What the Star of ‘Million Dollar Listing’ Wants You to Know About Real Estate

Photo to accompany Ryan Serhant interview story. Getty Images / Monica Schipper / Stringer

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With everyone stuck inside, real estate has been on our minds this year. 

If you’re in the market for a new home, follow the advice of “Million Dollar Listing New York” star, Ryan Serhant and look past the sticker price to make sure you can really afford it. “You have to remember that you don’t live in the purchase price — you live in your monthly payments,” says Serhant, a New York real-estate veteran. 

Serhant, 36, started his real estate career 12 years ago, in the middle of the Great Recession. Since then, he’s developed a team of 60+ agents and in 2020 founded SERHANT., a real estate brokerage with an in-house film studio. Serhant spoke with NextAdvisor about his upcoming book “Big Money Energy,” how to tell when you’re buying more home than you can afford, and what we can expect from the new season of “Million Dollar Listing New York.” 

The following interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

NextAdvisor: How has business changed for the high-end real estate market since the shutdown?

RYAN SERHANT: Some of the biggest real estate transactions are now happening virtually. It used to be that someone wouldn’t make an offer until they came and saw the property. Now, a FaceTime tour and a virtual tour are enough. People are focused on the deal more than anything.

Some of the tours that happen in person are very quick, and people are making decisions much faster. For example, we just did a $22.5 million deal in SoHo and the buyer wore a mask, a face shield and gloves, walked through the apartment for three minutes — and then made the decision to buy it. Pre-COVID that might’ve been three or four different visits.

The pandemic, and quarantine specifically, was a big PR campaign for the value of a good home. There’s nothing like locking people into their homes for three months to convince them to go find a better one.

Looking forward to 2021, what factors do you think will have the biggest impact on real estate markets next year?

Taxes. 

No one has spoken at length about who’s going to pay for all of the COVID relief. How it’s going to be paid back is a federal issue, but it also impacts the local municipalities. 

As an example, we’re already seeing the stress on the New York City budget with fewer police and fewer sanitation workers. [New York City mayor Bill] de Blasio has cut New York City’s sanitation budget by $106 million and you can tell because there’s trash all over the streets. It’s really affecting people’s lives.

Who are you going to tax to make up for these budget deficits and to pay these bills? Once COVID has been contained and there’s a vaccine and it’s not on the news 24/7 with a death ticker, we’ll see how federal and local governments decide to raise funds. I think that’ll have the biggest effect on real estate going forward. Because as far as we know, interest rates are going to be very very low for the foreseeable future. So that’s not as urgent for people, but what they will owe in taxes is.

For the average homebuyer who isn’t looking for a multimillion-dollar home, is now a good time to buy or should someone wait?

It’s always personal preference, but you have to remember that you don’t live in the purchase price — you live in your monthly payments. With interest rates where they are and a lot of people deciding to be location ambiguous, it’s a great time to buy because you can afford more in a different location than you ever would’ve thought about living.

My parents just sold a ranch in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. It had been on the market for five years on and off. They put it on the market during quarantine and they had four buyers in the first week and it sold. The house above them, up the hill, recently sold to a couple from New York City, that run a business in New York. But they realized for what they’re paying in New York they could actually have a ranch in Steamboat Springs and live there full time. Once things open up again they can fly into New York for one week a month.

For opportunities like that, I think it’s a great time to take advantage of low rates and low monthly payments if you’re really looking to change your lifestyle. (Editor’s note: Use our mortgage calculator to convert a purchase price into an estimated monthly payment.)

With everyone stuck at home, a lot of people are doing home improvement projects. What renovations are the most valuable and what projects are less likely to get a return on the investment?

First and foremost is the kitchen. The kitchen has the highest return on investment because it’s going to be the most work and takes the most thought. It’s the heart of the home — it’s where you spend the most time. Buyers will look at the kitchen and if it needs a full renovation it’s like the gateway drug to the rest of the house. If the kitchen is old, buyers will worry that everything might be old. What about the pipes? What about the insulation? Are there termites? And maybe they don’t buy the house, but that’s how buyers think about it.

One thing people don’t think about a lot is light and air. Think about windows, window sizes, and types of windows. If you could open up that corner of your dining room and put a nice big window there to bring in more light and air, that’s a good thing to do. People really appreciate more windows. All the time now in listings, people are starting the listing by talking about the amount of windows in their property, which is something I’m not used to. 

If you’re gonna be cooped up and you’re gonna work from home, light and air is probably the most important. If you have a home that has great light and air around it, but you wouldn’t know that if you were inside, then that’s probably the first renovation that I would do–open up the walls, widen the windows. Even if you don’t have the money to do that, simply having your windows professionally cleaned or you going out there with a sponge and squeegee makes a big difference.

Production for season nine of “Million Dollar Listings New York” was delayed. Is there anything you can tell us about the upcoming season or when we can expect a release date?

We’re filming again now, but we were shut down for four months. But we continued production via our cellphones. It’ll probably be the most unique season ever, and it reminds me a lot of season two with Hurricane Sandy. That’s when we were nominated for our first Emmy because they followed us as we were selling real estate and living in New York when New York south of 42nd Street just shut down because of the hurricane and half the city lost power. 

My last day of filming [season nine before quarantine] was the day I sold Marc Jacobs’ townhouse. We were filming that sale and then packing in the car and heading up to New Hampshire to quarantine. But we picked [production] back up, and the show will follow everything New York has gone through for the past couple months, from protests, to Black Lives Matter, to the overall shutdown and how that’s changed the market. We can’t do open houses, no events. We’re all six feet away, there’s contact tracing now and lots of disclosures. So the first half of Million Dollar Listing New York season nine, which will premiere early next year, is going to feel very different from the second half. It’s really going to show what it was like to work in New York leading up to quarantine and through it and out of it as we bring the city back to its feet.

You have a history of putting together big stunts to attract attention to listings, music videos, costumes, and drumlines. What was the craziest thing you’ve ever done to sell a property that didn’t make it into the show?

We just launched a building at 145 Central Park North. I hired a team of skywriting airplanes, which I’ve never done before, to fly over Central Park on the day we were launching and write “145 CPN” in the sky. Every letter was two miles long, people saw it everywhere and were posting about it. That would have been cool on TV, but we weren’t filming then.

Your second book, Big Money Energy, is coming out in January 2021. What does “big money energy” mean to you? 

It’s the secret sauce to everything that people learned in Sell It Like Serhant. Where Sell It Like Serhant was the tool kit for how to sell and how to build a sales career, [Big Money Energy] is how you put it all together. The new book is my blueprint for how to build self-confidence in the face of adversity when you don’t have confidence.

Season eight of the show featured a lot of kids and baby announcements. Whose child has the most potential Big Money Energy?

Steve Gold’s daughter — he named her Rose. Her name is Rose Gold, that’s pretty big money energy. When she walks into a room for the rest of her life and she introduces herself and says,“Hi, my name is Rose Gold,” she’ll have great self-confidence just because she has such a cool name.

And I would say my daughter because we named her Zena. Assuming she doesn’t drop my last name and just go for the one word, like Madonna. I don’t think she’ll have any other Zenas in her class. She’s a rival second. Rose Gold is pretty powerful, especially as a baby.