The Brokers From Million Dollar Listing N.Y. Talk Crying on Camera and ‘Middle Class’ Manhattan

The roster of media mavens, moguls and boldface names spotted today at Michael's.

lunch at michaelsHaving binge-watched this season’s episodes of Bravo’s Million Dollar Listing New York during my recent bout with the flu, I was more than a little excited about today’s lunch with two of the series’ stars, Ryan Serhant and Luis D. Ortiz. Now in it’s fifth season, the show had its best ever ratings last week with a record-setting 1.9 million viewers tuning in to watch Ryan, Luis and Fredrik Eklund negotiate the tricky — and oh-so-lucrative — world of Manhattan real estate. “In New York, buying a 5 to 7 million dollar apartment, is still technically considered middle class,” Ryan told me, fully aware of how completely bizarre that sounds. Alrighty then.

Diane Clehane and Melinda Henneberger
Ryan Serhant, Diane Clehane and Luis D. Ortiz

For me, one of the most fascinating aspects of watching Million Dollar Listing New York is when the guys sell a property at some head-spinning sum and their commissions (often in the six figures) flash on the screen. For some Bravolebrities, insta-fame is the big payoff but for these guys, it’s all about the business. “You couldn’t buy this kind of exposure,” said Luis before Ryan interjected, “Well you could, but it would cost you a billion dollars.” Worldwide fame helps, too. Said Luis: “The show is huge in Australia. Fredrik told me when he was there the people at the airport went crazy and [makes Fredrik’s signature sound — Schwee!]”

Clearly, being on the show has been a boon for business. Ryan’s team at Nest Seekers International has racked up $630 million sales just in 2015 (!) and were ranked the No. 1 sales team in New York by The Wall Street Journal. Luis has sold over $100 million in residential real estate in the past three years.

Not everyone thought signing on to do a reality show about selling real estate was a good idea — at least at first. “In the beginning, there were people who were upset about [the idea of a show,]” said Luis. Ryan agreed. “Everyone said, ‘Don’t do it. It will destroy your business. It’s a lot easier being a ‘Housewife.'”

Fast forward five years. Now potential clients come to meetings armed with screen grabs from episodes to illustrate what they expect for their own deals. “The show has changed the way people think about real estate,” said Luis. And it’s not surprising clients want to cast themselves in the best possible light. “They also say, ‘I’m not going to be that guy,'” said Ryan, referring to the guys’ notoriously difficult clientele.

Television has clearly given these guys a huge career boost, but trust me, their hardcore work ethic, desire to succeed (more on that later) and crazy charisma would no doubt have landed them on the top of the city’s food chain eventually.

I first ‘Lunched’ with Luis in 2014 when he arrived a full half hour early (“My father always said if you’re on time, you’re late”) and talked about how he “escaped” his native Puerto Rico when he was 16 and wound up working as a janitor at a community college in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Somehow, he landed in Manhattan real estate. “I’ve always been a guy without a plan,” he told me then. Maybe, but on camera, at least, he’s always on a mission. In a recent episode, Luis stuck his neck out by schlepping out to Brooklyn to track down one of the city’s biggest developers, who was watching a Brooklyn Nets game in a swanky suite at the Barclays Center with Luis’ boss, Douglas Elliman honcho Howard Lorber. While both men were watching the game, Luis somehow got the developer to reinstate the initial lower Schedule A price of 13.8 million (It’s all relative, right?) which had been offered to a prospective (and very difficult) client before the developer decided to up the ante while Luis was still trying to reel in the deal. All that was missing was the theme from Rocky. For the record, he also arrived early today but seemed decidedly more relaxed than at our first meeting — but was still as relentlessly positive and upbeat (“Life is beautiful!”) as he was at our ‘Lunch’ two years ago.