Find out how powerhouse New York City real estate broker and television personality Ryan Serhant has parlayed his personal brand into a burgeoning media empire.
Whether you know him from his book, his television shows, his instructional course or his social media presence, Ryan Serhant is one of the most recognizable figures in real estate. Mixing market know-how with movie-star charisma, his Serhant team dominates New York City luxury real estate to the delight of his audience on Bravo’s Emmy-nominated Million Dollar Listing New York and his standalone spin-off Sell It Like Serhant.
We talked to Serhant about his Bravo ventures, both good and bad, and how his personal brand is becoming an empire for his agents to build on.
How did you land Bravo’s Million Dollar Listing New York?
They say luck is when opportunity meets preparation, and I’m a huge believer in that. I think hard work trumps luck when luck doesn’t work hard. I went to an open casting call in 2010 with 3,000 agents in Times Square, and everyone told me not to do it.
My passion for my whole life was to do theater, and maybe one day get the opportunity to do film and TV. When I graduated college, I went to New York and not LA because I loved being on the stage. I loved the audience, performing, and I was OK with that lifestyle.
I couldn’t make any money, and I started running out of money, living in NYC. I had a decision to make: basically get a survival job just to pay bills or move home, which is what most of my peers did. I knew if I moved home to Colorado I wouldn’t pick up and come all the way back to New York.
I got a survival job being a real estate agent, and I figured I could rent an apartment or two a month and be able to pay all my bills, then I would have the rest of the month to do theater, acting, classes, training and all that stuff.
Long story short, the training for me as a real estate agent was really similar to being in theater. It was as simple as memorizing scripts, memorizing neighborhoods and data about buildings, which helped me when I was a young brand-new agent.
Now, I know everything about every neighborhood and every building because I’ve been doing it for 12 years, so that experience has been beaten into my brain with a sledge hammer. I tell every young agent [that] you can’t change how much experience you have: You’re either new to the business, or you’ve been in the business. I knew everything I possibly could — all the facts, all the data — because I could memorize it.
I was also super honest about how young I was, and I made it into a positive. I didn’t have to go home to a family or kids, and I would sleep on your doorstep until your home sold.
As leader of the No. 1 team in New York City (No. 3 in the U.S. in sales volume), with 60 agents and staffers who’ve sold $1.6 billion in real estate in the past two years, what do you look for in agents, and how do you encourage them to build their own brand?
Very much so. Branding, marketing, and the use of new forms of media — our ability to get the word out as a real estate agent and for our properties — is the most important thing we do. I do my best to lead by example both in my work ethic — how often I work and how hard I work — and in how I brand myself.
My team gets the benefit of being able to work underneath me and getting the residual business that comes through me because I worked for so long and so hard on my brand. They also have the tools that I have, and they use them as resources.
Another broker might provide access to direct mail, listing services, an app or two, but here, you have all of that along with a full-on media team to help you build your own brand. As we go into this new decade, that’s what’s going to be the most important thing. No one cares what brokerage you work out of anymore.
Have you invested a lot of time in Serhant Media Group, yet another extension of your brand?
Yes, the majority of my time is spent selling real estate and spent on and with my team. Serhant Media Group has grown completely naturally.
I started with one person because I just got to the point where I couldn’t manage it all on my own and develop an effective media campaign for a property. Then it grew with hiring a videographer, then handling content, YouTube, and another, and another. Now it’s a team of seven.
They’re a resource for my entire team. They create all the content and the media for the properties, for the agents because agent branding is super important. I really want every individual agent on my team to have that powerhouse brand for selling lots of apartments and helping people find their dream home.
I think I have the luxury and the benefit that I don’t need everyone in the world to know Serhant. I am relatively well-known, so that by default my effort, my work and my money go into my individual brand.
Another arm of your personal brand was a sales-focused Bravo show called Sell It Like Serhant. Was it picked up for another season?
No, it was a joint decision to put things on hold and figure it out. The first season took four months to film. I was out of NYC every other week teaching people how to sell, and it ended up being so exhausting. TV is great, but my passion is selling real estate, my team, my brokerage.
It was great for business. Sell It Like Serhant was very different, but it did open doors for the book, which did incredibly well, and now we’re writing more books. It opened doors for the course. So, maybe I will do it again if I can find four months free.
I love selling. In a weird way, it’s like theater for me every day.
Selling is actually teachable, and you can do it and make an amazing living out of it. I am not as smart as everyone in my family who is in finance. There’s a lot of things I know I am not the best at. But why struggle at trying to be those things? Try and find what you’re good at, and really milk it.
I love that real estate is a limitless career. If you know how to sell something, you can sell yourself. If the real estate market tanks, go sell computers or iPhones. If you have that skill, you will never go hungry.
One of my biggest joys, to be honest, is watching my team members go from renting a $1,500-a-month apartment to selling a $7 million home. Their lives have changed overnight, and they don’t have to go to grad school, don’t need someone to give them a handout. They did that by working at local coffee shops, learning how to talk to people.
Living under the Sell It Like Serhant umbrella is your book and online course, which is relatively new. How is that going?
It changed my life. The course came out in August, and it was the No. 1 selling course on the platform. We have 10,000 members, 4,000 subscribers, which is a lot, but there’s millions of real estate agents out there, so in my mind, I have a long way to go. Every single person who has written to me has talked about how it changed their lives.
Do you have any sense of how many of the subscribers are real estate agents vs. other industries?
It’s predominantly real estate since the course is focused on real estate, but there’s a couple hundred people who are in insurance sales or car sales, people who want to sell themselves, authors, publicists, etc. There are a lot of chapters in the course that aren’t about real estate.
It’s 2020. How do you wake up every day and work for yourself and be productive? What do you do at 9 a.m. or noon if you work for yourself? How do you stay in touch with people? How do you not forget things? How do you function as an entrepreneur?
What’s your favorite social media platform?
My favorite obviously is Instagram because I’m on it all day long, but YouTube is incredibly important. I get stopped on the street now for our YouTube videos.
What are two or three of your personal branding tips?
- Do a personal audit: Don’t do it yourself. Ask someone you trust to answer: Who am I? How do you know me? What do you know me for? You might be surprised at what this person might say. I think that’s what your personal brand is. Your personal brand is your reputation. People used to know me as the guy with grey hair who talks really fast. That was kind of funny, and it was good for me to know, so I could change that.
- Whatever your authentic self is, put it out to the universe: If you’re not screaming it from the rooftops how is anyone going to know your brand and who you are if you don’t have a reputation, good or bad?
- You have to be consistent: If you’re going to put yourself out there, you have to do it every day.
Someone said to me that I am an overnight success and I feel like my overnight success started out in 2008. It takes time to become successful with your brand — you’re either a quitter, or you’re not. The easy thing to do is quit and take a break. The hard thing to do is keep going when you think no one is paying attention — but I guarantee they are.
Check out Serhant’s Inman Connect New York talk on why social media is the greatest gift to agents below.
Christy Murdock Edgar is a Realtor, freelance writer, coach and consultant with Writing Real Estate. She is also a Florida Realtors faculty member. Follow Writing Real Estate on Facebook, Twitter, Instagr
Stacey is an award-winning brand professional who earned her stripes on Madison Avenue and at major television networks before launching Co-Communications, a NY-based PR/Marketing firm. Connect with her on Instagram or LinkedIn.