LIFE, SUCCESS AND REAL ESTATE | Ryan Serhant’s Interview
Every month at The Hedonist Magazine we interview people that are passionate about life. Exceptional individuals that are conscious creators of their own path and that through us, they share with the world their inspiring journey towards the experience of SUCCESS. We call them Hedonists and Ryan Serhant is one them. Within a very appropriate context -a gleaming 4,500 square foot penthouse in Walker Street, Tribeca- we met to talk about his exciting life and successful career in real estate.
Born in Houston (Texas) and raised in Boston (Massachusetts), Ryan Serhant is known to be one of the top real estate brokers in the United States. His excellent skills and the ability to get deals done effectively can be seen on the well-known reality show on Bravo TV, Million Dollar Listing New York. Yet, his brilliant and unexpected destiny unfolded as a succession of very diverse life events. Before becoming who he is today and guided by the desire of his parents, Ryan tried to start studies in law. Feeling that it wasn’t what he really wanted, he decided to take action and pursue his dream to become an actor in New York City.
After performing the role of “Evan Walsh” on the soap opera “As The World Turns”, attending many auditions and lastly hand modeling -which paid better than being an actor- he says, a simple situation switched to be what would become his undiscovered passion when a friend told him: “Listen, don’t be a waiter, don’t be a bartender. Get the real estate license which is the greatest thing in the world, and it is so easy, it is New York!” And so, following his friend’s advice Ryan started his career in real estate in summer 2008, the day of the financial collapse, the day that Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy.
“I became addicted to the idea that the harder I would work, the better I could do, whereas when I was acting I would work my but off for three months, I would go to every audition, I’d be out there as much as possible and all I was doing is spending money. It is just a numbers game, but I was happy doing real estate. It just kind of steamed roll from there.”
- Your first years pursuing your dream to become an actor was a good training, don’t you think so?
For rejection, sure! I spent a lot of time of my life doing theatre and acting classes while becoming different characters. When you study acting you are not just memorizing lines. One day you become a dog, the next day you born again and so on. It really teaches you to listen, it teaches you to be a very open person and in real estate, if you want to be successful you have to be able to connect with you and with others. I have to become whoever I need to be in order to sell “that product”.
- What was your first role as a real estate agent? I imagine you didn’t start selling $5 million-plus properties.
I have to say that I got into real estate so I wouldn’t have to go back home because at that time I couldn’t afford to stay in New York as my rent was just too high. So let’s say that if I rented an apartment for $2.000 the commission would be $2.000, and the split with my company “Nestseekers” the brokerage, would be fifty-fifty. So my thought was: ” If I can make a $1.000 in a day, I just need a couple of rentals a month and I’ll be rich!” So that’s what I did. I started doing rentals, running all over the city all day long to show the apartments to my clients, posting the ads on the Internet, meeting clients at Starbucks… It was all about this hustle and flow.
- In such a competitive business, what skills do you believe have taken you to be one of the top real estate brokers in America at such a young age?
Selling my body! (laughs). I think listening to fear is a really important thing. A lot of people get afraid of things and they don’t listen to it. They just sort of let it take over, but you’ve got to fight it.
When I was acting one of my last performances was Shakespeare “Romeo and Juliet,” next to the Hudson River. As you are driving the west-side highway there is a little grass area near the water where we put on a free play for people who are just walking around. So I remember there being a man who was about 60 years old playing “Lord Capulet.” He was so excited, he was like if it was going to be the greatest performance of his life, he was going to finally change his career and make it! And I will never forget that moment when I thought to myself: “Oh my god! I need to do something to not become you. If I’m you when I am 60, I will not be happy.” So I took that really to heart and I listened to the fear of failure.
“A lot of people get afraid of things and they don’t listen to it. They just sort of let it take over, but you’ve got to fight it.”
Then I looked at the top real estate brokers in New York and I figured out what they did, which is working all the time. Believe me, for the first three years in the business I didn’t take a single day off, no holidays, no weekends, no nothing. It sucked the worst but I think that for entrepreneurship and especially real estate agents where it’s all commission based, you have to put in the time now that others won’t, so later on you can live the life that others can’t.
