I blame the television for this one. I also blame the internet, but it should be argued that the bulk of this blame lies with the television. Namely, the producers of the real estate shows that start with Million Dollar. The very name makes me cringe. But nonetheless, consumers like the entertainment that is found by watching brokers get rich by selling the homes of the rich and sometimes famous. The concern isn’t about the shows, since I watch them sometimes as well. In fact, the television shows are reasonably well orchestrated and have spent considerable time developing these characters. The concern is about the geography of it all.
Ryan Serhant sells real estate in New York. He’s good at it. I find him to be mildly obnoxious, but that’s not the point. Josh Flagg is in Beverly Hills, lounging poolside and driving vintage automobiles. I don’t fault him for the fact that his business only took off due to the tailwind that is having a rich and indeed famous grandmother. Josh Altman might be the most annoying of the bunch, or at least the most cheesy. If Josh weren’t making millions selling expensive real estate he’d either be a mortgage broker or an YouTube reviewer of expensive automobiles that he wouldn’t actually own. The other characters don’t matter to me. They are filler.
But this isn’t about these characters, it’s about what the television show, and their subsequent social media channels, have decided the game of upper bracket real estate looks like. It looks like this: Serhant in Manhattan. Psyche, Serhant helicoptering to the Hamptons to sell some new development. After all, he has a portfolio of wealthy New Yorkers, and what’s not to like about a portfolio like that? Switch scenes. Servant is in a helicopter again, this time over a ranch in Colorado. It’s barren. It’s desolate. It’s high desert. But alas, a lodge. Big and bold, elk antlers everywhere. Green Malachite bathrooms as far as the eye can see. Serhant peers out the window then makes eye contact with the camera. Before he says it we know what he’s going to say. Insane! Ryan thinks everything is insane, and this is no exception.
Switch coasts. Altman’s turn. He’s driving in a blacked out Rolls. Bird Streets, something-or-other. Shiny shoes. His wife has had some more surgery, maybe. Probably. Josh is working out in a cut off sweatshirt that says, DO WORK GET RICH RINSE AND REPEAT, probably, Or maybe not. Then, he’s off. To Tahoe, to show a customer a $45MM estate. Or somewhere in New Mexico. Maybe Aspen, I believe his wealthy parents live there. This is what a forty million dollar ski home looks like! His eyes alive with excitement, his shoes super, intolerably, shiny.
It’s not a problem that these guys are so successful, in fact, I think all success, in each of its forms, is wonderful. The problem here is in the assumption that the only concern with geography is the travel. Have helicopter or private jet, or access to both? Then geography is nothing. Travel to see some real estate, and I’ll help you. After all, if Altman knows rich people and their Beverly Hills behavior then he certainly knows rich people and their Aspen behavior, right? If Serhant knows the rich people in Manhattan, then it’s the same rich people in the Hamptons, which means he knows what he’s doing there just as sure as he knows what he’s doing in the city, right? The show assumes that high end real estate is the same everywhere, and in that, there is some truth. But that truth supposes the market itself is the same, when in fact it’s just the psychology that remains consistent. If Altman shows a $40MM home in Aspen, he can declare it be amazing, that’s fine. But did anyone ever consider asking the local market leader, you know, the Aspen guy, or gal, what they think of the house? Did anyone ever think that $40MM house is $10MM overpriced, and the listing agent is thrilled beyond belief that Altman is there to sell it, you know, because Altman doesn’t know anything about the actual Aspen market?
In Lake Geneva, the upper bracket liquidity is unique. We can say that often, but still not grasp it. Not only is it unique, it’s likely the most powerful resale market in the Midwest. Sorry luxe condos in Chicago, I said resale market. Because of this, it attracts agents from all over. Agents who come to town with a buyer, because they know the buyer. Buyers work with these out of towners because they trust them, based on something favorable that has happened in the past. These buyers show up hoping to buy something, and their agent, the one who isn’t from here, aims to understand the market simply by looking through the MLS and driving around. I’ve spent 23 years in this market, each and every day, and I still find the market to be confounding at times. Imagine then how lost an out-of-town agent might be, plying these waters with little more than MLS access and perhaps a lengthy history of having taken a tour boat ride three summers ago. I don’t blame these agents for trying, they’re just emulating what they’ve seen on television. In case you haven’t seen these shows and you’d like a primer on showing expensive real estate in markets that you don’t understand, just take a lesson from Serhant. Proclaim every home to be Insane! and sales are sure to follow.