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Real Estate

It takes diligence, persistence and confidence to sell it like Serhant

New York City’s top real estate agent tells engage.marketing crowd about lessons learned on his rocky road to success

When Ryan Serhant started his real estate career 10 years ago, he wasn’t all that interested in sales, and he wasn’t all that good at it either.

“I got into real estate and I absolutely hated it. I thought sales was the worst, because I thought that selling was taking things from other people,” he told a packed room at HousingWire’s engage.marketing event in Dallas on Friday.

“I didn’t want to have to talk to strangers. I didn’t want to cold call,” he said. “I was completely incompetent.”

Of course, no one would call Serhant incompetent now.

The co-star of Bravo’s “Million Dollar Listing New York” and star of his own spin-off, “Sell It Like Serhant,” he runs a 62-person team at Nest Seekers International.

Last year, the Serhant Team closed $333.1 million in Manhattan real estate, nabbing the coveted title of New York City’s No. 1 broker.

But for Serhant, success was not immediate and it did not come easy.

Born in Houston, Serhant moved to New York City after college to become an actor, landing a gig as Dr. Evan Walsh IV on "As the World Turns," only to be killed off shortly after.

After a brief stint as a hand model, he turned to real estate to pay the bills.

“I had no money to begin with, I was starting from the bottom, and maybe that’s the best place to start from because the only place I could go was up… or home,” he said.

Determined to make it work, Serhant would walk up to people on the street, setting a goal to meet five new people every day. In his first year, he made just $9,000.

“As salespeople, we want to put on a good face, but inside a lot of times, we die a little bit, because it is really, really, really hard. People lie to us all the time, and we think we have a deal and we think we’re going to land this client and we think we’re going to close something, and the person never calls us back,” he said.

“We ride this awful emotional rollercoaster. Honestly, when I first started, I quit every other day.”

Serhant said his first big deal took over a year, hundreds of unanswered calls, one nearly failed trip to Paris and a few extremely shady meetings to close. But eventually it did close, and he had the sale of an $8.5 million property under his belt.

The first deal taught Serhant a lesson that has been a driving force behind his success: follow up, always.  

“Any good salesperson is always front and center. Not harassing, not annoying, but front and center so that that person remembers where to go when they need you.”

“I spend a lot of time with people. I think I’m going to close them, and then they just stop responding,” he added. “So I plug them into my follow-up, follow through, follow back system, and I keep emailing them. I stay on top of them.”

He also learned that he needed to give his day structure in order to stay motivated.

“Any entrepreneur and any salesperson needs to run their own day-to-day business like they are their own Fortune 500 company,” he said. “You have to have actual discipline, actual structure to your day. That’s the only way you can manage goals.”

Serhant developed a schedule he calls “finder, keeper, doer.”

“The finder hour was finding new business, the keeper hour was figuring out how I was going to spend money, and the doer time was actually doing all the work,” he said.

Part of his doer hour involved distributing mailers promoting his business.

“I’d send out mailers saying that I was the greatest real estate broker in the history of the world, because who was out there to doubt me? No one, really, because who knew? There was 80,000 of us in the city. Now there’s rankings, but in 2010 there really wasn’t. So I’d say, ‘I am the greatest in the history of the world! Please respond to my flyer.’”

Clearly not lacking confidence, Serhant decided to attend a Bravo casting call in 2010 for a show about New York City’s best agents. At the time, he’d been in the business for two years.

“They were looking for the top real estate agents in New York City, and I went. I went! … I said, ‘I’m the best real estate broker in the city,’ and they said, ‘Weird, we have no idea who you are.’”

Serhant was cast after spending the day faking it as a top agent with a Bravo crew in tow. Cruising around town in a borrowed Range Rover, he pretended to haggle over a property with an actor friend playing the part of rich banker, answering calls from friends as if they were huge clients trying to close major deals.

But when "Million Dollar Listing" finally aired nearly two years later, it wasn’t the gamechanger he expected.

“I thought it was going to change my life… and the phone never rang, no one cared.”

Afraid to fail, Serhant put his finder, keeper, doer strategy to work, and eventually, the phone did ring – and it rang and rang and rang.

His advice to agents now?

“I tell every salesperson to take improv. It’s incredibly important to think on your feet. It’s incredibly important to be able to listen. It’s incredibly important to be able to say, ‘Yes and,’” he said. “In sales, the word 'no' does not exist.”

“Your theme for this past day and a half [at engage.marketing] is about getting more. That is my motto. It’s expansion in all ways, always. How do I wake up every single day and get more than I did yesterday?”

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