- Do you believe it is possible to have a successful career while having a fulfilling personal life? Does this balance exist?
Sure! But for everybody it is different. I think it is all relative towards the time in which you are living and also time management. Moreover, it is also about what makes you happy; what is your version of a balanced life? It is probably different from my version, which in the meantime it is different from everyone else’s version.
“You are only as good as people you surround yourself with”
Some people they need to be home every day by five o’clock, some people need to take a vacation, for some people having a balanced life is being at the office every single day, and that’s really what they want. So I believe it is a 100% possible, you just need to learn time management and the power of leverage; how to build good people around you, because you are only as good as people you surround yourself with.
- With such a busy agenda, I’m curious to know how you prioritize your task and projects at work.
I just go where my calendar tells me to go. As a real estate agent, I am my own boss and I have my team underneath me. So I really am my own CEO, CFO, and COO of my own business.
“I strongly believe that the only way to predict your future is to create it, and you have to create it through new business.”
I never went to business school, I never read any books, I never did real estate training or anything but the number one thing is that new business is always the most important. So while you have to manage the current business and also take care of the old business -deal with expenses, bills and all of that stuff-, the most important thing and that takes priority every single day, is new business. So when I manage priorities -new listing pitches, new developer meetings, new publicity and things like this-, it takes priority over everything, because I strongly believe that the only way to predict your future is to create it. And you have to create it through new business.
- What sources do you use just to understand the trends in the real estate environment?
I basically listen to what clients are telling us based on the active inventory. The listing traffic really tells us where the market is going. Two years ago the listings we had that were under $5 million were kind of slow, but $5 million-$10 million and above were really demanded. Two years ago I put something in the market for $10 million and sold it for $12.5 million. It is just crazy how much that happened and in a split second, the market flipped. So about a year and a half ago the high-end market was done; all those people with all that money who wanted big properties said: “okay, I bought, I hit it in the right time and now it’s over, I am not buying any more.“ Then all the low-end listings (under $5 million) started really trading, and that’s where we are right now. We are right now in a moment where you put something in the market for $3 million and its being bit up and bit up…
- Do you consider that investing in Real Estate it is safer than investing in other assets?
I think you should invest wherever you are the most knowledgeable. Real estate historically has always increased in value, so as long as you can hold and you are properly insured no matter what happens, you will be ok. It is indeed a good place to put money. Thirty years ago this area right here (Tribeca), was only for manufacturing, nobody lived in penthouses in this area. And a couple of hundreds of years ago this was all farms. So if you can hold, it will always be ok.
“Real estate historically has always increased in value, so as long as you can hold and you are properly insured no matter what happens, you will be Ok.”
If you invest in other assets where you have the opportunity for things to completely bottom out -stocks can crash-, you have no control. Here, what is the worst that can happen? A fire? Ok, so if you are insured then no problem. Hence, as long as you can hold and as long as you plan wisely for monthly payments, it is always a safe investment, that’s why I think people really like buying real estate.
- What are the main things that you should look at when investing in a new property? In the show, the process looks very smooth.
Of course! And it takes us a year to make each season. One of the most important things to look at is location. Where do you want to be in? What location do you think is going to have the greatest appreciation? Or which location do you think is going to have the greatest preservation?
“In the East Village, right now, if you buy a property today, next year you will double your money. In parts of Brooklyn, next year you will triple your money.”
Properties around Central Park may have the greatest preservation of wealth because there will always be people who want to have apartments and townhouses in Central Park. But are those properties going to double in value in the next two years? In the East Village, right now, if you buy a property today next year you will double your money. In parts of Brooklyn next year, you will triple your money. But is that the best place to preserve wealth? In ten years are people going to go to that part of Brooklyn and pay you what you want them to pay? I don’t know yet, but I do know that Central Park isn’t going anywhere and there will always be people who want to be in the area. So in the end, it comes down to what you want; appreciation, preservation and location.
