You may recognize Ryan Serhant as the real estate broker star of Million Dollar Listing New York on Bravo, but he hasn’t always been dealing with seven-plus-figure real-estate transactions. Before hitting the big time as a Realtor (he’s executive vice president and managing director of Nest Seekers International), he played Evan Walsh IV on As the World Turns, worked as a hand model, and even starred in a few AT&T commercials. And his taste for the spotlight isn’t limited to just the small screen, either; last month indie director Noah Baumbach announced he’d chosen Ryan for a role in his newest project, a film titled While We’re Young starring Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts, Amanda Seyfried and Minnie Driver.
Ryan isn’t a native New Yorker — he was born in Houston, Texas, and grew up on Boston’s North Shore — but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t taken to Manhattan like one. Whether it’s because of his naturally gregarious personality (he graduated with a degree in English Literature and Theatre from Hamilton College in 2006) or having been in the spotlight for so long, he’s constantly on the go and getting his name mentioned in all the right places. We recently caught up with Ryan, who was ranked as one of the top 20 real estate brokers by The Real Deal Magazine in 2012, over email to talk about what it takes to be successful in a cut-throat business and how he manages to stay grounded despite being in the public eye.
You moved to New York after college and then landed a role on the iconic soap opera As the World Turns. How did you go from acting to real estate?
I ran out of money. I had a friend who was working in real estate who told me that I should get my license and rent a few apartments every month to help pay the bills. I could set my own hours and work around auditions, etc. After I did my first deal, I was hooked, and it didn’t make sense for me to sit at an open call for eight hours hoping I would be seen when I could be working with clients.
How has your training and work as an actor helped you become a better (off-screen) real estate agent?
As an actor you need to emotionally open, have the ability to improvise in any given moment, and be a strong listener. The same three qualities are what the best real estate agents excel at. Real Estate is a people business and so is acting.
When you first started out in real estate, did you ever imagine you’d be selling multi-million-dollar properties? Or be doing it on TV?
NO WAY. My whole life has been a series of surprises.
There are a lot of real estate brokers in New York City (around 27,000 in 2012). How did you go from being one of many, to being the real estate broker star of Million Dollar Listing New York?
I work 20 hours a day, 7 days a week. The more time you put into anything, the more you will get out. So when those 27,000 agents are at the movies or on vacation or sleeping, I’m building business. I won’t work like this forever, but it has only helped me thus far.
How did your life change after the TV cameras started rolling and what adjustments have you had to make after becoming a reality TV show star? Is it all it’s cracked up to be?
Imagine walking into a high school reunion where everyone knows you and you know no one. That’s what my life is like now.
What does an average day look like for you? Does everything involve cameras?
We film roughly four days a week, depending on what I’m doing. The cameras aren’t there when I’m answering emails for four hours. But if I have a listing pitch or a showing, they will be there. I’m up early, I go to the gym, I go [to] the office, I show apartments and meet clients all day, cameras may or may not be there, I go to dinner or to an event, I go back to the office, I go home and pass out.
What advice would you give someone who wants to achieve the extreme level of success you’ve reached in the real estate business?
Remember that everyone on the street is a potential client, so meet everyone you can. On top of that, you need to work hard and be nice to people.
You were also a hand model for an AT&T advertising campaign, which we find fascinating. Did you have to take special care of your digits, get them insured, or do any crazy upkeep?
I slept with gloves on and had a large supply of Lubriderm at home. I never insured my hands though.
Now that you’ve been cast in the new Noah Baumbach film, how will you balance your work with Million Dollar Listing New York and with selling real estate off-screen?
Time management is a tricky thing. I have two amazing assistants who help me, and a large team behind me who support me.
Do you have any real-estate tips to help the average non-millionaire New Yorker find their dream 600 square feet?
Study the market and use a good broker.
What are your plans for the future? What does 2014 and beyond hold for you?
Find out more about how New Yorkers are making it in the big city with our Cool Job Q&As.