eklund made more than $200 million in sales to New York luxury buyers.

Eklund, who stars in the Emmy-nominated TV show Million Dollar Listing New York, has emerged as Manhattan’s “broker to the stars” by selling luxury penthouse apartments and mega-mansions to Hollywood and music celebrities.

Though the Manhattan agent doesn’t talk much about his celebrity clients, the time Jennifer Lopez picked him up in a pink Jeep to go look at apartments has stayed with him.

He doesn’t think his success is necessarily down to his expertise in real estate per se — rather, his likability.

“Like a kid selling Christmas calendars, all of us are so focused on what we are selling, but it doesn’t really matter,” he said. “It’s really about selling yourself. If you can get people to like you, you can sell anything.”

Stick with what you’re selling

Eklund decided what he wanted to sell early on in his career, and that was new developments.

He introduced himself to Shaun Osher, co-founder of CORE boutique real estate marketing and sales company and a big agent in town, and Eklund invited Osher to join him

“Instead of being reactive, be proactive — maybe you are working in the wrong area,” he said.  “For me, I picked condominiums downtown, which I thought were undervalued. ”

“I was probably the only guy in my 20s that had a big new development that had sold out,” he said.

He says he has been doubling his business ever since, largely because he goes after new buildings.

Break into new developments

Getting your foot in the door to new development is not easy, according to Eklund. “You have to work with a team that does it at first — it can be a bit catch-22,” he said.

“Get on the best project in town and then just sit there [and learn],” he said.

“In Sweden I used to dream that I was waking up in Central Park, and then one day I was here.”

He does less selling nowadays, spending a lot of time consulting developers from the beginning of a project. Sometimes, he will help pick the architect.

He estimates he has worked on 55 buildings. When working on a new building, he likes to view it as filming a movie. “‘You are going to be the producer, I’ll be the director,'” he likes to say to builders.

It doesn’t always work out that way, he says, but that’s the idea to shoot for.

Limit team growth

He is often asked by other agents if he’s growing his team, but Douglas Elliman has a 10-person rule in the company, wherein a team is not allowed to have more than 10 members.

“This forces you to be the best,” he said. “It’s not about how many people, but how much per capita you produce.”

And what is he most looking forward to growing in 2017? His team and its 250 active listings are strong on social media, but Eklund says he his web presence was weak, so he built a website with Real Estate Webmasters’ Morgan Carey.

Eklund expects to get $100 million of leads from the new website in its first year.

Email Gill South.

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