- What does a luxury property owner look at when choosing a real estate professional to sell his/her property? Why would they choose you and not someone else?
Because I’m the best! (laughs). A lot of it is professionalism. You want to list with somebody that you trust, who is confident in what they do, who has an ability to get the job done, somebody who you also like. Furthermore, sales are exposure. The whole reason I did Million Dollar Listing, even though everyone told me “don’t do it”, is because the more people who know what you are selling, the more exposure you are going to have. I can do the same advertising as others, but I can do it better because I have a bigger advertising budget, I have a bigger social media exposure and there is a television show that is watched by 25 million people around the world. So my commission is the same as theirs but my exposure is greater, so why wouldn’t you do it?
“My model for a long time it just to say: yes and figure it out. Just say yes and show up, work hard and we will make it work.”
- What is your model?
My model for a long time it is to say: yes and figure it out. Just say yes and show up, work hard and we will make it work. That is the only piece of advice I could ever give. Indeed, I do that all the time and I can give you a clear example. A developer once said to me: “do you want to sell these townhouses for me?” (In an area in Brooklyn which is really far out there). So most brokers in New York City would probably say “no”. And I don’t really do that area but I thought… you know what? That’s an opportunity for me to expand my business, who knows, the high-end market in New York City is tough right now, so sure, let’s do it and I’ll figure it out! And now I have opened my first office in Brooklyn because there is so much property out there that I need to have that space. So, say yes and figure it out.
- In terms of luxury, what makes a property more luxurious than the other?
Attention to detail. You could be in the greatest building in the world or in the greatest location in the world but if there is no attention to detail in the architecture and in the interiors… that is luxury for me, the value is a different word. For example, this apartment is a luxurious apartment: it has Bang & Olufsen speakers that drag from the ceiling and follow you around so that the sound it is always perfect no matter where you are sitting. It also has the individual wall paneling everywhere, the ceiling molding… it’s crazy!
- What would be the most expensive property you have ever sold? And what is the least expensive?
The most expensive single home that I have ever sold was $32 million, but again, in this business, it is about volume. If I just run around all day long with clients looking for $20 to $50 million properties, that would just be terrible. I prefer being really busy and doing more trades. So I have buildings that we sell out all of the units for $450-$600 million. And that’s how I view it in terms of my largest sales.
The least expensive was one of my first sales ever: a studio-apartment at 10th Hanover square (Financial district) which I sold for $375 thousand. I remember I had to paint it personally as I had to get the deal done and the client refused to do it. So I was like “screw it, I’m painting it myself!” Sometimes people are so penny wise and pound foolish, it drives me crazy!
- Are your listings only focused on New York? Does your real estate business extend beyond this city?
Primarily we have many listings in New York, but also in The Hamptons, Los Angeles, Miami etc. We work with everybody and I think that at the end of the day if you are an international investor or a property purchaser, you want to work with someone who is knowledgeable about every market. So my biggest clients are not the clients that I do in New York with. They have properties in New York, that’s how I met them, but then I’m also flying down to Miami, Dallas, Chicago and then Los Angeles to help them throughout the process of buying or selling. So I am a USA property investment advisor with headquarters in New York, that’s the way to really look at it.
- What would be a hot spot to invest in right now in New York City?
East Village, by far! The easiest investment you could make in the city right now would be in the East Village. It’s like the highest rate of appreciation and the buildings and apartments we are selling there… I can’t hold on to them even if I wanted to!
- What is your formula for success?
There is a famous Jazz saxophonist who everyone thought he was the most successful saxophonist in the world, so they asked him when he was on his deathbed: What was your kind of formula for success? And his answer was: “If you take care of the music, the music will take care of you”. And I remember that quote since the day I got into real estate.
“If you take care of the music, the music will take care of you.”
I take it to mean that if you just do the work day in and they out, the work will take care of you. If you don’t do the work, if you don’t show up, if you don’t practice your instrument, if you don’t network and show people that you are performing, then the work is not going to take care of you. So if you take care of the music, the music will take care of you.